Tomoki Sakata: I admire Liszt and Hungary is my all-time favorite

Péter Dobszay and the Szeged Symphony Orchestra, Müpa, 24 February 2019, 7:30 pm

Thinking about he is only 26 and how much he is praised already by masters like Michel Béroff, Paul Badura-Skoda, Vásáry Tamás, Ivan Moravec or Leslie Howard, he still seems to be a quite humble man. Instead of interviews, you can find a bunch of his concert videos and results from musical competitions throughout the internet. It was, then, an even bigger honour for me to talk to pianist Tomoki Sakata.

How did your career start? What was the moment in your life when you knew that you have to play the piano?

I would say, my career started after winning the prizes at the world renowned major international competitions: 2013 Van Cliburn International Piano Competition in USA and 2016 Franz Liszt International Piano Competition in Hungary.

Playing the piano is my main thing all my life and more than a part of my life. I have been always enjoying it. So for me it is very natural to spend my life with piano wherever I live. Never forced to do it but happen to be so in the most natural way. When I was 8 or 9 years old, I went to a Piano Recital. I had a great impression there. And this event leads me to the world of classical music.

Despite your young age, you are praised by masters of music and give concerts all around the world. You get many requests, everyone expects from you a lot. Is it hard to manage your schedules?

It is not at all easy to get my schedule fixed. You need to think about the time differences, transportations, jet lags, etc. Nevertheless I like traveling and getting to know people. Especially, Hungary is my all-time favorite!

Also because of your victory at the International Franz Liszt Piano Competition, I guess. How do you remember this? What did you play?

Well… actually, my performance during the Liszt Competition was my very first performance in Hungary. I have been a great Liszt admirer since I was 14. And that was the reason I took part in the Competition which has brilliant history and takes place at the motherland of Liszt.

I cannot describe how much I was moved to play Liszt’s works at the Liszt Academy of Music, especially at the final round: playing the B minor Sonata and Totentanz for Piano and Orchestra at the Great Hall! I will certainly treasure this memory of two weeks in Budapest for rest of my whole life.

Do you have any specific method or routine while practicing for a concert?

Not quite. But I usually do not start working on the piece which I have to… Before I start “practicing”, I warmup for about one hour or so (with scales or arpeggios sometimes, or could be some other repertoires).

What can the audience expect from the upcoming concert in Budapest? We’ve already talked about Liszt, but what do you think about Beethoven’s music?

The “Emperor” Concerto by Beethoven is a monumental piano concerto ever written in many ways. This concerto opened a new door to the world of piano concerti. Apparently, Schumann and Liszt were greatly influenced by the “Emperor” Concerto when writing their own concerti. What is so amazing about this concerto is that not only the highly demanding piano part is full of music but the orchestra… It is glorious  and never treated as an “accompaniment” of the solo piano. I am sure that people will enjoy this what I call “Symphony with Piano” in two perspectives: Piano Concerto, and Symphony.

Beethoven is one of the most romantic composers of all time (more than Chopin!). If you listen to the second movement of the “Emperor” Concerto, you cannot tell if he is a composer from the romantic era or not. He showed us the beauty of music and the joy of music through this concerto.

I imagine that it is not very much common to have two concerti in one evening. So I hope you enjoy this rare opportunity!