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When Fuzjko Hemming, a pianist recognized internationally, plays the piano, it brings tears to the audience with the sound she weaves. In June 2008, she performed with noted young violinist of Salle Gaveau (Paris), Laurent Korcia who has attained Chevalier, conferral of the Order of Culture in 2002. Fuzjko Hemming is a busy person with numbers of concerts around the world through out the year. We had an opportunity to visit her home, in Paris, where she lives with her cats and dogs.
Q. I heard you learned the piano from your mother, pianist Tomoko Ohtsuki. Were you already making up your mind to live as a pianist at that time?
She taught me how to play piano but wasn’t expecting me to become a pianist. You know, it costs a lot of money to continually learn piano and also to become a professional pianist. My Swedish father wasn’t staying in Japan and my mother was having a hard time to make a living as a piano teacher. Since I was a little child, every time people say “Fuzjko is a genius! She will be a great pianist to impress people all over the world in the future,” my mother would make a wry smile. Even as a child I was unable to decide whether I should set my mind on becoming a pianist, in between critical acclaim by surroundings and my mother’s puzzled face. Therefore, when I was little, I didn’t have strong feelings of becoming a pianist.
Q. How did you spend your time in Germany when you were 29, studying abroad at Berlin national university?
Because I didn’t have national identity at that time, I was unable to travel abroad for a long time. As an acknowledged Red Cross refugee, I had an opportunity to study under the condition of studying only within Germany, so I have taken off with expectations. But honestly, memories I have aren’t so great. Besides, I’ve been through a lot of things in my life while I was there, although, there were some great events happening once in a while. A big newspaper published an article about my concert with positive reviews as “an astoundingly talented performer.” Back then, in Japan, I never had an opportunity to be picked up on Japanese newspapers.
Q. How do you feel when you play La Campanella by Franz Liszt, which also is being acknowledged as your masterpiece?
During the practice I imagine a lot of things while I play, but during the performance I am concentrated in playing the piece. I do my best and intend to have an impressive performance for the audience. Though it is said that La Campanella is my masterpiece, I actually don’t think so. In fact, I never played La Campanella when I was young. I perform each piece with the same passion and emotions. If you practice hard enough, that feeling will certainly reach the audience.
Q. Franz Liszt was living in Paris during the same time as you; do you find anything in common? Such as the life style between you and him?
I would say the common part is that we like to help others. Liszt was such a broad minded individual who helped Robert Schumann, Frederick Chopin and more. There’s a church in Budapest where Liszt spent his later years as a clergyman. I sometimes spend my time dropping in and think about his life and his generous heart.
Q. Is there the performance standing out the most in your memory?
I remember each performance: some went successfully and some didn’t. A pianist Arthur Rubinstein once said that when he was cleaning the stage after his performance, he found the whole bucket of notes that he didn't get to play on the stage. I exactly understand what he said.
Q. How do you think the pianist should be?
Music is universal and that’s something the words cannot express. I am reenacting the pieces, which were created by amazing composers. I suppose the duty of us, as a pianist is reproducing the sprits of those composers at the best condition. I believe that even if people with poor mind play those tunes, they will not impress the audience.
Q. You have been active for contributing entire royalties for victims of September 11. 2001 terrorist attacks in the U.S. or donating performance guarantee of the concert for refugees in Afghanistan. Is there any trigger that prompted you to start such charity activities?
Well, yes. It would probably be because I frequently visited Saint Luke's Hospital to play in front of patients as a volunteer since I was unknown. After that NHK has broadcasted documentary program, which covered my activity and I became famous in only one night on February 1999. In retrospect, there might be someone who heard me at the free recital and hooked me up with project for documentary. I have become famous and start gaining too much money. Therefore as a pianist, I decided to contribute my earnings to help people. When I was unknown, I was having a hard time living with little money. But you know, ever since I became acknowledged by a lot of people, I’ve been tied up running around everyday. I sometimes miss the life to live quietly like before.
Q. I’ve heard that you like reading. What would you like to read? Does it exercise an influence on playing piano?
I often read autobiographies of a lot of people. One day, here is what happened. I bought a journal at the bookstore in Germany by chance, which was written by a 20 year old ordinary lady who lived during the First World War period in Germany. I bought it just because I liked the pretty sepia toned book cover. In the journal about her daily life, I was fully impressed by the records such as hardship that her family went through during the war, romance, how she spent days working as a nurse in the field and more. One day, I forgot the book on a plane and because it wasn’t like an autobiography of particularly noted person, this particular book was something you’ll never be able to obtain again. But you know what, a while later, the book I left was returned to me after it traveled all over the world; passed on to various people. I was amazed that there were stamps of so many different countries on the envelope. It greatly impressed me that things like this would happen.
Q. What kind of music do you listen to besides Classical music?
I like Chanson. Loud music is my least favorite. I go to the restaurant occasionally, and I find myself unconsciously choosing the table where I can listen to the music they play in the restaurant.
Q. Do you watch movies?
I love movies. Whichever the country is, I like the classical movies. For Japanese movies, I like the period pieces. And for TV, Shinsen-gumi is great. When I stay in Japan, I get in the flush of enthusiasm to watch such period dramas and period films.
Q. Do you think an intellectual curiosity is indispensable for artist?
I assume that if you are hoping to become a pianist or musician, you shouldn’t be satisfied by merely attending to music school. It is important to learn and thrive by going to see the movies or watching Kabuki, and by paying attention to whatever comes into your eyes. Or, it’ll be impossible to become a performer to impress the audience.
Q. As you often spent time drawing when you were little, what kind of pictures did you like to draw?
Most of my drawings were dolls at first. I clearly remember when I was an elementary school student. I was so thrilled to receive compliments that my drawing was the best in a school. I’ve never had drawing lessons before. I draw because I love it. It’s as simple as that.
Q. From December 2007 through January 2008, your personal exhibition took place at Atelier Visconti in the gallery street in Saint-Germain area of Paris. As you are also active as a painter, what kind of correlation do you find between paintings and music?
People with great sensitivity give the same credit for both my art works and my performance. When you are young, sometimes you are not aware of your talent. Even if people around you applaud your talent, their compliments don’t really hit you right. As your experience enlarges, you’ll recognize that you are distinguished from others. Just like I perform piano, in order for my drawing skill to be recognized by everyone, I have drawn different pictures on each postcard and sent them to all over the world, to people like prominent conductors and musicians. Then after that I received a lot of feedbacks that people who acknowledge my performance were also inspired by my drawing. I was so happy. And I believe that the art of picture is something people either like or dislike. No one would say what the pictures are supposed to be like. There is no theoretical concept. One day when I was walking down on the street in Shimokitazawa area, young lady came up to me and said, “I don't know much about music but I love your drawing the best.” I was really glad. It rather satisfies me to receive such compliments ”you are the best.” than winning a prize, just that alone is enough for me.
Q. What part of Paris is fascinating you?
The reason why I was longing for Paris is because that’s the place where the outstanding artists are all assembled. My favorite Modigliani and Lautrec were living on unsaleable pieces. I believe that they were far too talented for the world to get remarked. Even works of Vincent van Gogh and Paul Gauguin weren’t selling at first. I got hugely emboldened by their autobiographies. Vincent van Gogh spent a humble life as a Christian minister and when a catastrophic flood occurred in Belgium, he spent all the money he had for aiding. What a respectable life he had.
Moreover, as people say that Paris is the aesthetic capital, I agree with that indeed. Parisians are certainly so. When I’m at home, I like watching people walking down the streets, and I see so many lovely people come and go. Looking down from the window, though I cannot clearly see their faces, the accomplishments visibly come through to the front of sophisticated people. As I watch such individuals, I feel some kind of warmth, which each person only has. Every time I feel it, it makes me think that I am so happy to be living. I think the influences we receive from human are rather bigger than receiving from things. As for the rest that I like about Paris is that we make eye contact with passersby. I like that everyone shows smiley face.
Q. Do you have any favorite places in Japan?
I like cities with antique appearance remained, such as Kyoto and Kanazawa. When I visit the teahouse in Kanazawa that’s been there for 250 years, I really get inspired.
Q. Do you believe being in love, the power of romance have big influence on art?
I don’t know exactly. They say that when you get over lost love, you’ll get a better skill to play piano. It might be true. When you are in love, it feels like being intoxicated. You become like a fool. You know what though, I wonder what the music sounds like when played by someone who has never been in love, how could they possibly impress people?
Q. How would you describe what art is?
To continue pursuing the beautiful things. Besides that, you should enrich your cultural level, or it won’t be possible to create something great. It’s important that you cultivate your eyes to ascertain the fake and real.
Q. Is there any “words” or memorable things that have been supporting you of today?
There are so many. Especially, the section 3 of Habakkuk 2 in the Old Testament, “Though it linger, wait for it; it will certainly come and will not delay.” I’ve visited a church a month before I became well known, then I was given a booklet with the message that the Prophet Habakkuk received from the god. I felt that it was the voice from the god telling me, “One day people will recognize your talent, so be patient till the time comes.” I still keep the booklet as my treasure. After all, I started to think the god has given me opportunities to experience and go through a lot of things besides so many hardships. Though there were times I was thinking that I wasted a lot of time in my life, everything has become pabulum for me at last. It is surely worth to strive hard for the best. And also, there’s no 100% perfect person. Some people might be good at this, and others might be superior to that. The power will become stronger when we all get together.
Q. Could you tell us what your schedule is like hereafter?
I have so many plans of performing with new artists. Today, while lots of different types of music are being formed and classical music is decreasing its popularity, I would be delighted if there are a lot of people who are eager to listen to my performance.
Text by Chiho Yoda, Photo by Masatoshi Uenaka
English / 日本語
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