Japanese-born British classical pianist
Dame Mitsuko Uchida was born to diplomat parents in the seaside town of Atami, just a stone’s throw from Tokyo on the 20th of December, 1948. When she turned 12, the family moved to Vienna after her father was dubbed the Japanese ambassador to Austria. While there, she studied at the Vienna Academy of Music under Richard Hauser, as well as Wilhelm Kempff and Stefan Askenase. She would remain there for five years until her father’s transfer back to Japan.
She would give her first piano recital at 14, under Hauser, which helped garner enough recognition for her. As a result, she was considered excellent enough to compete–and win–in the Beethoven Piano Competition in Vienna in 1969, and the prestigious Leeds Piano Competition a year later in 1970. She would eventually move to and settle in London during the early 1970s.
During the 1980s, Uchida would make a name for herself as a skilled interpreter of the works of Mozart. This is perhaps to her devoting much of her musical career to studying not only Mozart’s works but his life and times. Her set of recordings of his complete sonatas were critically acclaimed, and for good reason.
She did eventually expand her repertoire, interpreting the works of other classical masters such as Debussy, Schubert, and Beethoven. Critics praised Uchida for her interpretations, which were deemed intelligent and thoughtful, with a hint of her own musical and emotional insight.
Uchida wasn’t a prolific recording artist or concert performer, though she was known for her sting as a soloist and conductor with the English Chamber Orchestra from 1985 to 1986. She also served as an artist in residence with the Cleveland Orchestra from 2002 to 2007, as well as the Berlin Philharmonic.
To say that Uchida has performed with renowned orchestras all over the world is a massive understatement. Aside from the aforementioned groups, she also worked with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, the Bavarian Radio Symphony, London Symphony Orchestra, London Philharmonic Orchestra, and the Chicago Symphony. She has also worked closely with several of the world’s greatest modern conductors such as Sir Simon Rattle, Bernard Haitink, Esa-Pekka Salonen, Riccardo Muti, Vladimir Jurowski, Gustavo Dudamel, Andris Nelsons, and Mariss Jansons.
For her work, Uchida received a multitude of awards and honours, including a Grammy Award for best instrumental soloist (with orchestra) in 2010. Two years later, she was given the Royal Philharmonic Society’s Gold Medal, one of the highest honours in the field of classical music, and in 2015, she was awarded the Praemium Imperiale prize for music, another very high musical honor, by the Japan Art Association.
Did You Know?
Among her most notable achievements is being dubbed as an honorary Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 2001. But at the time this was awarded to her, it was only considered an honorary title because she wasn’t a British citizen yet. She would then gain citizenship shortly thereafter in, paving the way for her to be honored a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 2009.
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