Kimiko Ishizaka on piano and weightlifting
Kimiko Ishizaka is the first of three child prodigies born to German-Japanese parents in Bonn, Germany. Piano studies began at the age of 4, with her mother, followed by conservatory studies with Professor Roswitha Gediga-Glombitza at the Hochschule für Musik Köln. From the early age of five, Ishizaka distinguished herself as a soloist and chamber performer, especially in the context of the Ishizaka Trio, which consisted of her and her younger brothers (violin, cello).
In 2012 she received worldwide attention and recognition for her innovative recording of Bach’s “Goldberg Variations”, a project which was financed by her fans using the crowdfunding website Kickstarter.com. In 2017, Kimiko released her fourth album, Bach’s “Kunst der Fuge” which she also financed through Kickstarter.
Aside from being a concert pianist, Kimiko is also a former Olympic weightlifter and powerlifter who has won three medals at the 2008 German championships.
You have a concert at Carnegie Hall in November. Is this your first time playing in New York City?
Yes, Carnegie Hall is one of those names that you always hear about, so it’s very exciting to come and play there. It’s also an aspirational name for some of my fans who are coming in from out of town to hear the concert. It’s not my first time playing in New York, though. I previously played Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier, Book 1, in 2012.
Can you tell us about your Carnegie Hall program?
The program is really quite special to me, as it is the first program that has featured music that I myself composed. There is only one piece, Bach’s Die Kunst der Fuge (The Art of the Fugue), but as he left the final fugue unfinished, I took the opportunity to write my own completion.
You’re based in Germany where there is also a vibrant classical music scene like New York City. Of all the places you played in Germany and in Europe, which city or town did you find most
The new Elbphilharmonie in Hamburg is remarkable. It is not only a great concert hall (two in fact), but also an emblem for the city itself. It rises above the harbor and looks like waves of water frozen in glass and steel. That makes it a very popular tourist destination, which in turn promotes the concerts that take place there. My concert there not only sold out, they were turning people away at the ticket office up until the concert started.
Can you tell us about your musical background? For example, did you come from a family of musicians or were you the only musician in your family?
My family was very wrapped around the Ishizaka Trio, in which I played until I was 19, with my two brothers, Kiyondo (violin) and Danjulo (cello). Starting at the age of 7, we played so many concerts that we were the primary income for the family, and my parents organized our lives so as to accommodate that. We did a lot of masterclasses and competitions as well.
Who are some people who have had an influence on you as an artist? Any favorite pianists and composers?
This is a great question, because I’m quite unusual in this respect. Of course there are numerous amazing pianists whom I love and respect, but I don’t seek or listen to any of them. In fact, I don’t really ever listen to any recorded music. Occasionally I go to concerts, but usually not more than once a year. I isolate myself so that I can find my own way with the music. This has been the best learning technique for me, and it applies equally to my piano technique and to my interpretations.
You are also an Olympic weightlifter. How did you get into weightlifting and do you still do weightlifting?
Since the Ishizaka Trio completely consumed my childhood, I never had the chance to participate in sports when I was young. Yet, I always wanted to be strong and athletic. When I moved out of the house as a teenager, I immediately joined a fitness studio. Eventually I met some people who competed in powerlifting and weightlifting, and they encouraged me to give it a try. I did, and loved it. Eventually I took part in competitions at the national level, and won medals there. Though I don’t compete anymore, I still lift very seriously.
Which do you think requires more discipline in terms of training? Weightlifting or piano?
They both require absolute dedication, and you have to pull the strength to focus from deep inside of you and never waver. Of course, when you put more than your body weight in iron over your head, dropping it has more painful repercussions than letting your mind drift at the piano.
Sports such as volleyball, soccer and basketball are often avoided by pianists due to a risk of injury. Would you say the same about weightlifting?
I also avoid sports that might injure me, such as skiing and horseback riding, both of which I was quite good at as a child. Weightlifting, on the other hand, improves every aspect of my playing and has never posed a physical risk for the piano.
What is your typical day like?
My typical day goes like this: Wake up and get the day going. (breakfast, household tasks, outside errands, etc.) Then, on workout days which are long and hard, rush to get on with the training so that I can get through it and recover enough by the time I need to start practicing. Then, after a protein rich snack (but never meat, I’m vegetarian!), it’s time to play the piano.
That usually starts around 6 or 7 pm and finishes between 10 and midnight, depending on how my energy is. After that, my husband and I take a walk, get some food (late night Turkish is our favorite), and then conclude with some Netflix and Scotch on the couch. Yeah, it gets late. Our typical bedtime is 3:30 am.
Would you like to share your upcoming projects?
This project, which is concluding with the Carnegie concert, is part of a series of projects focusing on J.S. Bach. Previous projects have included the Goldberg Variations and the Well-Tempered Clavier, Book 1. Now it’s time to move to Book 2 of the Well-Tempered Clavier. I will be performing that piece in 2018, with the goal of recording it in 2019.
You have led a successful crowdfunding campaign through Kickstarter. Can you tell us about your Kickstarter campaign?
My husband helps me with that, and without Kickstarter, I would not have been able to make any of my recordings. The special value proposition that I offer to my Kickstarter backers is that in return for their support, I place the music that I record into the public domain. No copyright.
People like this, because they recognize the value to education, to indie filmmakers, and to non-profit sites like Wikipedia which can then use the music to bring J.S. Bach into people’s lives. That’s why this last project was called the “Libre Art of the Fugue”, because it represents freedom for the music.
What would you like to accomplish in the next 10 years?
Bach wrote a lot of music. Come to think of it, so did Chopin =)