By Yukiko Kishinami / Japan News Staff WriterFor Fumiya Koido, piano lessons were just one of many childhood interests, including swimming, tea ceremony and Go. He even joined the Boy Scouts and played basketball in high school. After the huge earthquake and tsunami hit and destroyed his hometown in 2011, however, the then teenager decided to become a professional pianist because he believes classical music may help heal the affected areas.
With unique imagination and intense concentration, the 23-year-old — the winner of the Music Competition of Japan last year and the Hastings International Piano Concerto Competition in England in March — continues to deepen his world and expand his musical scope.
Koido was born in 1995. The young pianist started taking piano lessons at age 3 under a teacher who lived near his home in Kamaishi, Iwate Prefecture. There are no other professional musicians in his family, although his mother used to play the piano and his father would play classical music albums at home.
Koido was already an advanced piano student during his elementary school days, coming first in a children’s piano competition when he was in the fourth grade. Living close to a court, however, he aspired to become a judge and enrolled in the prefecture’s most academically high-performing high school.
“I thought judges were cool,” he said.
However, his life went through a drastic change shortly before entering the high school. On March 11, 2011, the Great East Japan Earthquake devastated Kamaishi. His family narrowly escaped the disaster, but some of his relatives and friends were not so fortunate. Koido himself only just managed to avoid the worst as he was walking close to the sea on his way back from school when the quake occurred.
“The city is being rebuilt, but it’s not the same as before. It’s sad to see that the places I would often visit as a child are no longer there, like the park and the church,” he said.
About a year later, he was invited by a music agent to attend a master class by pianist Adrian Cox in Vienna. Cox had visited the Tohoku region when Koido was younger, and gave lessons to young Japanese piano students, including Koido.
“I think they probably tried to help me recover mentally,” he said.
He exposed himself to the power of music during a week’s stay in Vienna. He was particularly moved by two operas, “Tosca” and “La Traviata.”
“I couldn’t stand up for a while after the performance,” he said. “The way I perceived music changed completely, probably because of the quake and one year without making music. The same music I heard before sounded completely different.”
The experience also changed his goal in life, and he decided to pursue music.
“I want to become a pianist who can give people moving and inspiring experiences, in the way I’ve been moved by music. I also thought I’d be able to give something back to my hometown through music,” he said.
Another inspiration he had in the aftermath of the quake was charity activities by conductor Yutaka Sado to help local children in Kamaishi.
“Concert halls were lost or damaged, so instead of giving a charity concert, he raised funds to buy violins and taught children how to play the instrument,” Koido said. “I was immensely moved by what he did to help the children feel happy again. My younger brother happened to be one of them.”
In 2014, Koido entered Toho Gakuen School of Music as a scholarship student. He is now in the second year of the renowned music school’s diploma course. From October, he will study at the Imola International Piano Academy in Bologna, Italy.
“I think nationality doesn’t really matter when it comes to music,” he said. “Yet, I think the languages we speak may have some influences on our performances. The Japanese language has a rather flat intonation and doesn’t use a very high range, which may affect the way we perform.”
At the Imola academy, he will be taught by Boris Petrushansky, one of the judges at the Hamamatsu International Piano Academy Competition, which Koido won in 2017.
During the event’s opening concert, Koido was amazed at Petrushansky’s performance of Stravinsky’s “Petrushka.”
“Until then, I wondered what was so interesting about that piece. Then I heard his performance and I was astonished. I thought I really saw marionettes dancing to the music,” Koido said.
Koido’s favorite composer is Scriabin. He also likes Schubert, Ravel, Brahms and Bach.
Koido’s concert schedule before going to Italy is nearly full. On May 26, he will make his debut at Music Festival Argerich’s Meeting Point in Beppu, Oita Prefecture. He is also one of the five up-and-coming artists who will give a series of concerts at Chanel Nexus Hall in Ginza, Tokyo.
Earlier this month, he returned to Britain to perform at the Hastings competition winner’s recital, which was broadcast live on BBC Radio 3.
Recently, Koido was asked by a Japanese radio show what his current interest is.
“To my surprise, I could think of nothing other than the piano,” he said.