Morimoto strives to be an all-around pianist

Courtesy of the Hastings International Piano Concerto Competition
Shunta Morimoto plays at the Hastings International Piano Concerto Competition.

At 17, Shunta Morimoto is already making his name internationally as an up-and-coming pianist.

Based in Rome since April last year, he won first prize at the Hastings International Piano Concerto Competition in March. The British competition is famed as a gateway for young concert pianists and is unique in that competitors must play two piano concertos with an orchestra in the semifinals and finals. This year, there were 360 applicants from 40 countries, with 50 hopefuls competing in Hastings, England.

In the finals, Morimoto played Schumann’s Piano Concerto. “I have other [concertos] in my repertoire that are often played to win competitions, such as Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3, but ultimately, I chose Schumann following my teacher’s advice and by thinking about how I could best express my personality as a musician,” Morimoto said.

Courtesy of the Hastings International Piano Concerto Competition
Shunta Morimoto

Morimoto was born in Kyoto and started taking piano lessons age 3. There are no musicians in his family. His father is a company employee, his mother works at a university, and his younger brother is a school soccer captain. However, his mother loves music and used to study Italian songs.

“My father wasn’t that interested in music, but he apparently started playing the piano after I moved to Rome,” Morimoto said with a chuckle.

The young Morimoto was enamored with music even before he started taking lessons. As a toddler, he befriended an elderly couple living nearby and used to dance and sing to the taiko drum played by the husband, a schoolteacher who also taught wadaiko drumming.

Morimoto made meteoric progress on the piano, and while in his second year of elementary school he attended a masterclass given by pianist Shohei Sekimoto, who placed fourth in the 2005 Chopin Competition. Listening to Sekimoto play a Chopin polonaise, Morimoto felt inspired to become a professional pianist.

Sekimoto remains one of Morimoto’s three teachers and gives him lessons when he returns to Japan.

In Italy, Morimoto hones his solo skills under William Grant Nabore at the International Piano Academy Lake Como and takes lessons in piano accompaniment under Giovanni Velluti at Santa Cecilia Conservatory in Rome.

“I really like chamber music and want to increase my chamber music repertoire,” Morimoto said. “I want to continue my accompaniment studies, but I’m also keen to learn the solo repertoire. I want to acquire as many piano skills as possible.”

When asked if he gets nervous before a concert or competition, he replied, “Yes, I become nervous but that just makes me all the more focused.”

He usually practices at least six hours a day but says just playing for a long time is not enough.

“Recently, I’ve realized there are more important things than playing for long hours, like making a practice plan and analyzing scores. I try to make each practice session about more than just moving my fingers,” he said, adding that he has recently been reading a lot of books on Kindle.

He also studies remotely at N High School in Japan. “Classes are archived, so I can study any time I want,” he said.

Quizzed about the kind of musician he wants to become in the future, Morimoto — an excellent communicator — mulled the topic for a few seconds to order his thoughts and choose the most fitting words.

“I want to become a musician who can convey the charms of classical music to people all over the world,” he said. “To do so, I have to understand not only piano playing but also history and many other things, which I think is very important. I’m studying all these things little by little, every day.”

Morimoto will briefly return to Japan later this month to play Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 1 with the Kansai Philharmonic Orchestra at Higashiosaka Cultural Creation Hall in Higashi-Osaka, Osaka Prefecture, on Aug. 28, and give a joint recital with violinist Mai Suzuki at Mitake Sayaka Salon in Shibuya Ward, Tokyo, on Sept. 4.

Courtesy of the Hastings International Piano Concerto Competition
Shunta Morimoto plays at the Hastings International Piano Concerto Competition.