Japanese pianist Kyohei Sorita seeks to scale new heights

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Kyohei Sorita speaks during an interview with The Yomiuri Shimbun in Tokyo.

Kyohei Sorita, an up-and-coming pianist who won second prize in last year’s Chopin Competition, is fomenting a “revolution” in the Japanese classical music world.

The 28-year-old ivory tickler also serves as president and conductor of the Japan National Orchestra Co. (JNO). It seems there are no bounds to this young musician’s ambition.

Though Sorita was happy to win a prize in the piano competition, he says the most important thing for him last year was his work with the orchestra, which he founded. Sorita organized the Nara City-based orchestra into a stock company and took on the role of president.

“Participating in the Chopin Competition was one way to raise global awareness of the JNO,” Sorita said. “Whenever I met people, I introduced myself by saying, ‘I lead and conduct an orchestra.’ Initially, people didn’t show any interest, but as the preliminary rounds [of the competition] progressed, I drew more attention and people began to ask me about my conducting, too.

“After the final round, I was inundated with offers, such as ‘Please perform in our hall.’ I felt that I was able to fulfill many of my responsibilities as president.”

Orchestras run by a stock company are something of a rarity.

“Currently, the 20 key members [of the JNO], including me, are performing musicians of similar age,” Sorita said. “I interviewed each person individually to determine their salary, and members take part in about 30 concerts a year, including orchestral performances and solo recitals. The three-year contracts are renewable — we pride ourselves on being the ‘loosest of blue-chip companies.’”

Sorita speaks similarly to other young businesspeople who have started their own companies, but says he has no intention to turn the JNO into a tightly controlled organization. “Many members belong to other orchestras,” he said. “I want each of them to use the JNO as a way of pursuing their own path as a soloist.”

Sorita says he decided to establish the joint company based on his belief that a stable management body is necessary for musicians to fulfill their dreams.

Born in 1994, the young Sorita initially aspired to become a professional soccer player. While at elementary school, playing the piano was merely a hobby, but following an injury he increasingly began to focus on music.

At the age of 12, he had an opportunity to conduct a professional orchestra, which awakened his interest in baton-wielding. “The sound of the instruments came together, creating a flowing stream of music,” Sorita recalled. “Even as a child, it was truly enjoyable.”

During his teenage years, he mostly worked on his piano skills alone. In 2012, he took first prize at the Music Competition of Japan. Age 19, he studied at the Moscow State Tchaikovsky Conservatory then at the Fryderyk Chopin University of Music in Warsaw. In his 20s, he began performing concerts and making a name for himself, but his dream was to own an orchestra and become a conductor, he said.

“The musicians I most admire are pianist-conductors like Daniel Barenboim, Myung-Whun Chung and Mikhail Pletnev,” Sorita said. “I consider the piano as my life partner and conducting as my lifework.”

To pursue his dreams, Sorita practices daily and carries out various other tasks. He also takes an innovative approach to offstage performance-related activities, having established an online “salon,” called “Solistiade,” based around his fan club members. The salon offers such benefits as private lessons and opportunities for children to take the podium at members-only concerts.

Opera plans

The orchestra, which has a practice facility and dormitory for members in Nara City, has signed an agreement with the Nara prefectural government to conduct educational activities at schools and other locations.

“I don’t think we can turn a profit in the near future because setting up such facilities required a lot of initial outlay,” Sorita said.

However, the JNO’s scope of activities is steadily expanding and the orchestra has already received offers to perform abroad.

“I’m hoping we’ll get an invitation from the Salzburg Festival in Austria; I don’t think that’s too far down the road,” Sorita said.

Sorita also plans to establish a music school called “Manabiya.”

In light of his busy schedule traveling back and forth between Japan and Europe to give performances, including solo concerts, Sorita maintains residences in Nara, Tokyo, Warsaw and Vienna.

“I want to continue my piano studies in Paris, but I also want to start preparing to conduct operas one day,” he said.

It remains to be seen whether Sorita can keep notching up remarkable achievements, but his desire to take on new challenges continues to burn wildly.