Lark Music Magazine – Follow Your Heart

By Lesley Bellew

It might have been the feet of Aisa Ijiri which propelled her to international stardom. Instead, her lithe fingers, drawing mesmerising music from piano keys on the world’s leading concert stages, have earned prizes, acclaim, the standing of becoming an official Steinway Artist and a tearful fulfilment of her dream of performing at Carnegie Hall.

How many of the thousands of concert-goers, enthralled each year by her playing, realise that the feet springing from pedal to pedal once sprinted along the athletics tracks of Japan with such speed that a career as an Olympic 100m runner was a very real possibility?

Also competing at national level in swimming and figure skating, and a keen skier, the young Aisa might have seemed destined for a life in sport – until music brought her to Europe, and set her on course to honour advice from her beloved grandfather, who told her “Follow your heart”.

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Sprinting Toward Music

Aisa Ijiri on Athletics and Pianism – By Steinway&Sons | Ben Finane

‘Steinway Artist Aisa Ijiri had a busy, competition-filled childhood in Kyoto, Japan. From an early age, Ijiri competed not just in piano, but in sprinting, swimming, and figure skating at a national level. At fifteen, she abandoned those sports — but the piano remained. She now lives in London, where she met up with Steinway & Sons’ Editor in Chief to discuss her path to the keyboard and how athletics shaped her journey.’

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“… Aisa Ijiri is a special talent whose European sophistication, fierce passion and poetic sentiment creates a lyrical atmosphere. A demanding selection of the chefs- d’oeuvre of both Schumann and Liszt was performed with crystal texture, clear touch and an inspired use of the pedal. ”  
The Record Geijutsu, Japan
“…It is amazing how Aisa exhibits not only a great degree of lyricism, but she also dares to show such boldness in these two pieces. She truly shines when her technical talent is on display, especially with Après une Lecture de Dante -Fantasia quasi Sonata- from Années de Pèlerinage, Italie. All in all, this is a surprising CD from a promising pianist… “
Pianowereld, Holland
“An exceptionally creative artist, blessed with a vivid performance temperament. Aisa Ijiri possesses innate musicianship which is harnessed to a virtuoso technique.”
Gordon Fergus-Thompson
“Aisa Ijiri is a radiant and poetic artist, her repertoire wide and imaginative, her pianism always at the service of the composer.”
Andrew Ball

Concert Review

Aisa Ijiri plays Leighton Library theatre: strength in depth

By Judy Moore

There used to be a theory that women did not make good concert pianists because they didn’t have the physical strength. Whether or not you consider that that was always a load of bull, Ms Ijiri certainly gave the lie to it. She is tiny: she produces a huge, all-embracing, sound.

So, what did she play, I hear you ask. The first half of the programme was quintessential Liszt in all his lusciousness and with his trademark occasional daring not-quite-harmonies. She commenced with Liszt’s reworking of Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in A Minor. We were given an early earnest of her skills during the fugues. This scintillating opening was followed by a little piece from the Impressionistic Années de Pèlerinage, Troisième Anné, written at and about the Villa D’Este outside Rome – at that time a home of Cardinal Hohenlohe. You may know that it is famous for its fountains. Liszt captured the rise and fall of the waters marvellously, and Ms Ijiri conveyed it to us in all its glory, to the last droplet, drawing for the listener the patterns made by the sudden release of pent up water. The music conjured wonderful waves of watery sound, reducing to silver trickles of great beauty. The final pieces of this set were The Petrarch Sonnets. Liszt arranged the original settings he wrote of these for various musical forces. Ms Ijiri thoughtfully gave the texts of the sonnets in the programme notes. Once I got over the oddness of the three pieces having lost, as it were, their words, the melodies took us quite demonstrably through three stages of the poet’s unrequited love for one Laura de Noves. Ms Ijiri developed the themes with grace, power and clarity. As may be imagined from such a non-relationship, there was quite a lot of anguish involved – as in the repeated angular note at the end of the 3rd sonnet – which Ms Ijiri conveyed to us, hovering over the bass notes of the piano like a hunting hawk.

Ms Ijiri second set began with Manuel de Falla – a favourite of mine. She gave us Fantasia Baetica. This was composed in 1919, long before de Falla’s self-imposed exile at the start of the Civil War. It celebrates southern Spain, Flamenco, the guitar music, the rhythms, the percussion, the clapping and stamping, with his customary esprit. It allowed Ms Ijiri to give her percussive style free rein. Bravo!

The final, and most substantial, piece in the programme was Prokoviev’s “Romeo and Juliet” ten pieces for Piano, being a reduction for solo piano, by the composer, of his own ballet. It was delightful to be reminded of the gorgeous melodies with which Romeo and Juliet is stuffed without the distraction of the dancing – or, indeed, having to take a couple of hours over it. They are quite lovely, from the initial, robust ‘Folk Dance’; the mouse-like scampering of ‘Young Juliet’; the processing of the haughty ‘Montagues and Capulets’; the gentle innocence of ‘Father Lorenzo’; the coarseness of ‘Mercutio’; the dissonant ‘Lily Dance of the Maidens’ turning the mood towards the final, dark ‘Farewell’. Finally we are vouchsafed a return of the lark-like theme of Romeo and Juliet’s love, for which we are yearning after the darkness. Ms Ijiri’s rendering was delicious.

She rewarded our enthusiastic applause with ‘Sakura’, a short piece by young composer Llywelyn Ap Myrddin. It depicts the joy of the Japanese during the week or so when the cherry trees bloom, and the weather forecasters chart the where and when of the best displays. She has played this on Radio 3. Hear it here if you missed the concert It is so very good to hear ‘classical’ music of the this calibre being composed and played right NOW.

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