Saturday, September 22, 2018

Christian Baldini in Conversation with Natsuki Fukasawa

In preparation for our opening performance of Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 5 "Emperor" with the Camellia Symphony Orchestra in Sacramento, California, I had the pleasure of sitting down to chat with our wonderful soloist, Steinway Artist Natsuki Fukasawa.

Here is the summary of our conversation:

Christian Baldini: How does Beethoven fit within your own personal world? Is he still relevant today, and if so, why?

Natsuki Fukasawa: I find Beethoven's “Emperor” Concerto exuding with optimism, confidence, sublime beauty (in the second movement) and even humour in the last movement.  But he wrote this during the time of war while Vienna (where he lived) was under attack by the Napoleon army. Beethoven suffered bombing and escaping to shelter while creating this master piece.  Throughout his life, Beethoven faced severe challenges (child abuse, early loss of a parent, deafness in adulthood) and he always persevered. In this current world we live in, I strive to maintain the same kind of optimism and perseverance.

Christian Baldini: Can you tell us some anecdotes about traveling and performing music in different parts of the world?

Natsuki Fukasawa: I have had many “surprises” at concert venues (and some are not so pleasant, like freezing drafts in the green room!), but one of the memorable was when I arrived at the concert hall, the piano was locked and I couldn’t find the stage manager to open it.  We really needed to rehearse before the concert, but no piano! So, in desperation to open the piano, I tried the mailbox key I had of my apartment in Prague…an old skeleton type…and voila, it worked!

Christian Baldini: When did you first fall in love with the Emperor Concerto?

Natsuki Fukasawa: This Concerto has been on my “bucket” list for about the past 5 years, but I’ve always loved it since when I first heard it at age 8 or 9. Perhaps I was more in awe of it than “in love” with it then. I have played the Beethoven Concertos No. 1, 3 and 4 and I finally feel ready to play this one.

Christian Baldini: Your husband is also a pianist. Do you spend much time talking about music together, discussing interpretation, or do you simply talk about other things at home? 

Natsuki Fukasawa: I want to ask the same question to you, since you and your wife are both conductors also!

Christian Baldini: That's fair enough, but you're the star of the show this week and of course I'll be happy to tell you all about it in due course!

Natsuki Fukasawa: Yes, we do talk about music together, and we do play for each other. We also discuss ideas and interpretations. When I first met him, he seemed much more mature, since I was only 18 and he was already 24!  But now I feel that we are much more on the same ground, thank goodness. Some musicians prefer not to have a musician as a partner, but I enjoy being able to talk about music with my husband, and he is very supportive of what I am doing.  I hope he feels the same about me!

Christian Baldini: The last time you performed with the Camellia Symphony Orchestra you played Gershwin's Piano Concerto in F (six years ago). Our orchestra has grown enormously in the past several years, and it is in great part thanks to the work that we do with marvelous guest artists such as yourself, and the many wonderful soloists that we've had over the years (including principal players from the San Francisco Symphony). How does playing with our orchestra fit within your goals and ideals as an artist? 

Natsuki Fukasawa: Some of the greatest works written for the piano are Piano Concertos, and I feel very fortunate to have the opportunity to learn and play this repertoire with the Camellia Symphony Orchestra and Maestro Baldini.   The positive and supportive energy during the rehearsals makes it a lot fun to play. Camellia’s Board President Roseanna Torretto has been very communicative and supportive too, and I appreciate her making everything easier for me.

Christian Baldini: Thank you so much for your time, dedication and attention to detail, and for sharing your phenomenal musical talents with us, dear Natsuki, we very much look forward to your performance!

Natsuki Fukasawa: Thank you, I also look forward to sharing this wonderful music with our audience!

Steinway Artist Natsuki Fukasawa has performed throughout the U.S., including at Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, and the Kennedy Center, as well as in Europe, Scandinavia, Israel, Australia, Brazil, Mexico, Japan and China. She is a recipient of a rave review in Fanfare magazine and the Best Chamber Music Recording of the Year from the Danish Music Awards.

As a soloist, Fukasawa toured Italy performing Gershwin's Concerto in F. And in the past year, she appeared performing the Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 4, Brahms Concerto No. 1, Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No. 2, as well as the Ravel Concerto in G.  Fukasawa serves on the artist faculty for the Talis Festival and Academy in Saas-Fee, Switzerland,Orfeo Music Festival in the Italian Alps and is a faculty member of American River College. She also enjoys nurturing young talents in her own private studio, where her students are winners of state, national and international competitions and go on to pursue music in college.

Fukasawa records for Da Capo, Classico and North Pacific Music labels and her career was awarded the 2017 Nelson Marquis Lifetime Achievement Award.  She has earned her degrees from the Juilliard School, University of Maryland and Prague Academy of Music.

Christian Baldini has served as Music Director of the Camellia Symphony Orchestra in Sacramento since 2012. He has also served as the Music Director of the UC Davis Symphony Orchestra and Barbara K. Jackson Professor of Conducting at the University of California, Davis, since 2009. With these orchestras he has conducted multiple world premieres, and local premieres of such important works as Varèse's Amériques, Luciano Berio's Sinfonia, Ligeti's Violin Concerto, and many relevant symphonic cycles like those by Sibelius, Brahms and Schumann.

Baldini has conducted opera at the English National Opera (most recently Verdi's Aida at London's Coliseum in November 2017), Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires (Dallapiccola's Il prigioniero, Dallapiccola's Volo di notte, and the world premiere of Oscar Strasnoy's Requiem), and the Aldeburgh Festival in England (Britten's The Rape of Lucretia). Since 2009 he has been the Music Director of the Rising Stars of Opera in collaboration with the San Francisco Opera at the Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts, showcasing some of the most talented operatic singers of the young generation.

Baldini previously served as an assistant conductor with the BBC Symphony Orchestra and the San Francisco Symphony. His CD recording "Mozart: Opera Arias and Overtures" conducting the Scottish Chamber Orchestra was chosen as "Recording of the Month" by the BBC Classical Music Magazine, and received 4- and 5-star reviews by the specialized press. He is a frequent international guest conductor with appearances leading the Buenos Aires Philharmonic, Munich Radio Orchestra, San Francisco Symphony, National Symphony Orchestra (or Argentina and Portugal), Teatro Argentino de La Plata and the Florida Orchestra. He first came to international attention when he made his conducting debut in Salzburg at the Awards Weekend, chosen as one of three finalists selected among 91 applications worldwide.