Thursday, February 21, 2019

Soloist Profile: Joy Yanai in Conversation with Christian Baldini

In preparation for our upcoming concert in Sacramento with the Camellia Symphony Orchestra, I had the pleasure of interviewing Joy Yanai, who will be our soloist for Dvorak's Silent Woods and Saint-Saëns' Cello Concerto No. 1. 

Christian Baldini: Joy, it is a real pleasure to have you with us as our featured "Rising Star" soloist for this concert. I am very grateful to Eunghee Cho (Artistic Director of the Mellon Music Festival) for making me aware of your talent! How did you meet Eunghee?

Joy Yanai: It is such a pleasure for me to join the orchestra as well! Eunghee and I were both in the studio of professor Paul Katz at New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, MA. Eunghee is not only an excellent cellist, but also a fantastic producer who is always willing to share his ideas and passion with other musicians and audiences. I really appreciate the many wonderful musical experiences Eunghee has given me including the opportunity to perform on his Mellon Music Festival which led to this Rising Star Concert.

CB: For our concert you will be performing three very different pieces. The Suite for Cello Solo by Gaspar Cassadó, and then with the orchestra, Dvorak's Silent Woods and Saint-Saëns' Cello Concerto No. 1. Can you tell me how you feel about the program and specifically about each of these pieces? What is special to you about them?

JY: Saint-Saëns' first Cello Concerto is oftentimes stuck with a bad rep as a "student concerto" because it is one of those pieces that pre-college students will learn to show off their technique. I am ashamed to admit that I was also one of those young cellists who reveled in the virtuosic scales and tricky arppegiations of the concerto. Returning to this concerto after many years, I found that the music is full of so many different colors and so much more emotional richness than I remembered. There is actually no specific reason for programming these pieces, but I tried to pick pieces that it would be interesting and fun to listen if I were in the audience. To be completely honest, many of Dvorak's works do not attract me in particular, I am convinced that his Silent Woods is one of the most beautiful pieces ever written for the cello. Every time I perform this piece, I feel as if I am telling a fairytale that simultaneously caresses and arouses the heart. Cassadó's Suite for Cello Solo is one of the my favorite pieces because it immediately sends me to Spain- a place where I still have not visited. It also always amazes me how versatile the cello itself can be with Cassadó's imaginative extended techniques. I would be very happy if I can share my feelings with the audience at the concert! 

CB: Tell us about your background. Where did you grow up? When did you start learning music and the cello? Was there someone who was particularly important in your upbringing, who was an inspiration to you and helped you become a musician?

JY: I was born in Montreal, Canada and raised in Sendai, Japan. I learned the piano first, but I never liked it because there were too many notes to deal with. I started leaning the cello when I was five years old because my mother really loves cello. I still clearly remember when my parents gave me my first cello as a Christmas Present. Though there are many people who supported and helped me become a musician, meeting professor Laurence Lesser was the turning point of my life; without him, I probably never would have considered studying outside of Japan. We met at the Orford Music Academy, my first ever international summer festival, when I was 12. I did not speak any English at that time, but Mr. Lesser was very patient with me in each lesson. When I came to the states for the first time for high school, he became my private teacher for the following 8 years.  

CB: What are some of the most memorable experiences of your childhood? 

JY: Some of the most memorable experiences of my childhood are playing in snow with my yellow lab in the winter and catching butterflies and dragonflies in the summer on a hill just behind my house in Japan. There were not many children around my age in my neighborhood at that time, but I never felt lonely because I was completely enamored by nature. My name is spelled Joinatsuru in Japan, but it is spelled "Naturu Joy" in Canada where I was born. My father named me "Naturu" after the great nature that is so special in Canada. It seems that in my case, my name truly does reflect my nature (excuse the pun!).

CB: You have obviously accomplished a lot already, playing chamber music, as a soloist, and developing your own voice. And where would you like to be in 5 or 10 years? What would you like to be doing, or where?

JY: My dream job is playing year-round in a professional opera orchestra. 

CB: Which other activities do you enjoy, outside music?

JY: When I am in the states, I would have to say that cooking is my favorite and most dedicated hobby. However, when I am in Japan, my absolute favorite activity is visiting Japan's many hot springs. 

CB: What would you recommend to a young musician starting out? What is some good advice for someone who would like to become a professional musician?

JY: Whenever you feel like you have explored all the great music in the world, keep searching for more. There is so much to experience as a musician outside of the confines of the practice room. All of this experience contributes to who we are a as a musician and expanding your horizons into other genres and performance mediums will only serve to nurture your connection to music. Also, practicing should never feel like a chore. Even though it is undeniable how much we enjoy playing our instruments so much, sometimes we need a break from practicing. Go ahead and take that break!

CB: It's been really wonderful to have the chance to know more about you and your upbringing. Thank you for sharing your wonderful talent and dedication with your audience, and I very much look forward to our performance together!

JY: Thank you for giving me such a wonderful opportunity to play with you and your orchestra and also to talk about myself. I am very excited to meet everyone in the orchestra and in the community! 

Canadian-Japanese cellist Joy Yanai began taking cello lessons at the age of five in Japan before attending Walnut Hill School for the Arts in Natick, MA under the tutelage of distinguished pedagogue Laurence Lesser. She continued her studies in Boston at the New England Conservatory of Music completed B.M. and M.M. degrees, as well as a Graduate Diploma studying with Paul Katz and Lluís Claret.

In 2011 she actively joined the Earthquake and Tsunami relief efforts for Japan both with solo recitals in the affected regions and with fundraising performances in collaboration with Kim Kashkashian, Paul Biss, Laurence Lesser, and Masuko Ushioda. She participated in such international music festivals as Pacific Music Festival, Seiji Ozawa Music Academy Opera Project and Ozawa International Chamber Music Academy.

She actively performs with A Far Cry, Boston Philharmonic Orchestra, Atlantic Symphony Orchestra, Phoenix Orchestra, and Eureka Ensemble. She will be performing as a Festival Artist at the Mellon Music Festival in Davis, CA in May 2019.

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