Kenji Miura
© Jeremy Knowles

“Actually I have to say the pandemic has been great for me overall. I think this time is something I will treasure for the rest of my life.”

Come again? You don’t hear many musicians claiming such a positive outcome from the Covid-19 pandemic, especially an up-and-coming talent like pianist Kenji Miura. But I didn’t mishear him, and it wasn’t a result of a Zoom glitch as he spoke to me from his home in Berlin: “It’s all about outlook. You can’t change the situation you’re in: you can only change your outlook and take whatever you can from it and grow as a person. I realised how long I had been on edge, constantly going through that high tension world of concerts and competitions all the time. Having the ability to manage my time according to how I want and having the freedom to plan things my way, it gave me time to re-evaluate my priorities, because it got rid of every distraction.”

Talk about looking on the bright side! However, it’s typical of this pianist to bring his own perspective to any situation. As well as being an exciting musician, he’s a considered thinker and he has his own ideas about everything, from programming and repertoire to the impact of technology on the classical music world of today.

It’s not as though Miura has no reason to complain, however. The pandemic has hit him as hard as anyone: not only has he has suffered the bereavements and financial losses common to so many, but his wedding plans had to go back to the drawing board. On top of that, 2020 should, by rights, have been a golden year for him.

In November 2019 Miura won the Long-Thibaud-Crespin competition in Paris and the world seemed to be his oyster. “As a result of that, in 2020 I would have been travelling all around the world and everything was lined up, but two months later the pandemic started and everything got cancelled.”

He isn’t bitter, though, and he hasn’t been idle in lockdown. If anything, it has made him focus on what really matters in his industry. “The biggest change musically was to realise that music requires the stage but the artist’s ego doesn’t. As long as we keep moving forwards, our inner music will grow, and when the day comes that we are able to allow music to come to its fulfilment on stage, then great! But life goes on and it’s not a tragedy in itself. How often does life give you no alternatives other than to reset and rethink everything? We have to use this time to discover new ways of looking at life, new ways of everything. Everything has to be reconsidered.”

Miura spends a lot of time thinking about repertoire and how to put together programmes that are as thought-provoking as they are musically satisfying. “Everything is about context, because life is so complicated that there are never two moments that are the same, and that’s especially true for music. You will perform a piece a hundred times and they will all be different, and even if you have a recording, it will be different a hundred times because you are different at every single moment, so it will always be a different experience. So even considering the relationships of keys or the gaps between movements can change the emotional scope of works, and that’s why I love to think of programmes as a whole.”

In May 2021 Miura will undertake a nine-city tour of Japan, playing solo piano music ranging from Schubert to Poulenc via Liszt. So how did his ideas about repertoire come together in his thoughts for this programme?

“The concept behind this whole programme is Freedom, something that has been spoken of extensively around the world in 2020. The first half of the programme [featuring Impromptus by Schubert, Poulenc and Chopin] is all about improvisation, the most vulnerable state a musician can experience, and the programme ends with the Liszt B minor Sonata, where the composer pushes the limits not just of the instrument but of the sonata form. I think that idea of striving against an existing box and trying to push it as far out as possible is something that is very powerful in today’s world.”

Kenji Miura

Miura’s interest in pushing boundaries also extends to his personal life, and not just because he and his partner are expecting their first child in June. He is also voraciously curious, trying to learn something new about the world every day (“I get giddy when I come across things I’ve never known before!”), whether that’s through reading, meeting people or listening to podcasts.

He also wants to push the boundaries of the music industry and worries about the impact that technology has had on the scope of repertoire. “The market for music has changed because the way we consume music has changed. Everything is on big digital platforms, and there is now a visual image attached to music, much more so than there was a century ago, and we have to think much more about what sells. The more resources, time and energy are put into something that’s popular, the more popular it’s going to get, so you get into a cycle. Therefore, whatever is deemed popular will get narrower and narrower, and that will go so far above everything else it’s hard to come back from it.”

However, Miura has also been thinking about how to change that, and he thinks the role of artists like him is critical. “It’s not something that can be solved right away, but if artists strive to be more sincere and more free in our creativity, without being bound by what sells or what gets audiences into the halls, then surely if the content changes then the consumers will also eventually change with it. But we can’t expect the consumers to change before we do, so it is our duty: we have to think about why we love music, what is great about music and how to best conserve the true essence of music.”

It’s striking how deeply Miura thinks about things beyond the notes he plays, and even about things beyond performance. He isn’t a fan of competitions, for example: “It’s a very unnatural situation to be put in: I don’t think you can ever justify objectively comparing art and saying this is better than the other.” However, they do help him to make connections and build exposure: for example, he won the Diploma of Outstanding Merit at the 2015 Hamamatsu International Piano Competition, and the city of Hamamatsu is the first stop in his Japanese tour in May.

Furthermore, he is already thinking about what might lie beyond the concert platform for him, and one day he would love to be a professor so that he can have an impact on young players. “We’re all part of the human race and I think you have to leave something behind. That doesn’t have to be an idea that will change the world, but at best why not touch a few lives and change them for the better? That seems the logical thing for me to do. I love to interact with people, especially at university age, because that’s the time when you really grow as a person. You can have a really sincere and significant impact by just sharing life with people, and that’s the kind of professor I want to be.”

For now, though, he is happy to keep on pushing those boundaries and to explore things in his own way. “My ultimate goal is to discover as much repertoire as I can and to incorporate unknown repertoire into my programmes. That’s such a valuable thing in our line of work, where we deal with works that are so familiar. With lesser known repertoire you can really let your imagination run free as to what the composer meant, and I think that for classical music to be more accessible to everyone you need to immerse yourself within as many different people and ideas as possible because that makes you broader as a person.”

“Sometimes I don’t think it’s necessary to have all these unspoken rules. If somebody wanted to play Bach on a modern piano with pedal then why not? Ideas should always be challenged.” That sounds to me like a pretty exciting mission statement.


With the Young Artists To Watch project Bachtrack aims to shine a bright spotlight on deserving artists from all over the world that might not be getting as much visibility as they would have without the limitations caused by the pandemic.

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