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studio visits with musicians

by Ellen Cockerham

Daisuke Yamamoto

He'll tell you to call him “Dice”, but not just to make your life easier.  Daisuke Yamamoto, the RSO's new concertmaster, just happens to be that friendly.  On the day that I visited his Manchester apartment, I was surprised to see that he had already changed his clothes since our morning rehearsal.  Our Hero likes to show up to work looking sharp, a habit which is indicative of his seriously professional attitude towards his responsibilities as concertmaster.  On the other hand, the jeans and rolled up sleeves he now sported spoke to his fun, relaxed nature.  Indeed, Dice is one to take his work very seriously, but never himself.  You can imagine what a delightful co-worker that makes for!

How do you think of classical musicians?  Do you think of yourself as an artist?
Definitely.  We are creating a soundscape.  We're taking printed notes on a page and telling our own version of the story.

When you are in need of inspiration, what do you read/do/look at/listen to?
A few different things...I listen to other pieces of music, music that I'm not currently working on.  I feel alive when I listen to great artists perform.  I also cook, which keeps me inspired about life in general.     I like to keep it fresh.  Perhaps surprisingly, I can't cook Asian food, especially Japanese.  The flavors are so subtle, and the ingredients are hard to find.  That being said, I do like to do some Asian fusion; I make a mean Korean fried chicken. 

When do you feel like you are really expressing yourself through music?
Whenever I perform!  I really try to paint a picture to the audience when I play.  I also feel like I'm expressing myself when I'm just reading chamber music in a casual setting, although I'm emoting in a different way; sometimes you get a good idea from something you did in jest. 

There are private moments of expression at well.  Once I've settled on fingerings and bowings that I like, I start experimenting with phrasing, colors, etc.


What does it mean to you to have a physical space to do your work?  How do you make your space work for you?
Having a set practice space is counterproductive, I find.  I get bored if I always practice in the same place; I feel like my creativity stagnates.  I like to move from the living room to the kitchen to the bedroom, and sometimes even in a totally different part of town! Something about being in a different space helps me get in the zone.

Would you say you have a particular “niche” in the music world?  In other words, do you have a passion within your passion?
There's no particular style of music that I gravitate towards more than others; whatever the period, whatever the style, as long as it's good music, I like it.  However, I do have a strong interest in reaching the younger demographic.  Classical music is something that should be experienced be everyone, at least once in their lives.  I think people shy away from the stuffy concert hall and perhaps the complexity of the music.  We need to break down that barrier and make it more open. 



Who do you greatly admire in the music world?
Michael Tilson Thomas, and not just for his acute intellectual insight into the music (I really think he is a genius), but also for his creative and innovative ways of bringing music to new people.  The New World Symphony Orchestra was his idea, as was the brand new concert hall they just built there in Miami.  He is particularly brilliant when it comes to incorporating technology with the concert experience.  For instance, when I was there, we played Mussorsky's Pictures at an Exhibition.  They hired 12 UC Berkeley art students to create animated shorts which were then projected onto the huge white “sails” in the hall there. 

I also admire Heifetz.  People say he is cold, but I think the opposite is true.  If you just close your eyes and listen, his sound is actually very warm and expressive. 

How do you experience music?  When you go to a concert, what do you think about/listen for?
When I do attend concerts, it is usually because I like the piece being performed or because I like the artist who is performing.  I'll use MTT as an example again; I would go to a concert which he was conducting because he always knows the score so well that he brings out different voices that you wouldn't hear in other performances.  So I get to experience something new.

What advice has influenced you greatly?
Josh Smith, principal flute of the Cleveland Orchestra, has a wonderful saying: play with love.  I think that's a great motto of his.  Basically, it means to enjoy what you are doing, to put your heart and soul into whatever you are playing.  I find this especially useful in audition settings; it helps remind me that it's just music. 

Do you have a practice ritual?  Describe your ideal practice situation, and then maybe what actually ends up happening.
Well, my ideal practice situation is that I would never have to practice but could still play everything perfectly!  (laughs)  But seriously, I always start with a warm-up.  The older I get, the more I need it!  I play scales and arpeggios, and there's this vibrato exercise that I like to do.  That's actually the best warm-up.  Then, if there is some passagework in something that I am working on, I'll play that slowly. 

When I am learning a new piece for the orchestra, the first thing I do is listen to it several times.  I find that is the fastest way to learn anything, much faster than just trying to drill it into your fingers.

What do you do for cross-training, something that provides a mental and/or physical balance to your work as a musician?
I like to play soccer--just pick up games here and there.  Walking, reading, or even just sitting outside is refreshing.  I also think it's important to get out and socialize, whatever your occupation!  I have done a  bit of playing in rock bands, and I find that to be a really fun outlet.  You don't have to worry about every little thing being perfect.  You can just play.  And then, there's the audience's reaction, which is a lot of fun.  Not really what we're used to!


What do you want your work as a classical musician to do?
I just want people to come and enjoy the music.  I want it to be an escape from their day-to-day lives.  It's like going to a movie and being transported to a fantasy world.  I want people to forget their troubles, and go out of the concert hall feeling refreshed.

You can hear Daisuke perform on Wednesday, June 12 at 8pm at The Speakeasy (526 N. 2nd Street, RVA).  He will be playing the Brahms String Sextet No. 1 in B-flat, op. 18 with musicians of Classical Revolution RVA.  

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