TV & Radio
Stanislav Bunin loves touring Japan, even after 20 years
Kumi Matsumaru / Daily Yomiuri Staff Writer
Pianist Stanislav Bunin says he has a special fondness for Japan. But it's not because of the so-called Bunin boom that took place in the nation 20 years ago or his thoughtful, charming Japanese wife.
"Actually, it wouldn't matter if she was, say, Ethiopian," he joked in a recent interview with The Daily Yomiuri. "I'm attracted to Japan because of the people's mentality, their drive for life and the country's rich nature."
"In addition, the audience in Japan always tries to accept everything that I play. That makes me treat each of my concerts here like my own child." he said in German interpreted by his wife.
Bunin knows Japan, well having performed up and down the country year after year and insists its nature is as beautiful as anything found in Europe.
"You will realize this if you throw concerts throughout Japan as much as I do. While traveling from Sapporo to Okinawa, you can find all kinds of wonderful nature and different climates," said Bunin, who holds about half of the 35 or so official concerts he performs every year in Japan.
The Moscow native from an established musical family--a descendant of both Heinrich Neuhaus, the founder of a Soviet piano school, and the Polish composer Karol Szymanowski--will play in Tokyo and two other cities in June and July together with the Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra. The event will mark the 20th anniversary of his debut in Japan.
According to Bunin, the concerts will present numbers by, among others, Mozart and Chopin, with the latter being the composer with whom he is most closely associated. Last year, tickets to his concert tour in Japan with a Chopin-only program sold out.
"When playing in front of the audience, I always try to bring out more than what I have," Bunin said. "It is a risky thing to do for a pianist because we pianists do have a certain format in the way of presenting what we practiced at the right place. But when I play, especially here, I try to express more than what I have practiced."
Bunin said part of his affection for Japan also came from the feelings of "nostalgia" that have developed within him during the past 20 years.
In 1983, Bunin became the youngest winner of the first prize in the Concours International Marguerite Long-Jacques Thibaud piano competition in Paris at the age of 17. He also won first prize and the gold medal in the 11th International Frederic Chopin Piano Competition in Warsaw in 1985.
Following these successes, he started playing concerts all over the world, soon sparking the so-called Bunin phenomenon in the United States and Europe.
A similar phenomenon also was ignited in Japan, especially in the wake of a television program featuring the young pianist. While holding recitals amid the boom, he played with orchestras and often appeared in the Japanese media. In particular, fans of Chopin's music seem to be particularly fascinated by him.
"I remember what happened to me while spending my first cold summer in Hamburg after I was exiled from the former Soviet Union in June 1988," Bunin recalled. "The summer was very cold in northern Germany, and I had no warm things to wear."
"Then I talked about the experience on a Japanese television program. Although I have no idea how it was broadcast, two weeks later I received three boxes of warm socks, sweaters and mufflers from viewers in Japan."
Bunin said that in Europe, he feels he plays as a friend or guest of the audience.
"But I play in Japan as one of the citizens, or as a salaryman, because of my long relationship with the country," he said with a smile.
Bunin seems to understand almost everything he is asked in Japanese and at times even responded to questions in Japanese. He also enlivens his comments with jokes, challenging the image of a pianist who is often viewed as a very serious performer, partly due to his background.
According to his office, Bunin and his wife, who always travels with him on concert tours, speak in German for two-thirds of the time and Japanese for the remaining time.
Bunin is now based in Hamburg, and regularly comes to Japan, where he also has a home. Besides Japan, he plays mainly in Germany, Italy and other European countries. The interview took place a day after his return from a performance in Seoul.
During the 23 years since his piano competition victory in Paris, Bunin said his philosophy of music had become more complicated.
"I have become more cautious or cowardly when playing," he said. "When playing the piano, I used to be like a bird freely flying without any concern. Of course, playing like that was a stimulating and glamorous thing to do."
"Take Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 23, for instance. I now want to fully explore it and bring out all the hidden beauty of the number. Persevering with such small efforts forms part of my musical philosophy," Bunin said. "After all, 20 years are too short to create wonderful music. Do you know, the piano concerto has been around for 220 years?"
According to Bunin, who says he sweats "at least 1.2 liters" per performance, securing the right clothes for performing is a lesser, but still big issue, because without suitable attire he feels like he's been "soaked in a hot spring by the end of a performance."
And that is another thing he finds charming about Japan. He has had all of his tailcoats made at a shop in Ginza after being impressed by their fine tailoring.
This year marks the 250th anniversary of Mozart's birth, but Bunin says he always plays Mozart's works anyway.
"At the upcoming concert, I will play Piano Concerto No. 23--my favorite among Mozart numbers," he said.
He said No. 23 is special for him because he has played it at a number of important moments in his life.
"First, I won the Paris competition with this number. I also made my debut in Tokyo with this piece in 1986."
"But there is one thing I need to mention," he said.
"I received the Gold Disc award for my recording of Mozart's piano on Toshiba-EMI, but I still haven't got one for my Chopin numbers," he said with a mischievous smile.
Stanislav Bunin will play with the Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra June 27 at 7 p.m. at Suntory Hall in Akasaka Tokyo, July 3 at 7 p.m. at Arkas Sasebo in Sasebo, Nagasaki Prefecture, July 6 at 7 p.m. at Tokyo Metropolitan Art Space in Ikebukuro, Tokyo, and July 8 at 4 p.m. at Morioka Shimin Bunka Hall in Morioka, (03) 3944-9999.
(Jun. 17, 2006)