by Mel Cooper
What can you do to promote a completely unknown musician who, you think, is world class and ready for a world-conquering career? The other night I attended a piano recital in Oxford in an out-of-the way church at the insistent invitation of a friend and I heard some of the most wonderful playing at every level that I have ever heard in my life. It was without any doubt in my experience at the same level of discovering astonishing and near-perfect artistry as the first time you hear Emil Gilels or Sviatoslav Richter or Artur Rubinstein. It made me think that this must be the Clara Schumann of our era. It was of a quality that almost seems to go beyond the instrument and its limitations.
The pianist I heard is a young woman named Maki Sekiya and as far as I am concerned she needs to be heard by everyone in the world. She played music composed by William Byrd through Beethoven, contemporary Japanese music, Debussy and Guido Agosti’s transcriptions of Stravinsky’s Firebird, and in every case it felt as if she was channelling the composer, not in any way getting between the audience and the music, and yet creating unique interpretations that were totally fresh and gripping. She displays in every phrase her own voice as a musician, a voice that is recognizable without in any way imposing herself on the music. She simply is the music when she is playing.
Technically, every piece she chose was an outstanding performance and her sense of balancing the programming was faultless. In the Beethoven Piano Sonata 21 in C Major, Op 53 (the Waldstein Sonata), Maki started at speeds that were faster than I have ever heard but with a clarity and energy that seemed totally appropriate. When she got to the Adagio it was a spiritual dream; and in the Prestissimo ending she somehow tied the whole thing together, referred back to the beginning, held the whole piece together as if in the palm of her hand, like a jewel for us to examine, facet by facet. Her touch is attuned to the complexity or simplicity of whatever she is playing; and she knows how to deploy both the sustaining and loud pedals to add to the effectiveness of her interpretation. Maki has a rare sense of the architecture of every piece that she plays and enables you to hear it as a coherent, complex whole. Finally, her touch is immaculate and she is capable in the quiet passages of taking the huge risk of playing so delicately that you almost fear the note will not sound—though it does without fail; yet she is capable of playing louder and more forcefully than seems possible when the music requires it.
Maki has studied at the Purcell School in the UK and also in Russia, and she sounded to my ears like someone who has managed to blend perfectly Japanese delicacy, Western urgency and Russian flamboyant energy. You only hear her mixture of taste, tact and commitment to the score from the very best players. The clarity of her pianism is astonishing; the wit and intelligence breathtaking. The result is that she appeals simultaneously to the mind and to the heart.
Maki is a tiny woman, very self-effacing, yet with a wonderful ability to charm the audience with little spoken introductions. The concert hall was the Church of St John the Evangelist in Oxford which was turned into an arts centre not very long ago and which has a fine acoustic.
Maki’s piano playing is a world-class achievement and if you ask me the world should be listening to this amazing pianist. Such talent demands a world stage – Carnegie Hall in New York, the Wigmore Hall in London, the Bunkamura in Tokyo. For the moment she is living her family life and teaching piano in Oxford and we were very fortunate to have a chance to hear such astonishingly inspiring musicianship. She is developing a reputation. The church was packed out; and of course, she got a standing ovation at the end of her recital and again after playing a magical Debussy Claire de Lune for an encore.
So make note of the name Maki Sekiya, which you will be hearing regularly soon, I hope. I am going to see if I can get a few samples of her playing and possibly an interview with Maki to put up on this site. So watch this space!