Last year, he was in high school.
And yes, at age 19, Tomoki Sakata of Japan is the youngest pianist of this year’s competition—this isn’t gymnastics, after all.
“I didn’t notice that I was the youngest until recently,” Sakata says. “But I am very happy to be selected… It was a great honor, and I hope I can do my best even if I am the youngest.”
Right now, Sakata bounces between Japan and Italy, studying both at the Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music, and at the International Piano Academy in Lake Como. His mother is making the trip to Texas to keep him company, though he’s no stranger to world travel. In addition to many concerts in Japan, he’s performed in Moscow, Prague, Paris, Vienna and other world cities. In 2012, he was a semifinalist in the Hamamatsu International Piano Competition, and in 2011 was a semifinalist at the International Franz Liszt Piano Competition.
He likes Angelina Jolie (on Facebook, at least), and a Japanese actress/singer named Aya Ueto. He’s clearly a big sci-fi fan, citing Star Wars, Men in Black, and Back to the Future as movie favorites, plus an anime series called Galaxy Express. When he isn’t practicing or playing the piano, he says, he likes to “read books, listen to CDs, do some composing, enjoy operas, and eat Japanese noodles called ‘ramen’!” (Does he know that many American college kids his age do too—out of necessity?)
Sakata began piano lessons at age five, and says his happiest early memories about music involve the beauties of harmony.
“I really liked Mozart’s harmony when I was a very young child,” he says. “I felt like I was diving into a deep beautiful world. And also I remember improvising for fun, and happening onto some wonderful (to me!) harmony and melody—that is a best memory.”
When asked for his three favorite composers for the piano, he answers directly: “Liszt, Scriabin, Debussy and Schumann. Oops, that is four!”
Sakata says it “was a great honor to be selected” for the Cliburn competition, and add that he’s also “really excited” about his first visit to Texas. “I would love to try a ‘Texas-sized’ steak, and to wear the Texas hat and boots!”
◊ Here is a video of Tomoki Sakata performing in 2011 at the Franz Liszt International Piano Competition in the Netherlands:
Tomoki Sakata's Van Cliburn International Piano Competition Repertoire:
Preliminary Recital, Phase I
BEETHOVEN Sonata No. 22 in F Major, op. 54
LISZT Après une lecture de Dante (Fantasia Quasi Sonata)
LISZT La Campanella (from Etudes d'exécution transcendantes d'après Paganini)
SCRIABIN Sonata No. 5, op. 53
Preliminary Recital, Phase II
MOZART Variations on a Minuet by Duport, K. 573
ALBENIZ Iberia, Book 2
TCHAIKOVSKY-PABST Concert Paraphrase on Evgeny Onegin
DEBUSSY Etudes, Book 1
VERDI-LISZT Danza sacra e duetto finale di "Aida"
RACHMANINOV Sonata No. 2 in B-flat Minor, op. 36 (1931)
SCHUMANN Piano Quintet in E-flat Major, op. 44
MOZART Piano Concerto No. 20 in D Minor, K. 466
TCHAIKOVSKY Piano Concerto No. 1 in B-flat Minor, op. 23
◊ To see a slideshow of all of the competitors, with bios and links to our profiles of them, click here.