Faculty Spotlight: Taka Kigawa

This is the first installation in a series that will provide a more in depth look at the esteemed faculty at Greenwich House Music.

Taka Kigawa knew from a young age he wanted a career in music. Almost around the time he learned to walk, he began asking his parents if he could learn how to play the piano. Mostly, he says, he just wanted to be like his brother. Five years his senior, his brother was already enrolled in piano lessons; so, at the ripe old age of three they acquiesced to the youngster and enrolled him in lessons.

Mr. Kigawa has certainly come a long way since then. After studying continuously for years in Japan and then at the Masters level at the Juilliard School in New York, he has won numerous awards and earned international recognition as a solo pianist.

Among the many people who have supported him on his path as a career musician, Mr. Kigawa recalls his instructor Mr. Katsuzo Shinya as a primary influence on his craft. He studied with Mr. Shinya in college at Shinshu University, where Kigawa says Shinya’s main focus was the importance of practice.

“He was meticulous,” Kigawa says. “When I began studying with him my first year in college, he told me, ‘if you’re serious about making a career as a musician, you must start over from basic lessons—scales and arpeggios, basic rhythms.’ We would work for an hour on just the first measure of a piece.”

This steadfast approach continues through Kigawa’s work today. He tries to devote at least four hours each day to practice. That is the only way for musicians to improve he says. For Kigawa, music is as much a discipline as an art.

His discipline is evident in the precise nature of his art. With a focus on 20th century contemporary style, Kigawa has been described by the New York Times as a “careful, serious-minded musician.” The Times also included his New York solo recital at Le Poisson Rouge in August 2010 among the top five concerts of the year. Read the New York Times review of his 2008 concert at Greenwich House.

He notes that his Japanese background definitely impacts his style. In Japanese music, there is as much a focus on the ‘rest’ as there is each note. The in-between sound, as he calls it, relies so heavily on timing, and the emptiness is especially useful and important in contemporary music and rhythms.

While Kigawa focuses on the contemporary, he still draws his influences from the classics. He recalls discovering his parent’s vinyl from Debussy and Stravinsky that first drew him to the possibilities of solo piano; Ligeti’s Etudes and Boulez’s Sonatas remain among his favorite pieces to play.

Since coming to Greenwich House 12 years ago, Kigawa says he has enjoyed the community music experience for which the school is known. He was initially recommended to the school by one of his Juilliard professors and knew he wanted to become part of the rich history there.

As a teacher, Kigawa tries to instill in his students the same dedication he knows is so important to succeed as a musician. “I tell them, it’s easy to become negative and give up. You have to stay positive, and always be practicing. In piano, the only way to get better is to practice every day. If you pay attention and concentrate on improving you can,” he says.

Kigawa also enjoys learning from his students. Each day brings unexpected lessons. “My students inspire me every day,” he says. “By teaching, you in turn are learning.” Which is a good thing for this busy artist, who also encourages his students to hone their time-management skills. For those that aim to become professional musicians, Kigawa says, this is crucial.

It’s not just the timing of pieces that bear significant importance. As a performer, instructor, a recording artist and a constant student, Kigawa has a full schedule. But always, he adds, he finds time to practice.

Next recital: Monday, August 27 at 8:00pm (doors open at 7:00 pm) at (le) Poisson Rouge, 158 Bleecker St
Taka will play J.S. Bach's "The Art of Fugue." Tickets and information.

Read Taka's recent review in the New York Times.

Visit Kigawa's website

Photo Credit: Kenji Mori

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