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Labor of Love

A visit with Peter Miyamoto, Professor of Music

By LuAnne Roth
Published: - Topics: performance piano

Peter Miyamoto characterizes his career as a classical concert pianist as "moonlighting." Although modest, this MU professor of Music has played extensively throughout the United States and the world and is widely renowned for his solo work. Performing classical music becomes by necessity a re-creative art, Miyamoto explains. Making "a bunch of black dots on the page" come to life isn’t easy.

Trained as a classical musician, Miyamoto researches compositions extensively while working on them: "I really believe that our job as musicians is to get the overall picture of what has been written for our instrument." In order to develop a full interpretation of one of Mozart's piano sonatas, for instance, a performer must strive to become familiar with all of Mozart’s other work--even the pieces that don’t involve piano. "It's by studying other pieces that you might have a sudden inspiration or insight into the sound-world or the way the composer writes," urges Miyamoto, an insight that helps to create the best interpretation possible. If his latest CD, Chopin: Ballades and Fantasies (Blue Griffin Recording, 2004), is any indication, this sort of exhaustive research pays off. Yet Miyamoto tends to think of his work more as, in his words, "a labor of love."

In addition to studying the whole repertoire of an individual composer's work, Miyamoto likes to look for connections between different composers. For example, in his current study of Franz Schubert, in preparation for his next recording, he has been excited to discover similarities between the emotional worlds of Schubert and Mozart: "There’s a kind of mixture of emotions that happens in both of those composers that one has to have access to." He explains that when you play their music, you have to "smile through your tears and laugh at the tragedy." This mixture of emotions is part of why Miyamoto "fell into music" in the first place. The challenge for him as a performer is to be able to switch gears emotionally while playing such works, so that listeners can experience these emotional fluctuations themselves.

Notwithstanding his world-class career as a solo concert pianist, Miyamoto confesses that if he’s exclusively doing solo work, he tends to go a little crazy from sitting alone at the piano practicing for hours, absorbed in the emotional and physical commitment. Thus he regularly seeks out collaborative work, such as chamber music and the concerto literature allow. "There’s something very affirming," he explains, "to play a sound and have another sound answer." When he’s not traveling for concerts or teaching piano at MU, Miyamoto takes the opportunity to play locally; indeed, he highly values such opportunities. He is active presently with the Odyssey Chamber Series, now in its second year in Columbia. This series, held at the First Baptist Church in downtown Columbia, brings together musicians from MU, the surrounding community, and much further afield to collaborate on chamber music.

By the interview's conclusion, I persuade Miyamoto to play a sample of his work for us (see the link to the right). It is nothing short of amazing to see the technical bravura of his fingers flying across the keyboard, the elegant poetry of his phrasing, and the powerful way that he accesses emotions. Although our recording can’t do justice to the live performance, you can at least glimpse Miyamoto's interpretation of Frederic Chopin's "Ballade No.1 in G minor, op. 23." For the real thing, you can see him play at these upcoming concerts:

  • February 17, 2006: Masterclass at the University of Connecticut, Storrs, CT
  • February 18, 2006: Recital with Cellist Pansy Chang at the University of Connecticut
  • February 19, 2006: Recital with Cellist Pansy Chang at the Whitney Arts Center, New Haven, CT
  • March 7-17, 2006: Isidor Bajic International Piano Competition, Jury Member, Novi Sad, Serbia
  • March 24, 2006: Solo Recital to Celebrate the 100th Anniversary of the Morning Music Club, Governor's Mansion, Jefferson City, MO
  • April 1-2, 2006: Plowman Chamber Music Competition, Missouri Theatre, Columbia, MO
  • April 7, 2006: Odyssey Chamber Music Series Performance of Pierrot Lunaire, First Baptist Church, Columbia, MO
  • April 23, 2006: Schumann Piano Concerto with the Columbia Civic Orchestra, Missouri United Methodist Church, Columbia, MO
  • June 25-August 5, 2006: Performing and Teaching at the New York Summer Music Festival, Oneonta, NY