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(New video) Mitsuko Uchida: Talent is nothing without character

The great pianist kicks off a public debate about the nature of musical talent. She adds that you need luck as well, and money helps.

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  1. Robert Fitzpatrick says:

    One can argue a few of Mitsuko’s points but it’s a debate worth having; and as the great actress Sarah Bernhardt once said to an aspiring young actress who claimed to have never experienced stage fright: “Don’t worry my dear, stage fright is usually a by-product of talent.”

    Success in the arts is almost always involves 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration, IMHO. The ultimate talent is the ability to work hard and achieve results (and she’s right, a little luck also goes a long way).

  2. Concerned Parent says:

    Indeed. Too easy an assumption is made that great music-making is the same as great moral value or character. What is being gradually revealed about the culture of UK music schools and conservatoires – including the mealy-mouthed defensive responses of current managers – should prompt some critical reflection about the role of moral character in teaching and studying music.

  3. Lynne Land says:

    How interesting to listen to and what a lovely sensible passionate lady. I will be getting my daughter to listen to this when she comes home from school today. Thanks for posting.

  4. Jasper Torrent says:

    Very nice, and she has some obvious points, but its unclear why she is doing this? Presenting a new set of rules what explains current generation how they should define a new showbiz stars?
    or this is a “handbook for chinese musicians” to become successful? Weird….
    Why this discussion should take a place? I guess there are enough audience to feel if a certain talent exists or not… without this “field manual”

    • This filmed address by Mitsuko Uchida is the starting point for a public debate, Is Talent Enough?, to be held at the Royal Festival Hall on Saturday 18 May at 11am. It’s one of many events 17-19 May to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Borletti-Buitoni Trust (BBT), a music foundation that helps talented young musicians all over the world. Mitsuko Uchida is a founding patron of BBT and will be leading a whole host of former BBT award winners in three concerts at the Queen Elizabeth Hall. Attendance to the debate, masterclasses and late night concerts are all free – come along!

    • John Milbauer says:

      Isn’t it clear that she is speaking as a member of the Borletti-Buitoni Trust musician selection panel? As such, it is likely that she has been asked many times about how selections are made, or “what they are looking for.” As a musician/professor who sees too many fingers moving without character/charisma driving, who sees students who would be fairly happy doing any number of other things enter, inexplicably, a field that is exasperatingly, excruciatingly difficult, I concur with much of this. It is not a field manual, or a guidebook, but an essential reminder that music is its own reward, that it is a vocation (aka addiction) for those who function at their peak, and that one cannot expect more from life as a musician than the joy of being immersed in music itself.

  5. Thanks–I have written in the same vein in my diary some time ago.
    Talent is more easily acquired than character.
    Again I said this some 40 years ago—it is better to be happy and to have character than to be rich or smart.
    How many smart people fail in attaining happiness and contentment!
    Henry David Thoreau–The mass of mankind leads (?) lives of quiet desperation.
    What is resignation is but confirmed desperation.
    For art to be beautiful , it must speak of values and what are values but a summation of ‘goodness’
    which is manifested in character?
    Thanks Norman and with deep esteem for the maestra.

  6. From my comments on the youtube channel”

    Oh my goodness! I used to be fond of Mitsuko playing. But her philosophy is so dated, incorrect and arrogant. These types of musicians shouldn’t speak out. They should not represent the greater body of musicians. This is exactly the problem with musicians like herself who think there’s a formula to being a musician ( which apparently she classifies as a only a classical musician )
    Frankly, shes the one who is dated and behind. There are so many musicians out there right now creating amazing things that are in and out of the classical world.

    Her rants near the end really shape out what type of character she is. Basically saying,” I don’t give a shit about the world, and the issues, let other people talk about it “: To be any type of artist you must not disconnect yourself from your community and the world, its pure arrogance if you do. Which she simply just laughs in our face saying she’s privileged and some sort of superior “musician” ( which I think she should have said, “artist”) . I’m sorry she’s not. She is not like Dali, Bernstein, Ives, Hemingway, Pete Seeger, The Beatles or countless others: All these people had more charisma,creativity, determination and sense of the world as well as the art form they used than she will ever have.

    – “Being a musician isn’t a profession, its a vocation” – Please tell that to all the hard working musicians all over the world who started in different years of there lives in music. Its creative job like any other. What’s “talent”: It’s so complex and difficult an answer, that she should not have given a chance to answer it. For myself and others I know, all you have to do is go out and experience it, create with it, make mistakes with it, make great things with it, etc.

  7. wonderful! i agree with her 100%. thank you for posting this.

  8. Samuel says:

    Wow – does that mean that pianist/composer/author Stephen Hough is not a musician? Does that mean that Daniel Hope is not a musician? Hmmm….

  9. Baruch says:

    So you cannot be a musician and a poet ? That’s what defines talent ? Come on…

    • Indeed, well put. I could not believe she said that.

    • Obviously, Wagner in her terminology was no musician.
      Nor was Franz Liszt, whose books might have been ghosted by a mistress or two but who originally had the ideas and the need to present them in prose.
      In effect, her’s are the statements of a quite good pianist, but a hack “guru”.

  10. Marianovic says:

    I wonder what her definition of a rich family is. At 4:34 she says “most of us, including myself, don’t come from a rich family….”. Hers is a family of diplomats, her daddy – an Ambassador of Japan in Austria.
    Geez, poor thing. Obnoxious spoiled rich spinster.

  11. Most of the misunderstanding can probably be explained by her not using the language with precision. For example, when she said “musician”, she obviously meant “classical musician” only, not because she does not consider others musicians, but because the whole debate was about classical musicians. Also, when she said that it was “a vocation and not a profession”, she most likely did not mean that professional musicians were not real musicians, but simply that in her opinion, for a real musician, making music is MORE than just a profession. The only comment of hers that is truly ludicrous is the one where she said something to the effect that anyone who wants to express themselves by any other artistic means in addition to music is not a true musician. That is just plain wrong, and there are some good examples in comments above, to which i can add a few more: Enrico Caruso, Nathan Milstein, Alfred Brendel.

    • I disagree, shes quite clear. She was educated in many languages, she knows 4 languages fluently. I heard here speak at recitals at Marlboro in the past and I can attest that her precision is fine.

      But the most ludicrous statement was the last one you mentioned. A real slap in the face from a nurtured child of a diplomat.

  12. She is a very fine pianist. it would be nice if someone could ask her to clarify these statements, perhaps during the debate on the 18th. Unfortunately i am too far from London to do that.

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