Van Cliburn

Cliburn confidential: Tomoki Sakata

Cliburn confidential

19 of 30

A series of conversations with the Cliburn competitors

Tomoki Sakata

Nationality: Japanese

Born: Nagoya, Japan

Lives: Yokohama, the second-largest city in Japan (population approximately 3.7 million)

Age: 19

Early music memories: “When I was around 11/2, my mother found me singing along with some music from a CD,” Sakata says via email. “When I was around 3 or 4, I was always playing with my mother’s old upright piano at home just for fun by myself.”

Piano lessons began at 5 — and improvisation and even composition at 6. Sakata’s interest in classical music began when he was 9, and he says it has grown daily since.

“One of the triggers was Mozart,” he says. “I like Mozart’s harmony very, very much. I used to play with feeling and listening to his harmony very often, when I was very little. After I turned 12 years old, I decided to study classical music seriously.”

Favorite musicians: Josef Hofmann, a Polish-born pianist considered to be one of the greatest pianists of all time; Vladimir Sofronitsky, considered to be one of the greatest Russian pianists of the 20th century; violinist Josef Szigeti; and Arturo Toscanini, the famed conductor

Favorite contemporary pianist: Paul Badura-Skoda, an Austrian pianist. He made his concert debut in 1948 and is known for his interpretations of Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert, and for advocating the use of late-18th/early 19th-century keyboards in performing the works of those composers.

Cliburn dreams: Simply to do his best on all the pieces he performs during the competition, he says.

When he is not practicing piano, he is: Reading books, listening to CDs or composing.

Favorite book: Hamlet

Favorite movies: Back to the Future; Mr. and Mrs. Smith

Celebrities he would most like to meet: Yu Darvish, the Japanese-born Texas Rangers pitcher; Angelina Jolie.

Currently in his CD player or iPod: Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 5 by the Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra, Evgeny Mravinsky, conductor; Josef Hofmann’s Golden Jubilee Concert at the Met (The Complete Josef Hofmann Vol. 2: The Golden Jubilee Concert); Vladimir Sofronitsky’s Legendary Scriabin Recital (1958); Vladimir Sofronitsky’s Legendary Schumann Recital (1959); Josef Szigeti & Bela Bartok recital at the Library of Congress; Toscanini’s Complete Beethoven Symphonies with the NBC Symphony Orchestra

Favorite food: Potatoes and pizza — although he hasn’t tried American pizza yet, he says.

The first “Texan” thing he plans to do upon arriving in Fort Worth: “I would like to try Texan steak and maybe I also would like to take a walk with a Texas cowboy hat and [boots] on,” he writes in an email. “(But I really don’t want to ride a horse!)”

If he could travel back in time, the composer he would most like to meet: Franz Liszt. “Because he is one of my favorite composers, NO DOUBT,” Sakata says. “If I could meet him, [I] would immediately ask him to let me play in front of him. And I would ask him to play his OWN SONATA!!”

— Robert Philpot

Additional sources:,, Video Artists International (