At an age when most children are singing along with nursery rhymes, Nanaimo's Tetsuumi Nagata was drawn to classical music. "There was always music playing in my house," Nagata said. "My parents loved all kinds of music and frequently took me to see the Vancouver Island Symphony, conducted by Marlin Wolfe at the time.
"I started the piano at age four and, when I was five, my mom brought me to the Nanaimo Conservatory to meet Marlin. He asked me to sing an A and told me that I had perfect pitch. I started to learn the violin with him and never looked back." And while an elementary schoolboy playing violin might have, in some schoolyards, taken some teasing, that was never a problem for Nagata.
"When I was at Quarterway Elementary, all my classmates were so supportive of me and always cheered me on when I performed at the school. I'll never forget that," he said.
Twenty years later, now living in London, England, Nagata plays in a chamber music quartet that travels Europe, performed at a James Bond concert featuring actress Honor Blackman, has several recordings to his credit, has performed at the Proms in the Royal Albert
Hall and has played before royalty.
And while he is proud of what he's achieved, he said that none of it would have been possible without the support of his family and of Wolfe, and he talked about his journey while on a recent visit here to visit his parents. "Marlin is a huge part of my life and one of the biggest reasons why I am where I am today. He taught me for seven years and gave me many opportunities to perform as a soloist with the Vancouver Island Symphony which all made a big difference in how my life turned out."
His presence as a talented youngster did not go unnoticed around Nanaimo and he was asked to participate in a variety of city events including, at age seven, assisting former council member and longtime arts supporter Margaret Strongitharm in the sod-turning ceremony for Nanaimo's Port Theatre in 1995.
In 1998, he took first place in the nine years and under category at the Canadian Music Competitions in Montreal. He debuted as a soloist the following spring, playing Vivaldi's Four Seasons with the VIS at age 10.
In September 2000, he headed to The Yehudi Menuhin School in Cobham, U.K. "If not for Marlin I would never have dreamed of going to a school like that," Nagata said. "Marlin's own teacher had studied with Menuhin and Marlin lived in London, so I found myself kind of following in his footsteps."
After finishing there, Nagata completed his Bachelor of Music and Master of Performance degrees at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London, winning the Martin Musical Scholarship Award.
Guildhall was not only the site of Nagata's musical triumphs. It's where he also met his girlfriend, pianist Gunel Mirzayeva and the duo hope to come to Nanaimo next year and perform together at the Port Theatre.
"She has never been here and I'd like her to see this place where I grew up, meet some of the people who have been so supportive of me for so many years," Nagata said, adding that they are planning to put together an exciting concert featuring Beethoven, Mozart and Kreutzer pieces that feature piano and violin.
In the U.K., Nagata has performed with many large orchestras and given major concerts in Barbican Hall, Wigmore Hall, Royal Albert Hall, Queen Elizabeth Hall and a performance for HRM Prince Edward.
He now plays in a chamber string ensemble, the Benyounes Quartet, with whom he has travelled all over Europe and recorded Tabula Rasa in collaboration with jazz quartet Empirical.
Nor is that his only recording.
His VIS concert of Vivaldi's Four Seasons in 2007 was recorded and broadcast on CBC. In 2006, he premiered and recorded an original work by Stephen Goss, Frozen Music for the Cadenza Music Label. In 2012, he recorded Korngold's String Sextet and Piano Quintet with Camerata Freden.
Among his future engagements are recording with pianist Jeremy Young and a Britten centenary concert series at St. John's Smith Square in London.
For Nagata, he's living all his dreams at the moment.
"I love chamber music so playing with Benyounes is really great. I've travelled to Austria, and have a tour planned in Singapore next year," he said. "I've been in London for seven years now, 13 years in the U.K. and it's just blown by so quickly sometimes I just can't believe it. It was a big challenge to get used to a city like London. I'm a much smaller fish in a very big pond but I can't believe the good luck I have had."
Plus, of course, like any young Canadian male, he loves watching the Vancouver Canucks play hockey on TV, though from England that sometimes means at rather crazy hours due to the time difference.
He's also a big fan of contemporary bands like Radiohead and the Beatles are perennial favourites.
And while all the travel, the acclaim and being able to live the music in his heart keeps him happy, one day he plans to return to his roots.
"Travelling around Europe, the world, playing. That's all something I dreamed about years ago and it's so great. I am so lucky. I know that," he said.
"But I would love to move back to Nanaimo one day.
"It's so beautiful here and the people are so great. I would never be where I am today without all the support I got from my family, friends, from Marlin and so many other people."
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