The Worldly Shoji

Classic Arts Features   The Worldly Shoji
Violinist Sayaka Shoji performs Prokofiev's First Violin Concerto with the New York Philharmonic this month.

By her own admission, the violinist Sayaka Shoji has never been one to spend all her time in the practice room. So it stands to reason that when she makes her New York debut this month with the New York Philharmonic, her time away from the Orchestra and Music Director Lorin Maazel won't all be spent in her hotel room with fiddle in hand.

"When I travel I like to visit the museums, to walk the streets and breathe the air, to meet the people," she said in a recent phone conversation from Cologne, where the 21-year-old violinist has lived and studied since 1998. "It's very important for me, as it should be for any musician."

The Tokyo-born Ms. Shoji came by that philosophy rather young, having moved to Italy at age three when her artist-mother began to study painting by immersing herself in the culture. For the budding musician, who fell in love with the violin during those years, it also laid the groundwork for her own artistic life.

The immersion approach has been particularly appropriate for Prokofiev, whose sonatas Ms. Shoji has recorded for Deutsche Grammophon and whose Violin Concerto No. 1 she performs this month with Mr. Maazel and the Philharmonic, both in New York and on tour in her native Japan. "With the Soviet composers, you can sense both the spirit of their nationality and the mentality of their time," she says. "With Prokofiev, though, I feel more fantasy, more color. Sometimes it is like reading short stories for children."

This insight came not only from performing the piece in St. Petersburg, she says, but from reading Russian literature and from her exposure to painting. "If I see something in the art," she says, "I can hear it in the music. I get much inspiration from the other side."

Ken Smith is the performing arts critic in Asia for the Financial Times, the U.S. correspondent for Gramophone, and a regular contributor to The Strad and many other publications.

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