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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, December 5, 2003

3 pianos a tribute to lesson days

By Lee Cataluna
Advertiser Columnist

Henry Miyamura, conductor of the Hawaii Youth Symphony, has just figured out how to fit three grand pianos on stage. It took some serious planning. The Blaisdell Concert Hall has a large stage, but the Steinways will share the space with a full orchestra, and Miyamura wants to make sure the audience can see and hear all three pianists for the featured performance of Sunday afternoon's concert.

"It's a very tuneful concerto by Mozart, written for three pianos," Miyamura says. "We have three concert grands, and what makes it really special is that we have the premier teacher of all the major piano students playing alongside two of her students."

Ellen Masaki has been teaching piano in Honolulu for 50 years and playing for 70 years, but it will be the first time she'll perform with her students in a formal concert.

Masaki asked former student Lisa Nakamichi to join her on stage. Nakamichi was Masaki's student 20 years ago, and Masaki remembers her as one of the most outstanding students she ever had.

"She was about the seventh grade when I had her and the first thing she told me was that she wants to go to Juilliard. And that's where she ended up."

Nakamichi got her doctorate at Juilliard and is now playing professionally in Japan.

The other student Masaki invited to perform is Mark Wong, who kept up his musical skills while building a successful career in business. Wong is now president and CEO of Commercial Data Systems. "He still plays beautifully," Masaki says.

The Youth Symphony has about 400 students between sixth to 12th grade, and Masaki believes it will be exciting for the kids to see in Nakamichi and Wong where music can take them in their adult lives.

Miyamura agrees. He's seen Masaki's students excel in music, art, academics. He says he went to the hospital recently and he recognized the emergency room doctor as a young piano soloist from Masaki's school.

"Many of them use the discipline that she instills in them in other areas," Miyamura says. In the Youth Symphony, Miyamura conducts many of Masaki's students and he counts on their musicianship.

"One of musicians, when I found out he was Ellen Masaki's student, I just gave him the part and told him, 'Go. I'll give you five minutes,' — and it's very difficult piece — and I said, 'Go out and learn it, come back and then play it for the orchestra.' And he did."

Masaki says she's not nervous about the performance because "I got the easiest part."

"I gave Lisa the first piano part — that's the most difficult. And then Mark got the second part and I got the third part, which is the easiest part. So they'll cover me up," she says with a giggle.

The concert will be at 4 p.m. Sunday in the Blaisdell Concert Hall. Tickets, at $15 and $8, can be purchased through the Youth Symphony office at 941-9706.

Lee Cataluna's column runs Tuesdays, Fridays and Sundays. Reach her at 535-8172 or lcataluna@honoluluadvertiser.com.