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Pianist Enjoys Popularity After Years of Obscurity

November 17, 2000
Fujiko Hemming
The cover of the Fujiko Hemming & Wiener Solisten DVD, which includes collaborations with top performers from Vienna. (Victor Entertainment, Inc.)
Ingrid Fujiko Hemming is achieving growing fame as a classical pianist in Japan. Born in Berlin during the rise of the Nazi party to a Japanese mother, also a pianist, and a Swedish father of Russian ancestry who was an artist and architect, Hemming began playing piano at the age of five and displayed an extraordinary gift for music. Her career as a pianist, however, was plagued by misfortune, including problems concerning her nationality and an illness that severely impaired her hearing.

Five years ago, Hemming returned to Japan. A television program in 1999 about her life sparked a surge in her popularity in the country. In the summer of 1999, a CD of her recordings, Kiseki no kanpanera (La Campanella), was released, with sales eventually topping the 400,000 mark. This was a stunning success in the world of classical recordings, where a work that sells more than 10,000 copies is considered a hit. Tickets to her concerts have been known to sell out the day they go on sale. Hemming's popularity in Japan has become firmly established.

Destined for Greatness
Hemming first came to Japan with her parents at the age of five. Shortly after their arrival, however, her father returned to Germany. Hemming was subsequently raised by her mother, who made a living teaching piano. From that time, her mother began to train her in the basics, and later she studied under a Russian-born German pianist. At the age of 10, her teacher praised her genius, calling her "a child from God."

Hemming graduated from Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music and went on to study in Berlin. By all accounts she seemed destined for a career as a top-class concert pianist. In Berlin her talent won high acclaim, but, due to the cold war, her status as a stateless person prevented her from traveling to eastern Europe and entering the famous competitions for young pianists held there, such as the International Piano Competition. As a result, her sphere of activity was limited.

Hemming finally got a chance to perform some recitals with the support of conductor Leonard Bernstein. As fate would have it, however, she fell ill just before the recitals and suffered nearly a complete loss of hearing in her right ear. The concerts were canceled after just one performance. By the age of 40, Hemming had just 70% hearing in her left ear. Though she is unable to carry on a conversation without the use of a hearing aid, she says that she can clearly hear the sound of the piano as reverberations through her whole body.

The Power of Persuasion
Hemming's mother, who remained in Japan, passed away seven years ago. Hemming herself decided to return to Japan five years ago after living more than three decades in Germany, Austria, Sweden, and other parts of Europe. Hemming is not bounded by the musical score and is not bothered when she plays a wrong note. Her performances are transforming the highly stylized image of classical music. Enthusiastic fans proclaim that "If it's only a matter of technique, there are far better pianists, but Fujiko's music has the power of persuasion," or "The sounds are expressive, with the power to lure people." The February 1999 TV program on her life so far won the hearts of viewers and helped to ignite her popularity.

Hemming lives in Tokyo. Her age remains a secret. An animal lover, she has nine cats. She practices the piano four hours a day without fail. Her life has been filled with ups and downs, yet she has remained true to herself. Fascinated by her, a Japanese film director asked her to appear in one of his productions, and the resulting movie came out this year. In June 2001 Hemming is scheduled to give a concert at Carnegie Hall in New York. Her career, which is only now unfolding, shows every sign that it will continue to flourish.

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Trends in JapanCopyright (c) 2000 Japan Information Network. Edited by Japan Echo Inc. based on domestic Japanese news sources. Articles presented here are offered for reference purposes and do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Japanese Government.