Renowned pianist on mission to help autistic children

Noriko Ogawa


A world class concert pianist will be starring at a top music festival where she will also be staging a special concert for autistic children.

Japanese pianist Noriko Ogawa will be at the North Wales International Music Festival at St Asaph Cathedral on Tuesday, September 29.

As well as the main evening performance, the Japanese classical pianist will stage two other concerts, the first for children with autism and the second specifically for the parents and carers of autistic children.

Noriko, 53, who lives in Forest Hill, London with her partner, British concert pianist Philip Smith, is a patron and cultural ambassador for the National Autistic Society.

She said: “I’m so grateful that as well as running a master class and an evening concert I will be able to hold a Jamie’s Concert in the morning.

“The idea for Jamie’s Concerts came about after I first arrived in England from Japan and I lodged with two musicians who had a son called Jamie who was severely autistic.

“I noticed how Jamie responded when his mum was calmer and more relaxed and decided to try and do something to help.

“I wanted to help Jamie but he would never let me so I decided to create Jamie’s Concerts as a means of bringing a little calm into the lives of the parents and carers of autism sufferers, a sort of sanctuary if you like.

“I hope it’s a chance for a bit of respite for hardworking and devoted people who look after autistic children. It’s hopefully a chance perhaps, for those caring for autistic children to unwind and relax through music.”

After one of Jamie’s Concerts the audience of parents and carers is invited to share tea and coffee and chat with Noriko and each other while sharing experiences.

She said: “The concerts are just something I like to do and I am honoured to have been invited to be a patron and cultural ambassador for the National Autistic Society.”

The festival, which runs from September 26 to October 3, is supported by the Arts Council of Wales.

This year’s programme will also include the renowned Australian guitarist Craig Ogden, vocal ensemble Stile Antico and the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, and will feature a debut performance by 16-year-old violin prodigy Xander Croft, from Greenfield, near Holywell

Born in Kawasaki, Japan, Noriko began playing piano aged just four and was taught initially by her mother, who is a piano teacher.

She said: “I was ordained to play piano I suppose. I studied at the Tokyo College of Music and New York’s Juilliard School. Then, after some success in several competitions, I moved to London in the late 1980s.

“Now, although based in London, I split my time between the UK and Japan, going back to Asia every month.

“It means I see my parents and sister in Japan frequently and it means I can argue and fight with my mum over who is going to use the music room for practice!

“At home, in the UK, Philip and I have two piano rooms so it takes the pressure off as we both need to work hard and practice all the time.

“It’s a constant battle to get time to play and as a concert pianist I need to practice for several hours a day. When you travel as much as I do that’s sometimes hard to fit in.”

Noriko teaches as a professor of music at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London and is a visiting professor at the Tokyo College of Music.

And she says she is looking forward to performing at the North Wales International Music Festival having performed concerts in Canada, Russia, Poland, Malta as well as Japan and the UK in the past 12 months.

She said: “I will be playing a varied programme during the evening concert with works by Debussy, including Images Book 1 and Images Book 2 as well as Clair de Lune, Des pas sur la neige, La fille aux cheveux de lin and La Cathedrale Engloutine.

“I will also include A Particle of Light by Japanese composer Yoshihiro Kanno and a number of works by Chopin. It’s a concert I am really looking forward to and one I hope people will enjoy.”

The festival’s artistic director, Ann Atkinson, said: “Noriko is one of the best concert pianists in the world and to be able to hear her perform at the festival is a huge honour.