Friendship Envoy

Izumi Tateno

1 top photo Izumi Tateno

PROFILE

After graduating from the Tokyo University of the Arts, the 27-year-old Tateno decided to live in Finland in 1964. He later met and married a Finnish vocalist named Maria. Tateno collapsed on stage after ending his recital in Tampere in January 2002 due to cerebral hemorrhage, which left his right body partially paralyzed. He came back on stage as “left hand pianist” two years later. Tateno is now aged over 80 but is active as ever - he performs in about 50 recitals yearly around the world, with base both in Japan and in Finland. The Finnish government has bestowed him with lifetime artist salary; he’s the Chairperson of the Japan Sibelius Society.


I didn’t dream of studying music abroad, I just wanted to explore the new world. And Finland was where I wanted to go.

  • Tateno met vocalist Maria in Helsinki, and later got married.
  • When Tateno has time to go back to Finland in between concerts, he tries to spend time at his summer cottage by the lake to re-energize.
  • Tateno has a special relationship with Minami-Soma city in Fukushima prefecture. He organized a charity concert at Helsinki’s Temppeliaukio Church in August 2011 to raise funds for the reconstruction of the devastated public hall “Yume Hatto” in Minami-Soma. Finnish Chamber Orchestra La Tempesta performed with Tateno at Yume Hatto in 2013 as the first foreign orchestra to enter the affected areas after the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

INTERVIEW

How did your interest toward Finland start? We heard that it wasn’t music at first?

I loved reading books since I was little. In junior high school I read a Norwegian novel that caught my interest, and then I frequently visited secondhand bookshops to look for anything written in the Nordic countries. I was absorbed in the Kalevala stories during high school and deeply impressed by Sillanpää’s “Nuorena nukkunut” (“The Maid Silja” in English). I still read this book at times. It’s not dramatic, but the quiet, humble tone touches me.

Our high school teacher said the school could intermediate if we wanted to have pen-pals from abroad. I wrote letters to Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Finland, but Finland was the only country I got a reply from. I was sixteen then; my pen-pal was a ten-year-old girl.

10-year old girl! Are you still in contact with her?

Yes yes, she’s still alive and well. When I got in a music university, she sent me a score of Selim Palmgren’s piano concerto. I had never heard of the composer back then but when I played the music it was brilliant. My Polish piano teacher had played the piece with Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra in the past and had the score for the full orchestra, complete with all the parts…so I borrowed that and performed together with the Tokyo University of the Arts Orchestra in my second year. That was Japan’s first performance of Palmgren’s piano concerto “Virta” (River).

And so you decided to go to live in Helsinki in 1964.?

I travelled around Europe for the first time in 1962, two years after graduation. I went to Paris, Munich, Moscow and to all the Nordic countries, including Helsinki where my pen-pal lived, and where I stayed for two months. There I had a great impression of her family and the surrounding people. Their lifestyle was modest but they had self-esteem and valued themselves. I felt similarities (with my upbringing), and I also liked the quiet environment.

After returning home I was busy with all the performances, but at the same time I didn’t want to pass my time in Japan. I didn’t dream of studying music abroad, I just wanted to explore the new world. And Finland was where I wanted to go.

Could you describe your relationship with Finland as a musician?

Japan and Finland have had a great relationship in terms of music. First, there was Sibelius. Then, if you go back through history, Fumimaro Konoe (born to a noble family in 1891, Japanese politician and Prime Minister) went to Finland and performed Sibelius as a conductor. Then there was Akeo Watanabe (founder of The Japan Philharmonic Orchestra) - whose vocalist mother was Finnish – who conducted a lot of Finnish music, especially Sibelius.

After I started living in Finland, I performed Finnish music every time I came back to Japan and exerted efforts so that Finnish scores would also be available here. That way, musical exchanges between the two countries became more active.

Finland has many good musicians, especially cellists… Apart from Sibelius, there are fabulous composers like Einojuhani Rautavaara and Yrjö Henrik Kilpinen. It’s a shame that these great musicians are not more known in Japan, so from 1985 to 1995, I started a series of activities in Japan titled “Finland Music Festival”.

Of course, Japan has wonderful musicians who I would also like Finnish people to know… so I founded the Oulunsalo Music Festival in 1997, and acted as its director for 10 years.

You have a special relationship with Her Imperial Majesty Michiko since the 1980s, first meeting her when the Imperial Couple visited Finland. Could you tell us about the small concert you had at the Embassy of Finland in Tokyo, after you came back as “left-hand pianist?”

Ah yes, that was “Empress Michiko’s Concert” which took place about a year after my revival. She played Schumann’s Piano Quartet and Mozart’s Quintet. We had a surprise for the guests, where Empress Michiko and myself would play a duet, but there were no existing song for three hands. So composer Takashi Yoshimatsu contributed a song for that night’s performance.

We heard that Empress Michiko likes Sibelius.

Yes, I remember when I was invited to the Akasaka Palace in Tokyo (in 1993). Empress Michiko had lost her voice then. I thought I would play a few songs from Sibelius and be excused, but the Emperor requested me to play more. He himself brought a chair from another room, when my pianist sister and I performed a duet. Then Empress Michiko wrote “may I play a piece?” and performed “Kuusi” (Fir tree) from Sibelius. In the end, I spent three hours there including the dinner. The next day, Princess Norinomiya called me to say that her mother was very happy, and that it felt like her mother spoke yesterday night. I learned later that on the day I received the phone call, Empresss Michiko slowly spoke one sentence in a whispering voice. I was deeply moved.

You have been living in Finland for over 50 years now. Do you think Finland has affected you as a musician?

I simply love the Finnish nature. The people go into the nature and live there. I spend summers at our summer cottage, and I never get tired of watching the sun glitter on the lake and the waves in the water change their shape on the surface. The different shapes of nature appear there just like they do in Finnish music.

What are your views on the future relationship between Finland and Japan?

I hope that the good and vivid relationship Finland and Japan have in terms of music will continue. As to next year’s activities in Japan, we are going to have five recitals from May 20th-30th in Tokyo, Sapporo, Fukushima, Fukuyama and Hakodate. The concert at the Tokyo Opera City on May 25th will include Sibelius, Nordgren, Rautavaara, and also a piano concerto written by Koichiro Mitsunaga. I hope many will come and enjoy our performance.

INTERVIEW

How did your interest toward Finland start? We heard that it wasn’t music at first?

I loved reading books since I was little. In junior high school I read a Norwegian novel that caught my interest, and then I frequently visited secondhand bookshops to look for anything written in the Nordic countries. I was absorbed in the Kalevala stories during high school and deeply impressed by Sillanpää’s “Nuorena nukkunut” (“The Maid Silja” in English). I still read this book at times. It’s not dramatic, but the quiet, humble tone touches me.

Our high school teacher said the school could intermediate if we wanted to have pen-pals from abroad. I wrote letters to Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Finland, but Finland was the only country I got a reply from. I was sixteen then; my pen-pal was a ten-year-old girl.

10-year old girl! Are you still in contact with her?

Yes yes, she’s still alive and well. When I got in a music university, she sent me a score of Selim Palmgren’s piano concerto. I had never heard of the composer back then but when I played the music it was brilliant. My Polish piano teacher had played the piece with Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra in the past and had the score for the full orchestra, complete with all the parts…so I borrowed that and performed together with the Tokyo University of the Arts Orchestra in my second year. That was Japan’s first performance of Palmgren’s piano concerto “Virta” (River).

And so you decided to go to live in Helsinki in 1964?

I travelled around Europe for the first time in 1962, two years after graduation. I went to Paris, Munich, Moscow and to all the Nordic countries, including Helsinki where my pen-pal lived, and where I stayed for two months. There I had a great impression of her family and the surrounding people. Their lifestyle was modest but they had self-esteem and valued themselves. I felt similarities (with my upbringing), and I also liked the quiet environment.

After returning home I was busy with all the performances, but at the same time I didn’t want to pass my time in Japan. I didn’t dream of studying music abroad, I just wanted to explore the new world. And Finland was where I wanted to go.

Could you describe your relationship with Finland as a musician?

Japan and Finland have had a great relationship in terms of music. First, there was Sibelius. Then, if you go back through history, Fumimaro Konoe (born to a noble family in 1891, Japanese politician and Prime Minister) went to Finland and performed Sibelius as a conductor. Then there was Akeo Watanabe (founder of The Japan Philharmonic Orchestra) - whose vocalist mother was Finnish – who conducted a lot of Finnish music, especially Sibelius.

After I started living in Finland, I performed Finnish music every time I came back to Japan and exerted efforts so that Finnish scores would also be available here. That way, musical exchanges between the two countries became more active.

Finland has many good musicians, especially cellists… Apart from Sibelius, there are fabulous composers like Einojuhani Rautavaara and Yrjö Henrik Kilpinen. It’s a shame that these great musicians are not more known in Japan, so from 1985 to 1995, I started a series of activities in Japan titled “Finland Music Festival”.

Of course, Japan has wonderful musicians who I would also like Finnish people to know… so I founded the Oulunsalo Music Festival in 1997, and acted as its director for 10 years.

You have a special relationship with Her Imperial Majesty Michiko since the 1980s, first meeting her when the Imperial Couple visited Finland. Could you tell us about the small concert you had at the Embassy of Finland in Tokyo, after you came back as “left-hand pianist?”

Ah yes, that was “Empress Michiko’s Concert” which took place about a year after my revival. She played Schumann’s Piano Quartet and Mozart’s Quintet. We had a surprise for the guests, where Empress Michiko and myself would play a duet, but there were no existing song for three hands. So composer Takashi Yoshimatsu contributed a song for that night’s performance.

We heard that Empress Michiko likes Sibelius.

Yes, I remember when I was invited to the Akasaka Palace in Tokyo (in 1993). Empress Michiko had lost her voice then. I thought I would play a few songs from Sibelius and be excused, but the Emperor requested me to play more. He himself brought a chair from another room, when my pianist sister and I performed a duet. Then Empress Michiko wrote “may I play a piece?” and performed “Kuusi” (Fir tree) from Sibelius. In the end, I spent three hours there including the dinner. The next day, Princess Norinomiya called me to say that her mother was very happy, and that it felt like her mother spoke yesterday night. I learned later that on the day I received the phone call, Empresss Michiko slowly spoke one sentence in a whispering voice. I was deeply moved.

You have been living in Finland for over 50 years now. Do you think Finland has affected you as a musician?

I simply love the Finnish nature. The people go into the nature and live there. I spend summers at our summer cottage, and I never get tired of watching the sun glitter on the lake and the waves in the water change their shape on the surface. The different shapes of nature appear there just like they do in Finnish music.

What are your views on the future relationship between Finland and Japan?

I hope that the good and vivid relationship Finland and Japan have in terms of music will continue. As to next year’s activities in Japan, we are going to have five recitals from May 20th-30th in Tokyo, Sapporo, Fukushima, Fukuyama and Hakodate. The concert at the Tokyo Opera City on May 25th will include Sibelius, Nordgren, Rautavaara, and also a piano concerto written by Koichiro Mitsunaga. I hope many will come and enjoy our performance.