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Meet the Competitors: Jonatahn Fournel and Yu Nitahara

Where in the world are you now? What’s going on?

Yu: I’m in Salzburg, Austria, where I have been studying at the Mozarteum University. My time as a student will end in November: I have already started to work at the university since October.

Jonathan: I have now been living in Brussels, Belgium for 2 months. Before I was living in Paris, where I was for over 10 years. Nothing much is really going, on the contrary, everything is shutting done again for 4-6 weeks.

How have you been using this Covid time? Have you taken up anything new? Have you learnt any new works? Are you starting to perform again as things evolve?

Yu: All my concerts and competitions were cancelled so it was very hard to keep the motivation. But it has been a good time to reflect on why I want to be a musician. Some concert opportunities came back, little by little, from July and I was very excited to play in front of audience!

Jonathan: At the beginning of the quarantine, I was practising for the competitions that were still running: I am talking about the Queen Elisabeth Competition, The Sydney, and the Chopin Competition in Warsaw. But after a little while, I wondered if they were really going to happen, and one after the other, I received an email from each saying that the competitions were postpone to next year. From this moment I stopped practising a bit, until concerts started to come back in June. I have been very lucky right after the quarantine, because I have been able to play a few concerts –most of them organised at last minute, sometimes with programs that I wasn’t playing at the time. So I learned a lot of new pieces, for example Chausson’s Piano Quartet and Franck’s Piano Quintet. I really wanted to go back on stage and share the music with friends, by playing a lot of chamber music. I have been lucky to be quite busy for the last couple of months, with concerts and recordings. Unfortunately, the health situation is going bad again and I expect the few next concerts to be cancelled.

It takes passion to get to your stage as a young performer. How do you define passion?

Yu: Passion is how strongly you love and desire, how you express and deliver that in music. And that expression includes personality. I love musicians in whose playing I can hear their personality coming through the music of the great composers.

Jonathan: I started playing concerts at very young age, and it is really the first time for a very long time that I haven’t didn’t perform for so long.

Going back on stage was a weird and interesting moment. Everything was different, the sensation, the mood, the atmosphere… It was not easy at first to concentrate. The passion was still there, but it felt like I had to get used to it, to be like I was before, after such a long break. And I fear for the next few months, musically and financially.

The music makes me travel into another world. Practising is not a task, but like researching like a mad chemist trying multiple ideas, mixing it together to find adecent way of telling a story through the music, a story that I am sharing with people who build another story in their head and their heart. This is what makes music so exceptional, it is the fact that everyone is always imagining something different, different landscapes, different characters, different actions and sentiments for the same piece.

Is there someone you admire – maybe or maybe not a musician – who demonstrates incredible passion and inspires you?

Yu: Many people around me given me inspiration. It doesn’t matter whether they are a musician or not. I deeply respect anyone who has passion and enthusiasm for their job or profession.

Jonathan: When I was 13 years old, I met Gisèle Magnan, who is a brilliant French pianist. She has dedicated her life to music and has been my teacher and mentor for more than 10 years. She taught me at first how to play piano, and how to be a musician, what was very important in an interpretation, and the keys of how to tell a story, like an opera or a play, through music. We started having a very close relation over the years – I owe her so much that I do not know where to start. Shortly after I met her, she decided to stop playing piano and build her own association to organise concerts with a very new idea – to bring classical music to people who don’t have the ability hear concerts with well-known musicians in big cities, or because of the price, or just because it is too far from where they are. She decided to bring those musicians to them by organising events in small towns and small concert halls. This project has been hugely successful in France, and keeps growing with around 150 concerts a year. I love her, and what she does for everyone and me. She is maybe the person I admire the most.

Who do you think is the most passionate composer? Their most passionate work??

Yu: Beethoven and Fauré. Their styles are completely different but I felt sometimes similar feeling from their late works (when they became deaf). I think Beethoven’s String Quartet No.12 and Fauré’s Piano Quintet No.2.

Jonathan: I think I would have a different answer every week: it depends of what I want to listen at the moment. But I can say that I really love Brahms, Bach and Prokofiev, Britten, Mahler… and some others. I have also discovered a lot of other brilliant musicians, sometimes forgotten, that I really like, such as Alfredo Casella, Nikolaï Myaskowsky, or even York Bowen. If I had to take one piece for the rest of my life until the end of the world on a desert Island, I would not know which one to choose – Mahler’s Symphony No.8? Beethoven’s Symphony No.7? Duruflé’s Requiem? I hope I will never have to choose, so then I can still listen to all of them whenever I want.

Do you have a hobby or pastime other than music which you are passionate about?

Yu: Watching baseball and drinking coffee. I always check out my favourite baseball team in Japan. I love coffee very much. I want to have good equipment for making coffee in the near future.

When you come to Sydney, what are you most looking forward to?

Yu: I can’t choose one thing. It will be my first time travelling to Australia. I’m looking forward everything! People, nature, food…