Young pianist Umi delighted to capture Osaka prize

by Edan Corkill

Staff Writer

Notwithstanding the best efforts of Typhoon Jelawat, which swept over Osaka on Saturday night, the 13th Osaka International Music Competition was held over the weekend, with more than 800 musicians from around the world competing in 40 categories and age groups.

The winner in the piano, 11-to-12-year-old division, was a young Japanese-American named Umi Garrett, who, on the way back to her home in Orange County, California, stopped by the Tokyo offices of The Japan Times earlier this week.

“I almost flew away in the typhoon,” the diminutive Umi says with a giggle, before going on to explain that in the competition she had played Frederic Chopin’s famously cheerful Waltz Opus 42.

“I love Chopin,” she says. “The music has so much feeling. It really draws me in.”

It would seem the judges were drawn in, too. Umi placed first in her division, ahead of 30 other young hopefuls, including Natasha Wu of Taiwan, who came second playing Franz Liszt’s “La Campanella.”

Umi says that the difficult part about the contest was the fact that the contestants were not allowed any time to acquaint themselves with the competition piano prior to their performances. “That meant that as I was going I had to gradually adapt my playing to the piano, to the brightness of its sound and so on,” she explains.

Umi, who was born in the United States to an American father and Japanese mother, has had a busy year. Even as she has continued studying with John Perry, chair of the piano department at the Colburn School Conservatory of Music in Los Angeles, Umi was invited in March to play with the Liepaja Symphony Orchestra in Latvia, and then she spent 2½ months through mid August touring Europe and playing in Hungary, Poland, Germany, Italy and elsewhere.

During that trip Umi was able to bolster her credentials as one of the most promising young pianists of her generation, when she won her age division at the “Chopin + ……” International Piano Competition in Budapest.

Umi says that she started playing piano at age 4, “because all my friends were doing it.” Eight years later, she now says she can’t get enough of it. She practices six hours a day and, when she’s not practicing, “I’m always humming something or other,” she says.

She hopes to one day study in Paris and become a professional pianist.