Ten years ago, Koh Gabriel Kameda made his debut concert tour of Japan. He was 17 then, delicate and sensitive, and already confident and polished as exclusively a violinist. As soloist he had accumulated experience in concert performances with different orchestras playing in different countries. He was accustomed to broadcasting and to recording. Enjoying concerts, professional and calm, he had begun his public musical life at an exceptionally early age.
Ten years on, Koh is again in Japan on a concert tour, this one celebrating the anniversary of his 1991 debut here. With Sontraud Speidel at the piano, he is presenting an evening of the complete Brahms sonatas for violin and piano at Yokohama Minato Mirai Hall on Oct. 25. He looks forward to a repeat triumph, and to hearing fans and critics assess whether he is approaching his longtime goal of becoming “a good violinist, and a good musician. They are two different things,” he said.
Koh has the birthright that gave him the benefit of straddling East and West. His mother, Margarita, came from Germany to Japan in the 1960s. She said that she was so enchanted with the thought of Japanese culture that she studied it seriously before she came. In Japan she met a heart surgeon who later became her husband. He was going on an exchange program to Germany, and was looking for someone to teach him German. Margarita became his teacher in Japan, and later, in Germany, they married.
Koh was their second son, a baby of three months when the family came from Freiburg to Japan in 1975. When the question of schooling for the two boys arose, the parents decided to send their children to a school that emphasized education through art and the playing of instruments and working with the hands. They chose the Waldorf School in Germany, an institution known for its careful nurturing of each child’s spirit. In Freiburg, Dr. Kameda worked at the university hospital.
In the Waldorf School, Koh’s older brother wanted a violin. He was placed in the care of professor Josef Rissin from Riga, one of the older generation of famous violinists. During his brother’s lessons, Koh stayed on the sofa, listening and observing. Both owe their love of music to their first teacher.
Koh’s brother for his career followed their father into medicine. He is still a violinist for his pleasure. Koh, though, showed himself to be a child prodigy. He began serious study of the violin when he was 6. That was when the concert master of the Wuppertaler Symphony Orchestra accepted him as a pupil. At 9, he won the first prize for the violin at the Freiburg Youth Music Competition. At 10, he made his first concert appearance. At 12, as a specially gifted student, he was allowed to enter the Karlsruhe Music Academy, to study again with his first mentor, professor Rissin.
Koh went on to win numerous prizes. He used to have a pet rabbit, which sat at his feet when he was practicing, and appeared on television with him. He was a baritone as well as a violinist, receiving singing lessons as well as violin lessons.
He said that always having practice schedules even when he was a child made him enjoy his free time more. “The famous composers had to learn craftsmanship from their childhood,” he said. “It didn’t come from heaven alone.”
Before his debut concert tour of Japan 10 years ago, Koh appeared in an NHK series of programs on Albert Einstein. For his part, Koh wore costumes designed for him by Hanae Mori. “The experience was fun,” he said, “But I didn’t want to get seriously interested in anything that meant diversion from the violin.” There is, however, one other important continuing thread in his life. “That is the protection of nature and care of the environment. I take part in that,” he said.
Koh has appeared as soloist with leading orchestras on four continents, and records on CDs. From concerts in which he played, conducted by composer Witold Lutoslawski, the last disc of the composer was produced.
A long time ago Koh received a testimonial from Sir Yehudi Menuhin, who wrote, “I was much impressed with this young violinist’s playing, as much as with his good taste. I can recommend him most enthusiastically.”