This year marks 25 years of violin study for Daichi Nakamura. His practice has earned him a host of international accolades and the position of guest soloist at renowned symphony orchestras in Europe such as the St. Petersburg Symphony Orchestra.
Yet the 28-year-old is far from trading practice for more performances: He plans to continue studying the violin in the place he calls the cultural home of classical music, Vienna.
Nakamura likens his profession to that of an athlete. Physical training, as well as emotional maturity, are vital for success. Even after mastering the skill required to play, understanding of the music is required to bring a performance to life.
“We don’t create anything, we just play, so how and what the composer was thinking when writing the pieces is the most important thing for us. That’s why we can’t stop studying the pieces and their composers,” he says.
Although he admits his schedule is grueling, he loves his life at the University of Music and Performing Arts Vienna in the Austrian capital. Aside from eating and attending classes, he says much of his time from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. each day is dedicated to practice. It’s a way of life that has long been a dream.
Kitakyushu-born Nakamura has music in his veins. He began playing at age 3 with the encouragement of his piano-playing parents, who wanted their young son to have a hobby. Indeed, one of his first memories is of riding in the child seat of his mother’s bicycle, violin strapped to his back, as she pedaled him to a lesson before kindergarten.
At age 8, he began to compete at the junior level, first within Fukuoka Prefecture, then Kyushu and then in all-Japan contests. In almost all, he won.
“I never felt nervous during competitions. I always felt normal,” he says when asked why he thinks he was so successful.
But the transition to senior-level competitions at age 15 proved difficult as he struggled to practice the required number of pieces — nine pieces are needed for each competition, compared to just two at the junior level.
He became racked by nerves, which resulted in him being unable to control his hands during competitions. He says he thought of “going another direction” but, buoyed by stints studying abroad in Finland, Italy and the U.K., as well as master classes with two skilled Russian teachers in Okayama Prefecture, he found the motivation to continue.
“I believed that I could come back, that someday I could enjoy playing once more,” he says. “Even now during competitions, it’s hard to play with joy, but I have found a way to control my mind. Looking back, I can say that it was a good time for me as I made progress in my career.”
At age 18, he started to look at long-term study abroad options.
“From a very young age I knew that classical music came from Europe and I saw many young violinists go abroad to study,” he says. “So somehow I felt I would do the same.”
Rather than choose a city or university, Nakamura chose the teacher he wanted, who happened to be living in Vienna. Nearly 10 years on, he is still taught by the same professor, and is eager to learn more through lessons, practice and living in the Austrian capital.
As part of his study, he regularly attends operas and concerts, which he says is part of Vienna’s appeal. Most venues offer standing areas, allowing music students to attend cheaply and frequently. With a wealth of venues, he says, every day offers new opportunities to listen to some of the top orchestras in the world — opportunities he would not be able to enjoy if he were living in Japan. Tokyo, he says, attracts few globally renowned orchestras and the cost to attend is prohibitively high.
Nakamura draws on this experience when practicing for his own concerts and for international competitions. He has performed in Bulgaria and Poland, and most recently scooped first prize in the 24th International Johannes Brahms Competition in 2017. The accolade, his most significant competition win as an adult, was both a joy and a relief.
“I was very happy to get the prize, but more than that, I had a feeling of ‘Ah, finally!'” he says.
After he turns 30, Nakamura will no longer be eligible to compete in some competitions, so he aims to win another first place within the next two years. With that goal in mind, he remains committed to his studies in Austria, despite any hardships he faces living there.
“I miss things from Japan so much, but I try never to think about it because I’m studying now,” he says.
Top on the list of much-loved items are Japanese food and Japanese products. Unlike items from 100-yen stores in his hometown, he soon found that items from one-euro stores in Vienna broke easily.
He was also shocked when he arrived home from a supermarket to find that the food he had purchased was out of date and when waiters wouldn’t come when he called them in restaurants.
“I realized how polite Japanese people are and how bright and clean Japan’s restaurants, shops and supermarkets are,” he adds.
But his experience has been overwhelmingly positive. He studies alongside people from around the globe who share details of their country’s history or culture. While possessing a strong sense of national identity, they are also curious about Japan, though Nakamura found himself frequently unable to answer their questions. His peers, he says, knew more about their own countries than he knew about his. He’s desperate to rectify the situation and, on a past trip to Tokyo, he went to see kabuki for the first time.
For Nakamura, life will always be about learning, whether it’s Japanese culture and history, English to communicate in lessons, or the violin. However, he says, the violin will always be his priority.
Name: Daichi Nakamura
Key moments in career:
2009 — Departed Japan for Vienna to study the violin
2011 — Awarded first prize in the “Professor Nedyalka Simeonova” International Competition for Violinists; made his European debut
2016 — Awarded a prize for promoting culture from his hometown Kitakyushu
2017 — Awarded first prize in the International Johannes Brahms Competition
Strengths: Never feels shy, doesn’t like to lose
Weaknesses: Laziness, doesn’t like to lose