• Kyodo

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Japanese pianist Ayako Uehara won the 12th International Tchaikovsky Competition on Saturday. She is the first Japanese and the first woman to win the piano category of the prestigious contest for young musicians.

The competition counts Vladimir Ashkenazy and other renowned musicians among its past winners.

Another Japanese competitor, 22-year-old Tamaki Kawakubo, placed second in the violin category on Friday, sharing the position with Chinese violinist Xi Chen. No first prize was awarded in this section.

Uehara, 21, started playing piano at age 3. She won the award for her rendition of Rachmaninoff’s “Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini” and Tchaikovsky’s “Piano Concerto No. 1.”

“I still can’t believe I got first prize,” Uehara told reporters after the competition results were announced early Saturday.

She paid tribute to her conductor, saying she was happy to be able to play her best in the final round.

“It was a very rewarding performance and I did it with joy,” she said.

Uehara also took part in the previous International Tchaikovsky Competition four years ago when she was 17, becoming the youngest competitor to advance to the second round of competition.

Uehara has won critical acclaim for her performances both in Japan and overseas. In 1994, at the age of 14, she played Beethoven’s “Piano Concerto No. 1” with the National Symphony Orchestra of Washington under the baton of maestro Mstislav Rostropovich.

In March 2000, she placed second in the Fourth Hamamatsu International Piano Competition and second in the Seventh Sydney International Piano Competition.

Born in Kagawa Prefecture on July 20, 1980, Uehara was raised in Kobe, Hyogo Prefecture, and Kakamigahara, Gifu Prefecture. She has been studying in Paris since the fall.

Kawakubo, who was born in Los Angeles and also holds U.S. citizenship, is currently a third-year student at the Cologne Conservatory in Germany.

Uehara is the third Japanese to win first prize in the International Tchaikovsky Competition. , following soprano Mieko Sato in the vocal category in 1998 and Akiko Suwanai in the violin category in 1990.

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