Off Topic: Natsuko Yoshimoto

Off Topic and on the record as South Australian identities talk about whatever they want… except their day job.

Off Topic and on the record as South Australian identities talk about whatever they want… except their day job. Adelaide Symphony Orchestra’s Concertmaster Natsuko Yoshimoto was born in Japan but moved to Dubai at eight with the violinist winning a scholarship to an English music boarding school three years later. “We went to live in Dubai because of my father’s work,” Yoshimoto begins. “Dubai is quite different now, at the time it wasn’t such a huge development. There was certainly no classical music training then, there was no violin teacher there at all. Every holiday my parents would take me to Europe to have extensive lessons because they were the only times I could have proper lessons. “Other times during the year my mother used to supervise my practice, she’s a musician herself, but a pianist. In terms of really getting down to the technical side of violin playing, she couldn’t be too helpful, so those holidays became incredibly valuable and important for me. During one of those holidays we met a violin teacher who visited this specialist music school called the Yehudi Menuhin School, which is based in England. He suggested that perhaps my parents should consider sending me there, which is a boarding school. It’s a quite a small school that only had 50 students aged from eight to 18, pretty small. You’re lucky to have a friend who’s the same age as you. I auditioned there and got a full scholarship, so my parents thought if I was to seriously continue playing the violin then that would be the only option at the time, and that’s when I was 11.” It wasn’t difficult for Yoshimoto to live on the other side of the world to her parents (who moved back to Japan from Dubai when the Gulf War broke). “I didn’t think about it like that. I remember being very sad, obviously. The first night when my parents left me at the school, I thought, ‘Why am I here? Why did they leave me?’ But that was it. After that night, because everybody else was in the same situation, I didn’t feel alone and you have the sense that everyone’s going through the same feeling anyway – they take over as your family while you’re at school. “At the school all of your music lessons and practice times are incorporated into the timetable along with subjects like Maths, English, History etc. At the time I hardly spoke English, so it was quite an adjustment for me to be at this school and then suddenly having to study in English and have English roommates and try to communicate, but then it’s kind of the best way to learn quickly because you have no other way to communicate and you just have to get on with it.” Aside from the individual music lessons, Yoshimoto played in a string quartet, learnt orchestral playing and composed as well as learning music theory. “It was a musical education that I would never have got if I had stayed in Dubai and even Japan. So, it was intense. At the time, Yehudi Menuhin – whose school it was – was still alive as well. He would come and visit the school a lot and give me individual lessons and take orchestras and generally was there. I grew up listening to his records and I was trying to imitate and emulate him. To meet him in the flesh and be given lessons by him, it was an unbelievable experience for me, even at that time. That’s something I will never forget. It’s an experience you can’t buy. In a way those formative years at that school has made me who I am, certainly as a musician. In fact the hardest time for Yoshimoto was after she finished schooling. “It’s not the real world [the boarding school]. It’s a very idealised world. I found the adjustment the hardest when I left school. It wasn’t like school anymore. You’re suddenly in this real world, I realised that things didn’t work the way it necessarily did at school. I think quite a lot of people found that adjustment difficult and therefore couldn’t continue with music. It didn’t work for everybody.” Photo 1: Jacqui Way

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