Telling stories by sound is the key to recital success

Japanese-born pianist and Sheffield resident Kaoru Bingham
Japanese-born pianist and Sheffield resident Kaoru Bingham

KAORU Bingham laughs knowingly at the mention of long phone calls with her late husband John in the late 1990s in which a recurring theme was his relief at regular escapes from London back to a home he had found in Sheffield.

“We couldn’t find a suitable house that two pianists can practise away in without any neighbour complaints. That’s why we ended up buying this house, in the Bents Green area,” explains Kaoru.

On Monday she has a recital at Hassop Hall, near Bakewell, her third there since 2006, as she continues to get a highly notable international career, which came to a halt around 2000, back on track.

As Kaoru Nischiwaki, she arrived in the UK from her native Japan as an 18-year-old to study at Trinity College of Music in London from where she graduated in 1985.

She was a professor of piano at the college between 1991 and 2001, while her own teachers there included the internationally renowned Sheffield pianist John Bingham whom she married in 1990.

“Our son Jascha was born in 2001 and, unfortunately, John died just after his second birthday.

“Obviously, I was alone here. John had no relatives in Sheffield and my family were all in Japan so we didn’t have many friends, except in London, which made life difficult.”

Knowing the reclusive Bingham when he was in his Sheffield ‘hideaway’, he perhaps rarely courted company, so why did Kaoru decide to say here?

“I was wondering about alternatives, whether to go back to Japan,” she admits.

“Although I stopped playing the piano for a long time during pregnancy and John’s illness, inside of me, I had an ambition to continue performing and I thought Japan is a very, very difficult place to get into if you didn’t live there.”

Why, being Japanese?

“If you are foreign or from a European country, people might take more interest in Japan but not having any kind of connection to support me or help me . . .

“Music has a lot to do with connections and whom you know before they help you. If you have a big agent behind you, that’s how the career takes off.”

And, of course, with a baby and “a pregnancy illness which I didn’t recover from for a very long time,” she had an extended lay off until her first Hassop Hall recital in 2006.

She says: “Mysteriously, the person who helped me to do my first Hassop Hall recital is my new husband (Kaoru remarried in 2008). He’s actually to with education so he’s not a musician.”

Her programme for Monday’s recital at Hassop takes in a Mozart sonata and some Liszt transcriptions, the latter being pet repertoire of her late husband.

Kaoru believes his fondness for it stemmed from his time as the only ever British student in the piano class of the legendary Heinrich Neuhaus at the Moscow Conservatoire where he learned “the artistry of producing many tone colours” almost demanded to “tell the stories” within the pieces.

“It was the pianistic legacy coming from Neuhaus whose most famous pupil was probably (Sviatoslav) Richter – while John was having a lesson, Richter would pop in. It was that kind of environment.

“The artistry of their playing was in the tones and the colours they produce. They tell the stories by the sound of the piano!”

So it’s fair to say John’s affection for Liszt’s transcriptions and paraphrases is reflected in her playing of them?

“Yes, but because you are yourself, you are and make them unique. He taught me a lot, the artistry of producing different colours. That’s what I studied with John and now it is mine to use.”

Kaoru’s first CD in 1993, followed by acclaimed ones of Szymanowski’s Mazurkas and Chopin’s Preludes, was actually of Liszt transcriptions.

As to her re-launched career – recitals in Japan and Germany last year, as well as England – she says: “The whole point is to continue playing and as things are at the moment, I am very happy to continue that way.”

We must ask about her family following the recent disastrous events in Japan.

“My family are alright, although it’s near Tokyo. They can still live life as normal and I’m not too concerned about them but, nevertheless, it is absolutely appalling, an unbelievable nightmare and I do feel a lot of pain.

“It’s always in the back of my mind, what can I do?

“Even if I’m a drop in the ocean, I would like to do something. So I continue to think what I can do.”