Based in New York and Japan, harpist Juri Saito is an associate member of Civic Orchestra of Chicago and studies with Emmanuel Ceysson at Mannes.
MA: How are you finding the motivation to practice during the pandemic? What have you been practicing?
JS: Since the pandemic, I have motivated myself to prepare for a competition next year. Luckily, my current teacher, Emmanuel Ceysson, has provided students with online lessons once per week after the school had closed. At first, it was hard for me to accept the cancellation of the music festivals and many concerts during the summer. But after that, I felt it would be a good opportunity to enhance my skills, expand my repertoire, and look back on the basic technique.
Now is the time for trying new things that we could not do in our normal busy lives. So I’m studying more than ten solo works, chamber music repertoire, and a concerto at the same time.
MA: What do you do in your time off and away from music? How do you seek inspiration?
JS: I love to keep busy in my free time by going shopping, doing some exercises, or if I have enough time, I go traveling alone in order to broaden my perspectives.
Working out is essential for me to keep my body healthy. I currently do yoga and cardio, and dance almost every day. I feel these exercises strengthen my core, enabling me to keep the right body balance when I play the harp.
MA: How did you first get into music?
JS: I started learning the piano at the age of three, and the harp at the age of nine. My father used to play the jazz bass as a hobby, and my mother is a professional harpist. My father said that playing an instrument provides joy and pleasure even if one does not become a professional. Playing the harp prompted a radical change within me. When I was a child, I was shy and often struggled to communicate and express my emotions. Playing instruments made me enjoy expressing myself and I started to make friends. When I attended a private junior high school, I became immersed in my academic studies to prepare myself to study at a prestigious university after graduation. Although I considered several careers, I finally decided to become a harpist.
My mother was the most influential person in my music journey. Attending many of her orchestral concerts taught me that the harp is one of the orchestra's most important instruments. I also participated in international harp competitions and was able to see some harpists from abroad in performance. It was through these experiences that being an internationally recognized harpist became a dream of mine.
MA: What are you favorite pieces away from the harp repertoire?
JS: I like Tchaikovsky's Symphonies. None of his symphonies include the harp in the orchestra; meanwhile, he wrote many beautiful harp cadenzas in his ballet music. I assume he imagined the harp as an instrument with program music and stories. Although my favorite one is the 5th symphony, I also like the 1st symphony with the ballet "Jewels". The most famous choreographer, George Balanchine, created a new ballet program using his music.
MA: Are there any hopes for 2021 that you have? Any advice to the young students?
JS: I hope everything will be better and musicians will be back on the stage. Last month, I played with a professional orchestra for the first time in five months. I was surprised at how beneficial it is to be part of an orchestra.
I would like to tell my belief for young musicians who are anxious about becoming professional musicians and having auditions or competitions in the future. I'm not a strong person, and I had therapy for a long time because I had a lot of characteristics of HSP (Highly Sensitive Person).
Participating in many auditions and competitions had made me start comparing myself with other people. But as I experienced lots of big stages, I had some moments when I really enjoyed the performance. And I started to think that the reason I'm getting nervous at the stages and tend to compare with someone else meant I had prepared a lot and made an effort. It was then I realized that these auditions and competitions aren't the battles with others but with myself. I don't think I need to strengthen my mental state when performing; rather I should try to perform better than in the past and love the music. Last year, I heard about an audition in Germany. The jury decided on the new principal harpist because he/she was the only artist - not the competitor. Although audition panels sometimes appear judgmental - they want to meet artist musicians.
© Michael Alampi - Unblocked Musician