Piano Academy
Interview with the music director

Sony CSL launched the Music Excellence Project in August 2020 (Press Release). The program is the world’s first holistic piano study program that combines physical and arts education in supporting young musicians. The Academy Program aims to enable students to seek excellence in musical expression and the sustainable development of skills as they pursue artistic maturity (About the Project).


The first master classes by the Music Director of the Piano Academy, Professor Dina Yoffe, were held online in December 2020, as part of the program. This article is based on the interview with her right after the classes to hear about her impressions of the classes and the students.

Q: At last, the first master class was held.

Indeed, I have been waiting for a long time for this wonderful moment. Of course, everybody expected and was prepared to do it live, and not online. Still, I would like to emphasize that I am very happy that it happened anyways, thanks to our great team who really wanted to make it happen. Furuya-san, all my dear assistants, Sony CSL who supports the program, and Kawai who kindly provided us with a wonderful instrument.


Q: After this first lesson, what do you think about the Academy now?

This is the first time for me to take part in such a project as a music director and teacher. I really feel that I have started something new, and I hope that this academy will be appreciated and recognized in Japan and in the future in many countries.


Q: We understand that the lessons were very productive, how were the students?

Young musicians, with the help of all their teachers and my assistants, were very well prepared.I am really happy that they took the lessons so seriously. From the very first lessons, they expressed a lot of motivations, interest to study ! Especially now,  when life is not showing its most friendly face to us, and that the lessons were all online, I appreciated their motivations,  concentration their hard work even more than usual. I think its was very good start which is very important for the success of the lessons.


Q: As you mentioned, it was decided to hold the master class online due to the difficult situation. Do you yourself give online lessons in addition to this master class?

I started teaching online since last April, and I had already done a lot of online lessons to students from all part of the world – not to mention the local ones. I also provided online lessons with my students from Germany during the lockdown period. There was No other way to help them in such a situation!

As for me, to teach online is of course more difficult than live lessons. Also, I cannot say that I am a big genius in technology, but with some help, it has been interesting to study how to use the different IT platforms for lessons. And I think we found maximum quality both for video and audio.


Q: Were there any features unique to online lessons?

From artistic point of view, recordings cannot provide the same impressions like live performances regardless of quality level, because recordings and live performances are absolutely two different things. However, particularly in this master class, I think the sound was 90 percent of what was possible to be done.

Also, being able to focus or change camera views was another good side of online lessons. You can see physical problems,technical issues more precisely and more immediately,you can concentrate the student's attention more on the text and articulation.


Q: Being a globally renowned pianist, you are also an acclaimed master trainer. Could you share your view about educating, guiding and training of junior pianists? When teaching, to what aspect of each pianist you attempt to extend most? For example, do you consider each students’ personalities, practice habits, cultural backgrounds or nationalities?

About nationalities, I think that we can describe that "our nationality is musician.”  I really feel so.  And this is the wonderful thing which makes us united.  We are all musicians, and our language is music.


Q: That is a wonderful statement. How about the other points?

 In this master class, it is very difficult to talk about the students’ personalities, since I met them for the first time through the lessons. The first thing I decided to do in this online lesson was to give them time to play the piece first, so I could understand them better by myself. The short performance before the lesson helps me to understand them as a personality, to see the physical problems.

During the first lesson I can see how quickly the student react to my advices, I am always asking to show me the way , how they practice, to advice also the practical way to improve their technique and many other important things.

Along with that, it helped me to better understand how my assistants had been working with the young musicians beforehand.


Q: We have heard that the assistant lecturers, who are Ms. Matsushita, Ms. Yoshioka, Ms. Nishio, Mr. Yoshitake, Mr. Ozaki, and Mr. Tainaka, were teaching the students before the master class.

Yes, all the assistant lecturers had been regularly given  to the students and listening to their performances. When I talked to the students, I could imagine very clearly what had happened before my lessons, how they had been working on their scores, and what discussions they had done with their assistant lecturers. Hence, I was able to send clear messages to the assistant lecturers about what to do in the lessons with young students.


Q: To develop the next generation lecturers is exactly one of the themes of this academy.

What we have discussed intensely in my lessons was structure in different Musical Forms, technical issues, the ability to listen to the polyphony in the works of various composer’s, the ability to distinguish stylistic features, ranging from baroque music to modern music.

And of course we work and talk about the most important part of interpretation in music, about the sound.

Furthermore, all of us, including the assistants  were discussing on how we could support the young students.


Q: Another theme of this academy is integrating technology into physical education, and combining with arts education.

 I remember when Furuya-san introduced me this project for the first time. I was not skeptical, yet thinking, "yes, but how can we integrate these two things? What is this all about? " It took me some time to digest, while he explained me again and again on the project.


Q: Then, you decided to take the position at the Academy.

 The process of becoming a virtuoso is very much influenced by his or her teachers, and today, especially in Asia, children's repertoires have become very difficult.  Sometimes, they play technically wonderfully, but his or her bodies are like pieces of stone. I had experiences of having students who suddenly felt physical pains and had to stop their lessons.

So, after a lot of consideration on the status and the future possibilities, I came to believe that this academy would be a revolutionary and wonderful idea, the first of its kind in the world. So, I said "yes" to join the project. Still, it took me some time to reach to this conclusion.


Q: Now that you have finished the first master class, how do you think the lessons will progress?

Over the holiday season, I would like to read Dr. Furuya's comments about the master classes to get a better picture of what he is doing from the physical side of this educational program for the future lessons. I hope that the assistant lecturers will do the same. They are also my students in this academy. Furthermore, I have some new ideas that I would like to implement in the next lessons, so I would like to have series of internal meetings as well with Furuya-san and the teachers.


Q: Can you give the students of the Academy some advice?

 I would like to wish all the participants in this project success.  I think that it would be very important at the end of the year to organize a concert of students participating in this project. Besides individual lessons, communication between students is very important so that they can get to know each other, and also hear each other.

And we can hear them and see their progress  not only during the lesson, but also on the stage.

When I was at the Moscow Conservatory, students used to play for each other. This was informative and also valuable. For me, it was very helpful to hear other musicians studying with other great professors and to learn of his/her views on the subject. Also, it was important to imagine "If I were teaching, what kind of critique would I give to the current performance?" when others were performing.  When you are in a teacher mode, you are not just listening.  You are also thinking why this musician is doing this or that. I really hope that everyone at the Academy will engage in this kind of friendly competition as well.

 Scenes from the master class
(Ms. Yamazaki, a student receiving instruction through a monitor, and Ms. Yoshioka providing instructional support)