Asako Onishi is Town Hall Symphony Hall’s resident organ scholar. Playing both the Town Hall and Symphony Hall organs regularly, and studying at university at the same time, Asako has a very busy schedule! We put some questions to her to see how and why she began her organ studies, what inspires her in her playing of such a unique instrument, and what she would like to achieve in her career.
1.Asako, when did you start playing the organ?
I started playing the organ around the age of 11; though the nearest organ available to me was about an hour away from my home, so I only managed to play ‘properly’ when I started boarding school in 2005.
2.What first sparked your interest in the instrument?
My mother has been a subscriber of a concert hall in Kyoto for a long time, and used to take me to organ concerts there every month or so. I recall hearing the organ for the first time at the age of 3, and its sounds and power completely enchanted me.
3.How long have you been playing the organ? And what do you most enjoy about it?
It has been about 13 years now. What I love the most about playing the organ, is being experimental with its sounds. Every single organ is different, and I love coming across a new sound combination I’ve never heard before.
4.What has been your biggest challenge to date?
My biggest challenge to date has been learning Reubke Sonata (which is about 25 minutes of constant playing) for my final recital last summer. This 43-page-long piece took me just under 6 months to learn, and I would definitely consider this to be the most challenging piece I have ever performed.
5.What are your career ambitions?
I would love to be a professional performer, but I also have a great interest in promoting music and workshops within community settings e.g. hospitals, care homes etc.
6.What does your role with THSH involve?
I have an opportunity to work with Thomas Trotter, the city organist, and being able to see a professional performer in action, right in front of your eyes, is absolutely amazing. I am also involved with a lot of education outreach projects such as History Hunt and Science of Sound; which have inspirational experiences for me.
7.What’s your favourite piece of music to play?
I love playing a variety of pieces; however, I love pieces by Bach, and German Romantic composers such as Max Reger.
8.Do you think organs are cool? What would you say to people who think they aren’t? Why should someone learn to play the organ?
I don’t think that ‘cool’ would be an appropriate description of an instrument like the organ. However, nowadays, people tend to underestimate the capability of the instrument. I really hope that when I play things like ‘Happy’ by Pharell Williams on the organ, to the kids that visit the Town Hall, they go home thinking that organs are very very ‘cool’ indeed!