“I love the sense of unity with both music and musicians”

Conductor Nodoka Okisawa in conversation

Nodoka Okisawa won the 2019 Besançon International Competition for Young Conductors
(Photo: Taira Nishimaki)

When she conducts, her face glows with happiness, enthusiasm and joy. Nodoka Okisawa moves her listeners with her irresistible manner. This season the Japanese musician, who studied at the Hanns Eisler School of Music Berlin, is a scholar of the Berliner Philharmoniker’s Karajan Academy and assistant to Kirill Petrenko. On 1 November, she will give her first concert with the students of the Academy. In our interview, she tells us why she became a conductor, what she loves about her profession, and about her experiences in Berlin.

Was there a particular event in your life that motivated you to become a conductor?
I played cello in a youth orchestra from when I was 10, so it was natural to me to be interested in conducting. Later, I started to play oboe in a school band and wanted to be a professional oboe player, but I hesitated to ask my parents to buy me my own instrument. Then I came up with the idea that conducting doesn’t need any instrument. And that’s how it all began. But I did not in fact have any big ambitions at first...

You just mentioned that you played cello and oboe in your childhood. Then there is the piano, which you also learned to play. These are three completely different instruments. How does that benefit you now as a conductor?
The experience of these instruments helps me today to have a broader perspective and to have a critical mind towards myself as a conductor. 

What do you love most about conducting?
I love the sense of unity with both music and musicians.

You have already won a number of prestigious competitions, including the Besançon International Competition for Young Conductors.  How helpful has this been for your professional career?
Apart from the fact that it enabled me to find myself an agent, one of the jury members at the Besançon competition for young conductors was the head of concert planning for the Berliner Philharmoniker. She sent the video of my performance to Berlin, which led me to have this wonderful opportunity to become a member of the Karajan Academy and work here together with great musicians as the assistant of Mr. Petrenko. 

At the beginning of November, you will have your first performance with the Karajan Academy. What is your approach to working together with the young musicians of the Academy?
I want to work with them as a colleague rather than as conductor who tells others what to do. We learn and gain inspiration from each other.

And what have you learned from Kirill Petrenko so far?
Something very important:  I have learned that sincerity moves people much more than autocratic leadership. 

Nodoka Okisawa is the first holder of the new “Siemens Conductors Scholarship” at the Karajan Academy.