Tomomi Nishimoto is a music partner with the Japan Philharmonic Orchestra, music
director and principal conductor of the Royal Chamber Orchestra, and the visiting
professor at her alma mater, Osaka College of Music, among other distinctions. This
month she leads the Shanghai Philharmonic Orchestra in a programme of
Smetana’s The Moldau, Borodin’s Polovtsian Dances (from Prince Igor), and
Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5 in E minor, and the Nutcracker Suite. She
answered some questions about her life as composer and conductor, and about being a role
model for others in music.
I understand you first studied composing? How did you move from composing
After I received a degree in composing from the Osaka College of Music, I went on to
St. Petersburg Conservatory in Russia and enrolled in symphonic orchestra
conducting. Try to imagine that music is an architectural object invisible to the human
eye. The composer serves as the architect, and the conductor oversees and directs
the construction site. When I’m reading scores, the first thing I do is to apply
compositional theory to do an analysis. After the analysis, I engage with the
orchestra in rehearsal to concertise the work. But the analysis takes up most of the
What do you like about conducting? And do you still compose at all?
About conducting, it is not only that I personally like it, or that I like to stand in the
centre of the stage. It is more that I wish to collectively realise a dream. I like to use
artistic means to express our ideals. And by that I don’t mean my own ideals, but an
integrated artistic ambition that is most honest to the realities of human society. It is
following that ambition that allows me to stand firmly on stage with a clear task.
I also still compose. I’ve composed work for the Japanese pop group NEWS, which
was quite a challenge. In order to bridge the distance between today’s youth and
classical music, I used classical music as a foundation to write a pop song called
'Four Gunmen.' This song was a big success after its release in Japan.
When you told people you wanted to be a conductor, did anyone try to talk you
out of it, saying it would be difficult for a woman in that field?
Gender discrimination is quite serious in Japan compared to the rest of the world.
The expressions glass ceiling, glass walls, and glass door exist for a reason.
Therefore, I never mentioned what I was up to when I was young. Now that gender
consciousness of Japanese has improved, there are many Japanese women working
and gradually breaking the layers of glass.
How was it being the first foreigner in two Russian orchestras?
A wholehearted thanks to all the musicians that have – regardless of my humble
talent – helped train me to become a conductor. Because of Russia’s economic
instability at that time, as a foreigner, I had to face numerous difficulties. However, as
far as using diligence to improve my own practice, I didn’t find it challenging or
What advice would you give young people who want to follow your path?
I have received many letters from people that enrolled into the conservatory after
they had attended one of my concerts. Also, I have a lot of childhood friends and
colleagues from the conservatory that bring along their children to my concerts.
Although I have no kids myself, this makes me really, really happy. In those
moments, I experience a feeling of responsibility towards them.
I now serve as the artistic director and principal conductor of the IlluminArt
Philharmonic Orchestra, and I hold open rehearsals for all children who don’t have
the opportunity to attend recitals or concerts.
Can you say something about your programme for Beijing and Shanghai?
So far I have visited 45 countries, and I currently hold invitations for 30 more. Almost
everywhere, I’m considered a Russian conductor of Japanese nationality, which
means I’m mostly asked to perform Russian repertoire. The same request holds true
for these Beijing and Shanghai concerts. These works are a fusion of the people’s
songs of the whole nation, but being symphonic compositions, they are songs
without words. I have deep respect for, and great interest in the Chinese culture, and
Beijing and Shanghai have such rich cultural heritage. My dream is to relate and link
to these cities’ audiences through music.
As an encore piece I have prepared a symphonic version of Li Xianglan’s Ye Lai
Xiang. I would be very honoured if the audience would take part in it.
Tomomi Nishimoto and the Shanghai Philharmonic Orchestra
Shanghai Oriental Arts Centre, on Sunday 18 December at 7.30pm, tickets 180-980RMB.