The list of prizes awarded to pianist Naomi Kudo, who will perform in Savannah on July 12, boggles the mind.
To wild praise from critics, Kudo was awarded the 2007 Chopin Prize and was a consecutive winner of two Gina Bachauer International Piano Competitions at the Juilliard School of Music that same year. In 2008, she received the Gilmore Young Artist Award.
Kudo has received the Ryoichi Sasakawa Young Leaders Fellowship at Juilliard, was Juilliard's recipient of the 2009 Arthur Rubinstein Prize and won the 2011 Juilliard/Sanders/Tel Aviv Museum Recital Prize - and that's just to name a few.
"I was born in Washington, D.C., but moved to Chicago within a year or two," she says. "I started piano lessons in Chicago at the age of 4, and then moved to Japan at age 5. The next nine years were spent between Chicago and Japan."
Music was a family affair.
"My parents are music lovers but are not musicians," Kudo says. "My younger sister is very musical. She took piano and violin lessons, can sing very nicely and was a wonderful clarinetist.
"My grandmother was the only grandparent I had growing up, and she loved classical music, especially the piano," Kudo says. "She had taken piano lessons growing up, had an upright piano in her home, enjoyed going to concerts and had hundreds of CDs, LPs and cassette tapes. One of my favorite things to do, and what is now a fond memory, was to discuss various pianists with her, and browse her collections for new discoveries."
By the time she reached her teens, Kudo knew she wanted to be a concert pianist.
"I had won two major national competitions in Japan and one of them gave me a few concert opportunities in Poland," she says. "It was all very exciting - the traveling, visiting another country and experiencing their culture, the receptive audiences."
Kudo made her recital debut at the International Chopin Festival in Duszniki-Zdroj, Poland.
She was only 16 when she made her orchestral debut, performing Tchaikovsky's First Concerto with the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra. That same year, she performed in Spain with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and has gone on ito play with several orchestras around the world.
Kudo earned undergraduate and graduate degrees from the Juilliard School. Currently, she studies with Richard Goode at the Mannes College of Music and is a current scholarship recipient of the Rohm Music Foundation in Japan.
While in Japan, Kudo performed at a senior citizen's home/hospital in Beppu.
"It was a really moving experience," she says. "My colleagues and I played not just classical music, but selections from popular Japanese folk and film songs. There was no pressure. We weren't worried about making mistakes, dynamics or articulation.
"I was overcome with how powerful and meaningful our music meant to this audience," Kudo says. "There were many happy faces, joyful smiles and some tears. I will never forget this - it was a powerful bond that I felt as a human being."
Many composers have inspired Kudo. "I have many favorites, but J.S. Bach and Mozart are probably at the top of the list," she says.
"Of course, they both had something divine in them - a musical gift given from God - but they were also human beings. There are many dimensions to their works - joy, drama, tragedy, happiness, humor, despair.
"But at the end, most importantly, I find their music so very uplifting," Kudo says. "They speak so clearly through their music, hundreds of years after its composition, and their messages are timeless and as powerful as ever."
In Savannah, Kudo will play a variety of works.
"The first half will be dedicated entirely to Chopin, and the second half will consist of J.S. Bach, Debussy and Gershwin," she says. "The forms of these pieces are also very unique and individual - waltzes, preludes, ballade, polonaise, and so on.
"It's also the first time I'll be performing Gershwin on a solo recital, and I look forward to it very much," Kudo says. "Every piece is really wonderful, easy to listen to, and very different.
"Bach, the master of counterpoint; Chopin, the master of melody; Debussy, the illusionist; and Gershwin, the great songwriter," she says. "I hope the audience will enjoy the variety and maybe find his or her own favorite."
Kudo encourages everyone to come.
"Even if you haven't been to a classical music concert before, I hope you'll take a chance and come," she says. "I think it's always refreshing to experience something new and different."
IF YOU GO
What: Piano concert with Naomi Kudo
When: 7:30 p.m. July 12
Where: Messiah Lutheran Church, 1 W. Ridge Road on Skidaway Island
Cost: Free, but contributions will be accepted to help defray costs
Info: Call 912-598-1188 from 2-5 p.m. weekdays
What else: Child care will be provided