Naoko Matsui is a world-renowned talented violinist who was born in Japan. She began her first violin lessons and gave her first solo concert at the age of just 4 years old.
She speaks 7 languages, has studied in prestigious musical institutions in Japan and Europe and has won numerous international music awards.
She now lives in Germany and was one of the first major artists we were thrilled to welcome to Moonpeel. Naoko is one of our artists who was able to work closely with us, offering her feedback and suggestions, which we were keen to take on board as we continue to expand our service.
I recently had the privilege to meet her in person, at the Radisson Blu Royal Hotel in Brussels. We relaxed in the restaurant-bar of the hotel on a warm Tuesday afternoon, and discussed Naoko’s background and career to date, as well as ideas on the best way to make it in the industry.
GL – What or who gave you the desire to play the violin? Why this musical instrument instead of others?
NM – It was a determination both of my parents and my first violin teacher who gave me my first violin lesson when I was in the first year grade of kindergarten. We had the option to learn to play a musical instrument; either the violin from the age of 4, or other instruments from the age of 5-6. I decided to play the violin as soon as I could, so at 4 years old.
I remember the first time I held a violin in my hands during my first lesson, it was like magic.
I could play “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” so amazingly so after that I did not want to miss any violin lessons and I was so motivated to practice at home on a daily basis.
GL – Do you come from a musical background? Are any other members of your family also musicians?
NM – Yes, my parents play the piano, but as a hobby. My two younger sisters also took musical lessons when they were young. The first one took violin lessons but she abandoned for some reason. The second one took electric guitar lessons and had joined a music band but she also abandoned later. Now, both my sisters are doctors!
GL – What’s your memory of your first performance when you were 4 years old?
NM – I keep very good memories of this day. I remember that I played a Student Concerto by Seitz and I was forcing myself to perfectly follow what I had learned from my violin teacher in class and from my parents during my daily practice at home. As it went very well, I was very happy and confident to be on stage. I felt it was something very natural for me.
GL – To be a professional musician, you had to prepare yourself. What was your musical education?
NM – Well, as I say, I began my first violin lessons at the age of four years in kindergarten. I then continued with a private teacher until the age of 11 years old practicing at home about an hour a day.
Unfortunately, I was forced to stop for a while as I had to prepare for my high-school admission exams. It’s only later, when I was in high-school, that I studied in a private musical school with Tosiya Eto (Ex.-President Toho Gakuen School of Music) and his spouse Angela Eto (Ex.-Guest Professor). After that, I studied at the musical university for 4 years.
Following the advice of my professor Angela Eto to have an educational or professional experience abroad, I continued my studies and concert career in Europe from 2002. I first collaborated with Belgian composers and graduated with a Master’s Degree of Arts followed by a Soloist Diploma, a Concert Artist Diploma, and a Postgraduate Music Degree in Violin, all this in Belgian institutions.
Later, in 2014, I also earned the German National Artistic Qualification in Violin in Hamburg, and immediately after that I enrolled in the “Concert Exams” Program to develop a Soloist career in Germany.
During all these years, I participated in numerous concerts and competitions in Belgium, Italy, Germany, and Austria.
GL – You said you continued your studies and concert career in Europe, mainly in Belgium. Why Belgium has been so important to you?
NM – Belgium is well-known as one of the most important countries for its musical history and competitive institutions as well as its renowned violinists such as Berio, Vieuxtemps, Wieniawski brothers, Ysaÿe, Dubois, Pingen, Grumiaux, etc.
Royal Conservatory of Music of Brussels (without distinction between current KMCB/KCB and CRMB) is the first music conservatory which I knew the name of from the cover page of the Second Violin Concerto by Wieniawski. I was ten or eleven years old at the time, and I knew it even before Toho Gakuen School of Music from Angela Eto and Toshiya Eto in Tokyo.
GL – What kind of collaborations have you worked on with other artists and how have you made those connections?
NM – I have worked with conductors in different orchestras and many pianists and other instrument players who allowed me to perform with them.
I have also worked with friend composers and professor-composers to perform their works; cooperated with Radio Clara for a TV commercial in 2003 in Bruges as well as with actors and comedians for the realization of a campaign film for the Brussels Intercommunal Transport Company in 2004. Sometimes I appeared with several singers and chorus for my solo concerts in various Churches.
Most of the time, I was approached online or personally to be offered these collaborations.
GL – Do you have any tips for someone in a similar position, who is just starting out on their journey?
NM – It’s important to practice as much as possible. However, it should never be too dogmatic. There should be a true intention.
Working hard must be the discipline. Talent alone is not enough.
For musicians like violinists, having the best grades at music schools can really help as it can open many doors. In my case, thanks to my grades, I was invited many times to play in important concerts.
I would also recommend to make very good decisions in terms of schools and professors as it can either limit or help facilitate your career success so it should never be taken lightly.
Anyway, even if there are obstacles, continue practicing, studying and playing and you will win.
GL – How important is having an online presence to you? What about having a talent agent? Is the industry very different now to when you first started?
NM – Online presence is crucial. It really helps me promoting myself and my concerts as well as finding good connections and new opportunities.
Having a complete online profile is very important as it helps talent agents and other professionals understand who you are and what your experience is before they decide to contact you. It is important to place as much information as possible. Apart from that, it’s wise to publish videos, audios and pictures so that they can have a better idea of how you look and how you perform.
With all this, it increases the chances of being found and contacted. My agent found me thanks to this.
About the importance of having a talent agent or a concert agency, it is of course a good thing as it helps me with my promotion and it leads to more opportunities.
Yes, the industry has changed as more and more contacts and opportunities are created online.
GL – What could a typical day in your life look like now?
NM – I practice the violin every day and spend time on the internet to search for information that can help me in my career. I also manage my social media.
GL – You’ve had some fantastic experiences and a very impressive CV so far. Has there been any that have stood out and you’ve enjoyed the most?
NM – Although each event that constructed my career as a professional violinist is important, if I had to choose those that stood out, I would say the concert at Chiesa dell’Immacolata of Crotone in Italy with Orfeo Stillo Orchestra, the 1st Violin Concerto by Niccolò Paganini with Orchestre Symphonique de Namur at Collégiale Notre-Dame and Saint-Domitianus of Huy, but also at Saint-Martin Church of Leuze, and Saint-Christophe Church of Hannut, “La Plante” Church of Namur and IMEP Concert Church Hall just after my graduation at IMEP Graduate School of Arts.
GL – What would be the next ideal achievement for you?
NM – I would like to get a PHD and become a professor at a conservatory of music. I would also like to have more concerts and realise the premieres of new violin concertos by living friend composers.
Later that afternoon, our photographer contact Arnaud Marlone joined us for drinks (Arnaud is another artist to discover Moonpeel, and also recently did our founders photoshoot). We continued to chat into the evening about the highs and lows of the industry.
It was fantastic to meet Naoko in person and find out more about her background.
You can find out more about Naoko below;