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FALL PREVIEW / COVER STORY | Music

Fall's Fresh Faces

September 04, 1997|MARK SWED

Jon Nakamatsu, 28, winner of the 1997 Van Cliburn International Piano Competition

Look for: His first local appearance since the spring victory, Oct. 11 at El Camino College.

Why he matters: We knew him when. Or at least we thought we did, or were supposed to have known him. A native Californian who graduated from Stanford University, Nakamatsu studied for a while in Los Angeles with Leonard Stein, who says he was frustrated by a pianist with so much technique willing to spend so little time on contemporary music. But he's made up for that, and in the process made it to the big time. The Cliburn medal required mastery of not just Chopin (he'd already impressed other judges with that, having twice taken medals at the National Chopin Competition) but also a piece by William Bolcom written especially for the competition.

The Cliburn is one of the most publicized (hence one of the most prestigious) of today's big music competitions, and it offers a couple years of serious exposure through concerts and recordings. But the struggle is hardly over for Nakamatsu. Not many winners have been able to capitalize on their victory enough to make really big careers. It's a rough world out there, and one of the thrills of this blood sport will be to watch this talented young man surf the recital shoals in hope of finding a permanent position in our concert life.

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