Koh Gabriel Kameda: “I’m not the right person anywhere”
Eritasard.am’s correspondent met Koh Gabriel Kameda at the Conservatory in the evening when he was hosting a master’s class with young violinists.
The famous German musician with Japanese roots is in Armenia at the invitation of the German-Armenian Music Society. Kameda has already gotten to know the Armenians and has noticed some peculiarities of Armenian architecture, but says he still needs time to get to know and understand Armenian culture. How did he miss the moment of choosing his profession? How did he overcome the internal conflict of being Japanese and German? What does he think of Armenian musicians? Eritasard.am found the answers to these questions. Eritasard.am: How is it going in Armenia? Koh Gabriel Kameda: “Shat lav, Shat-shat lav” (“Great” in Armenian) (responded in Armenian). Eritasard.am: You have managed to learn Armenian... K. G. K.: I have learned “Bari luys” (Good day), “Inchpes ek” (How are you) and a couple of other words that I wouldn’t like to mention. Eritasard.am: Fine, in that case, let’s get to the main topic. How did you decide to become a violinist? K. G. K.: When I was 5 or 6 years old, I drew a picture of myself on stage. My mother still keeps that picture. I believed I would become a violinist (I might not have believed it that much later, but I did at the time). I received an offer to perform at a concert and then another offer…There were so many that I didn’t even know how it all began. I started participating in concerts and earning money, but I gave my first big concert when I was 13 years old. I even missed the moment when I had to choose my profession. I was almost 25 years old when I realized that I’m a musician and thought of what else I could have become. I realized that it was too late. If I had thought about it earlier, I might not have become a musician. Eritasard.am: Let’s say the violin wasn’t created. What would you have become? K. G. K.: I think I would have become a doctor like the other members of my family, starting from my grandparents. My family has a hospital called Kameda in japan, and I think I would have been able to pursue my career as a doctor more easily that way. Eritasard.am: How did all the doctors in your family respond to your decision? After all, they were probably certain that you would follow in their footsteps. K. G. K.: My parents told me the important thing was for me to do a good job. They not only welcomed it, but they have also helped me whenever I have gotten tired or have asked myself if I had made the right choice. If it wasn’t for that, nothing would have worked out. Eritasard.am: Have you ever felt deeply disappointed with the sphere, your job or even the violin? K. G. K.: Of course, I have been disappointed several times. Sometimes I have even asked myself if I truly want to continue doing this. The greatest disappointment was in 2009 when I was ranked a professor. I was still thinking of becoming a doctor and was even estimating how long it would take. I could study for two to three years and work as an intern with my family. But I wouldn’t leave the violin behind. The fact that I’m still performing goes to show that I overcame disappointment. Eritasard.am: There is a variety of musical genres, and you could choose from many in Europe. Why did you decide to play classical music? K. G. K.: I never thought about that. My brother played the violin. I was 4 years old, and my mother would always take me to my brother’s violin lessons. One year, I listened to how he played and when the teacher corrected him, I said I could play better, and that’s how it all began. My parents said I had to try to play other instruments like the piano, flute, organ and others, but I liked the sound of the violin the most because it’s similar to the voice of a human being. Eritasard.am: Armenians complain that the youth aren’t interested in classical music. Classical musicians try to make the youth listen to classical music in different ways. Is there such a problem in Germany and is it necessary to “modernize” classical music for that? K. G. K.: To tell you the truth, looking at the participants of the master’s classes here, it’s safe to say that there are more young talented classical musicians in Armenia than there are in Germany. When you attend a concert in Germany and take a look at the audience, you’ll see that most of the people in the audience are old people. This is due to the lack of a special policy and discipline. In reality, classical music is deeply rooted in Germany. I can say it’s not a shame, but sad that the new generation doesn’t recognize its national culture. Eritasard.am: What solutions do you musicians seek? K. G. K.: There are some programs, and one of them is called “Rhapsody at School”. Musicians take instruments to school, present them in detail and organize a concert, but I still haven’t seen the impact. The children say classical music isn’t “cool”. This comes from the family. The post-WWII era destroyed families and changed value systems, and that was when culture within families was destroyed. Two years ago, I visited Venezuela where there is an El Sistema disciplinary program that was introduced 30 years ago and helps children stay away from the streets by playing classical music. There are numerous youth orchestras, and almost everyone knows how to play a musical instrument. During my visit, I attended an open-air concert at a park and listened to performances by Venezuela’s major youth orchestra along with nearly 10,000 people, including families with five children. They listened to works by Strauss, as well as Beethoven’s 6th Symphony and they knew the music. But today, try to ask a child at a German school if he knows those works or not. In my classroom, 25% of the students are German, and that’s normal in Germany. Eritasard.am: You have Japanese roots, but you grew up in a German environment. How did those two rich cultures “come to terms” within you? K. G. K.: It took me a long time to discover my identity. It was very difficult. In Germany I’m not a German, and in Japan I’m not Japanese. I’m not the right person anywhere. I feel like a foreigner everywhere. There came a moment when I no longer thought of being German or Japanese. I try to take all that is positive from both nations. I grew up in Germany, but I have a large family in Japan. I visit Japan every year and give several concerts. I have a Japanese passport and pay taxes there. When I was little, I didn’t even think that I looked different. It was only when I was 14 years old when I looked in the mirror and saw that I don’t look anything like a German (laughing). Eritasard.am: You have also collaborated with various orchestras and have been collaborating with Armenian musicians for the past couple of days. What is the peculiarity of Armenian musicians? K. G. K.: Generally speaking, even if the musicians here (I’m referring to the children) have technical problems, they are strictly related to music. I’m amazed at how trained the children are. I had imagined them to be worse. It’s safe to say that the situation is better than it is in Germany. Eritasard.am: I know you are also one of the world’s few musicians who play the violin made by Stradivarius. How did you obtain it? K. G. K.: I was very lucky in that I don’t have to return it and can use it as much as I want. Gallery: Violinist Koh Gabriel Kameda Interview by Tsovinar Karapetyan