For the Love of Piano


Juilliard-trained Lisa Nakamichi had to travel to the mainland to attend piano festivals, so she created Aloha International Piano Festival here in Hawaii. Celebrating its 10th Anniversary this year, the festival is bigger than ever, with students traveling here from ‘all over the world.’ it happens june 6-14 at Hawaii Convention Center

In conversation, Lisa Nakamichi is all calm and friendly smiles. Little of that changes as she takes a seat in front of her piano, lips still curved upward.

But as she eases into Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue and the tempo picks up, things quickly change.

Her face transforms into a study of concentration. She lifts herself ever so slightly off the bench. With each punctuating note, her fingers fly higher off the keys in quick, commanding and graceful movements.

Then, just like that and far too soon, her impromptu performance comes to a close and she lets out a little laugh.

As challenging as a piece like Rhapsody in Blue can be, Nakamichi performs it with ease and from memory — an effortless demonstration of the talent she has honed throughout her career as a pianist.

It’s a skill she has sought to foster in prodigies, locally and worldwide, by founding Aloha International Piano Festival. This year, it will celebrate its 10th anniversary.

Set for June 6-14 at Hawaii Convention Center, the festival will feature guest performances, workshops and competitions among different age groups. All of it is open to the public.

“I’m just so thrilled to see student participation,” says Nakamichi. “Especially having students from all over the world coming to attend Aloha International Piano Festival.”



Her career as a pianist is not one Nakamichi foresaw.

At the age of 4, she began taking lessons at the insistence of her mother. “I didn’t really have a life where an ordinary kid would go outside and play with their friends and things like that,” says Nakamichi. “I never had that kind of opportunity.”

Fights about this with her mother were a common occurrence. Still, every time she found herself challenged with the notion of quitting, Nakamichi just couldn’t let go of everything she had been working toward.

“I didn’t want it to go down the drain,” she says.

So she persisted, and at the age of 16, met Martin Canin from The Juilliard School. It was an encounter that eventually would inspire Nakamichi to audition for the prestigious school.

A year later, at 17 years old, Nakamichi entered Juilliard, where she earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees. (Under Canin, she also earned her doctorate from State University of New York at Stony Brook.)

“It was fun, but competitive,” she says of her time at Juilliard. “You’re in a building practicing all day long and some kids would break down, but I guess I didn’t mind because of all the years of practicing I was already doing.”

It’s a dedication that has paid off, rewarded by a career that has allowed Nakamichi to play throughout the world.

She is best associated with pieces by Mozart — a composer she has mastered so well that then-Honolulu Advertiser music critic Gregory Shepherd once described Nakamichi as “born to play Mozart.” It is, she explains, an almost innate understanding she has for Mozart’s music.

Practicing, she says, still is not fun. But what she has grown to enjoy and appreciate is the creative process.

“And it’s an absolute joy to receive the warm ovation from the audiences at concerts,” she adds. “That is a great feeling and that is why I’m still playing.”