David Van Meter
Imai remembers giving piano performances when other kids were playing
He also remembers
being hated for it. His mother's piano caught his attention at age 3;
Imai's first professional performance at 13 set him apart from his younger
brother, who would grow up to be a cartoonist, and from the others in
was the birthmark. Imai gently touches the olive-sized chocolate birthmark
on his left temple.
"I think" -- continually,
Imai pauses to let his Japanese mind find the right English words -- they
just did not like it," he figures, still puzzled 13 years later. "So I
spent most of my time alone, but by then I had already started enjoying
music. I could concentrate more on the thinking of music."
go on to win or place highly in three major Japanese competitions, including
the Twelfth Takahiro Sonada Award in Oita, claiming the Governor's Prize.
It was then he first met Tamas Ungar.
A year later,
he made his professional debut in Tokyo and participated in the Okinawa
International Music Festival. But the the pain remained. Imai turned to
wanted ╔ to learn about humanity," Imai said, "because, if possible,
I thought I could improve the relationship with my friends." He discovered
the answer at his fingertips. "Before, I was playing the piano, I
think, because I wanted to me a Japanese music star. But I realized that
people can share that same feeling you have on stage. I looked out into
the audience and I saw them feeling what I was feeling."
broadly now -- one of 30 competing for Cliburn gold -- the mark God gave
him now in an entirely different spotlight, just like the pianist himself.
think now ╔ this is my trademark."