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Jon Nakamatsu

Jon Nakamatsu headshot while sitting at piano


Office 533


Courses Taught

Applied Lessons


MA, Stanford University

BA, Stanford University

Awards and Distinctions

Gold Medal, 1997 Van Cliburn International Piano Competition

Gold Medal, 1995 United States National Chopin Piano Competition

Notable Studio Wins

Wideman International Piano Competition - Parker Van Ostrand

Distinguished Alumni

Minjun Dong - DMA, faculty at Sichuan Conservatory

Gengkai Kevin Liang - Doctoral Program at Tokyo University

Zach Weiner - Winner of Paris International Amateur Piano Competition; major performances of concerti and solo repertoire in Europe and USA

Haoyue Liang - Recent DMA from UNT

Jingshu Zhao - Recent DMA from UNT

Jon Nakamatsu plays with the calm assurance that comes from having both a solid technique and a gentle, introspective interpretive spirit." 

— The New York Times


What is your hometown?

San Jose, CA

What is your favorite recording?

Ignaz Friedman's 1936 recording of Chopin's E-flat Major Nocturne, Op. 55, No. 2.

Who were your major teachers?

Marina Derryberry, Karl Ulrich Schnabel, and Leonard Stein (theory and composition).

What question do you wish students would ask sooner rather than later?

“What is the performer's life REALLY like?”

What was a turning point in your career?

The obvious answer would be the Van Cliburn Competition in 1997, but actually, two years earlier I won the United States National Chopin Piano Competition in Miami, Florida. This opened performance and publicity doors for me that were previously closed, and put me on the "competition winners' map" prior to entering the Van Cliburn.

If you weren't a musician or teacher, what do you think you would be doing now?

I'm sure I would be enjoying music somewhere, but most likely as an academic teaching literature or linguistics!

What is your daily practice routine?

I wouldn't say I have a daily routine anymore, as travel and concert schedules prohibit a "normal" day. I practice anywhere from zero to nine hours per day. On the extra long days, I break up the work in no more than three hour increments. I find it increasingly more beneficial to rest both body and mind in conjunction with heavy practicing.

If you could play only three composers for the rest of your life, who would they be?

Bach, Mozart, and Brahms.

What are your most important collaborations?

Manasse/Nakamatsu Duo; Berlin Philharmonic Wind Quintet (multiple tours); Tokyo String Quartet (tours and recording).


Catapulted to international attention in 1997 as the Gold Medalist of the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition—the only American to achieve this distinction since 1981—Jon Nakamatsu subsequently developed a multi-faceted career that encompasses recording, education, arts administration and public speaking in addition to his vast concert schedule.

A former high school teacher of German with no formal conservatory training, Mr. Nakamatsu studied privately with Marina Derryberry for over 20 years beginning at the age of six; worked with Karl Ulrich Schnabel since the age of 9; and trained for 10 years in composition, theory and orchestration with Dr. Leonard Stein of the University of Southern California’s Schoenberg Institute. Mr. Nakamatsu holds undergraduate and graduate degrees from Stanford University in German Studies and secondary education.

Nakamatsu has been a guest soloist with over 150 orchestras worldwide, including those of Baltimore, Berlin, Boston, Cincinnati, Dallas, Detroit, Florence, Los Angeles, Milan, San Francisco, Seattle, Tokyo and Vancouver. He has worked with esteemed conductors like Marin Alsop, Sergiu Comissiona, James Conlon, Philippe Entremont, Hans Graf, Marek Janowski, Raymond Leppard, Gerard Schwarz, Stanislaw Skrowaczewski, Michael Tilson Thomas and Osmo Vänskä. As a recitalist, Mr. Nakamatsu has appeared in New York City’s Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center, Washington DC’s Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, the Musée d’Orsay and the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris and in major centers such as Boston, Chicago, Houston, London, Milan, Munich, Prague, Singapore, Warsaw and Zurich. In Beijing he has been heard at the Theater of the Forbidden City, the Great Hall of the People, China Conservatory, and the National Centre for the Performing Arts. His numerous summer engagements included appearances at the Aspen, Tanglewood, Ravinia, Caramoor, Vail, Wolftrap, Colorado, Brevard, Britt, Colorado College, Evian, Interlochen, Klavierfestival Ruhr, Santa Fe and Sun Valley festivals.

Mr. Nakamatsu’s 13 CDs recorded for harmonia mundi usa have garnered extraordinary critical praise. An all-Gershwin recording with Jeff Tyzik and the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra featuring Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue and Concerto in F remained in the top echelons of Billboard’s classical charts for over six months. Other acclaimed discs include the recording premiere of Lukas Foss’ first Piano Concerto with Carl St. Clair and the Pacific Symphony, the Brahms Piano Quintet with the Tokyo String Quartet in the quartet’s final recording as an ensemble, and a solo recording including Robert Schumann’s Second Piano Sonata whose YouTube posting has garnered over 700K hits.

Mr. Nakamatsu has been profiled extensively in print, radio, television and online. He has appeared on CBS Sunday Morning, in Reader's Digest magazine and on Live from Here! with Chris Thile. In 1999, Mr. Nakamatsu performed at the White House at the special invitation of President and Mrs. Clinton. He has also performed for the United States Mayor’s Convention in San Francisco and in 2001 was the featured guest artist during the opening and dedication of the Japanese American Memorial to Patriotism During World War II in Washington D.C.