Sound Decision
Hiroaki Yura

by Jonathan Mays, May 31st 2006
24-year-old Hiroaki Yura is one of Asia's most accomplished young violinists. Awarded a scholarship to the Sydney Conservatorium of Music at the age of twelve, Yura became one of the youngest students ever to receive an Associate Diploma with Distinction from the Australian Music Examination Board. He debuted with the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra and has performed with most of the major orchestras in China and Japan.

Yura is also the founder and concertmaster of Eminence, a professional orchestra dedicated to anime and video game music. That may seem insignificant for someone who tours the world as a featured soloist, but to Yura, Eminence is the most challenging and rewarding piece of his repertoire.

Was this a childhood fantasy, or just a good way to hook kids on classical music?
The whole idea of Eminence was to get everyone to understand classical music better, and these concerts are the first stage of the long process.

Like orchestral game music or classical in general?
Well, something energetic and interesting that uses the instruments that we play. I am also real bored of classical music.

I guess you would be bored after all you've done.
Well, it's the same stuff that gets played all the time.

Want to talk about your performance career?
Um, it's long?

Tchaikovsky, Prokofiev...
I specialize in concertos. Solo violin plus orchestra—

I know what a concerto is.
Great, I won't have to explain as much. I have a naturally powerful sound and able to play above an orchestra.

How is your sound powerful?
I don't know. It's a combination of the right posture and playing style. Maybe we can say there is no such thing as talent. Just long hours of practice?

So you become naturally good with a lot of practice.
Yeah.

Great.
Talent and possibility is born from practice.

How did you get guys like William Motzing and Alexy Yemtsov on your team? Motzing has done the London Symphony, John Williams...
Well, Motzing teaches at the Conservatory, and he is the mentor of our on house composer, Nicole Brady. He was the artistic director for Eminence in 2004 but has since retired.

He played when [legendary pianist Vladimir] Ashkenazy was conducting over in Australia...
Myself and Alexandra Gavriluk, winner of the Hamamatsu Piano Competition, have played a lot of gigs together.

So that's how you met Yemtsov?
Yeah, I first knew Gavriluk, then I met Yemtsov. Alexey will be performing with Ash later this year.

And your house composer caught Motzing when he was in the area?
Yeah. He actually lives quite close.

I guess you don't want to go through your bio and awards and stuff... but do you have any good stories or special moments from any particular concerts?
Hmm, yeah, we had our moments. But I'm not sure the story is good for the public image. [Laughs]

Come on, you must have something.
Well, two stories, actually. One involving our percussions sliding in our concert venue thirty minutes before the actual concert. Another involving accidental baptism for Alexey in Akibahara to Doujinshi.

And what exactly is a classical pianist's impression of Akibahara?
He looked pretty shocked. His mouth wouldn't shut. Last time I went, I met this strange violinist called Mr. Tamura, who specialized in that kind of music on violin. He would play on streets and such... now he sells our CDs in Japan.

How did you end up performing for [Japanese Prime Minister] Koizumi?
Oh, people just knew me. The organizers wanted me to play since he liked classical music. We performed in a quartet lead by myself, the 2nd violinist, another Eminence member, leader of the 2nd violins, Masaki Nakamura.

When was it? Where?
It was like three or four years ago at a hotel in Sydney... and he was talking about trade stuff. I remember the cops had a very cursory check of our instrument cases.

Cursory?
Not so detailed.

I know what cursory means. Why was it cursory?
Well, they were pretty cool.

That's an interesting thing to say about the Japanese prime minister's security team.
Yeah.

So you're, what, early 20s, accomplished violinist, and you've done tough concertos, played for the prime minister, and then you get bored and start this Eminence thing?
Um, not really bored.

Hey, your word, not mine.
Okay, exaggeration. What is the purpose of winning super big competitions and playing difficult concertos when most of the audience will have passed away when you're like in your mid 30s? But I want young people to understand it a bit more.

And what better way than with anime and video games?
Exactly. That's more challenging than practicing 14 hours a day to get first place.

Have you seen people go from, say, Mario to Ghibli to Tchaikovsky?
I've seen a lot of Star Wars to Beethoven. In fact, Motzing's son was like that.

He was?
He told his dad after listening to Beethoven for the first time, "Dad, Beethoven copied John Williams!"

Unbelievable. Well, since we're already going down that road, do you want to talk about the "long process" that Eminence started?
Well, it's really long. We really haven't started much yet. We're trying to get hold of a firm fan base in different cities now

Did it surprise you how many people were interested in the first place?
No, I knew this would be a hit. It's just, nobody did it because there were too many risks involved.

Such as?
Well, rehearsing an orchestra is expensive business. A typical 3-hour rehearsal can buy you a cheap car.

How did you pull it off?
I don't know to be honest. Advertise like crazy, tell your friends, anything goes. We have staff dressed in EGL with Bunta-kun handing out flyers this time.

I don't know what that means.
No idea, either, but my staff knows. Oh yeah, we've kind of worked with Sahashi, too.

The Gundam composer?
Yep, we've been invited to Nihon TV studio for his new recording of Kamen Rider.

Cool. Anything you'd like to say about putting together the first "A Night in Fantasia" concert in 2004?
Um, having [Final Fantasy composer Nobou] Uematsu there?

How hard was that to arrange?
Not really hard. We were the first people in the world to do anime and game concerts.

That would get his attention.
Yeah, we keep in touch. His very last day as Square Enix staff was spent with us in Australia.

Anyway, you said you were just starting to build fan bases. What's next?
Well, we're thinking of playing the Doors Concerto performed by Nigel Kennedy and composed by Jaz Coleman for Fantasia this year. But many thought it was too early, so we had to scrap it. But this is the general direction we'd like to head in.

How much can you get away with before kids start to lose touch?
Not too much for now. But maybe if we play some classics from Evangelion with images, that might do it.

Yeah, that's a safe bet. I guess there's no good blueprint out there, that it's not as simple as just sneaking some stuff in between Mario and Zelda.
True that. We'll also be performing the new Final Fantasy XII violin soundtrack this year.

Is there anything further in your "long process" that you can reveal? Plans, directions?
We're trying to separate the video game and the anime aspects next year, doing a concentrated effort on each front.

That's interesting. Think they're different crowds?
Kind of, ever so slightly.

How?
Well, anime gamers play different games from gamer gamers. Dragon Quest 8 is popular because Toriyama drew the stuff. And so are Final Fantasy and Blue Dragon.

Do you think that translates to America?
I think it's worldwide. I mean, generally speaking, people who watch Pokémon don't necessarily enjoy Counter Strike. Maybe I'm generalizing a bit too much. But yes, they are after different things in game music.

What's different about what they're "after"?
What do you mean?

You said anime gamers are after something different in music than gamer gamers.
Well, they just after more anime-ish titles, I think, or games with more storyline like an RPG. I play World of Warcraft a bit, and none of them listens to classical or soundtrack stuff. They listen to heavy metal or rock or something when they play.

Any theories?
World of Warcraft has no proper emotional storyline, whereas in Final Fantasy, you get attachment to this character as he or she develops. You see, we want to do more than just Final Fantasy in our game concerts.

So Warcraft gamers are cold and heartless, while Final Fantasy fans are emotional and flaky.
[Laughing] But yes.

Well, that explains some of my friends.
[Laughing] Warcraft does have some good music, though. Just repetitive when you do Molten Core every week. [ed. note: "Molten Core" is a popular dungeon in the World of Warcraft online roleplaying game]

I don't know what that means. But anyway, you think Final Fantasy players are more into anime and anime music for the stories that are tied to them.
I think so. The keyword is storyline.

Which begs the question: when you strip away the story stuff, and you just have different kinds of music, does it go both ways? Are heavy metal fans more likely to play Warcraft?
Hmm, yeah, I think so. I think anime gamers are more emotional?

[Laughs] Either way, that's some interesting territory... hasn't been mapped out very well. So I guess you guys might pave the way.
Hopefully.

And that would be more challenging than 14 hours a day of violin practice. Well, anything else on your mind?
We've kind of got competition with Play now.

How is Eminence different?
What we're after are musicians who are interested in this music and willing to play. Also, it's about the orchestra and the performers, not laser shows and nice screens.

Laser shows and nice screens... I'll ask Play about that. Best of luck.
Thanks a lot!

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