The Viola Master Class in Otaru

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About of the Viola Master Class

Descriptions and purposes:

The Viola Master Class in Otaru (VMCO) offers a rare opportunity for viola students who are selected through auditions to study under Ms. Nobuko Imai, the world famous viola player. The students would spend 13 days in Otaru, studying approaches, techniques and history in music through private lessons and class lectures and perform in the concerts at the end of their stay. VMCO is also actively engaged in local community relations by opening the rehearsals and lessons to Otaru residents and children.

The main purposes of VMCO are to educate and encourage the young musicians to make music together and to play on the international arena so that Ms. Imai's music philosophy would be passed onto the next generation. The students will acquire new awareness and perspectives towards music making with the advices from renowned instructors.

In the 12th VMCO in 2016, a total of 13 students will participate. Six of these students were admitted to this program based on Ms. Imai's recommendations. Two of these students are attending the master class for the first time, two students for the second time, and another two students for the third time. They represent China, Taiwan (two), and Japan (three). The student from China was awarded Asian student scholarship for 2016. Seven students were selected by internet-based auditions. They represent Australia, Korea, China, and Japan.

One of the reasons that VMCO has been attractive for the overseas applicants is that it offers them a rare opportunity to receive advices and instructions from Ms. Imai who has been teaching at Academy of Music in Amsterdam, Kronberg in Germany, Ueno Gakuen in Japan, and Escuela Superior Musica Reina Sofia in Spain. When VMCO started in 2004, however, she did not have any base to teach in Asia. Thus, for many aspiring Asian students, the only way to study under her was to go to Europe. In addition, it is highly unusual for her to teach at one place for as long as two weeks. VMCO is attractive not only for the first time participants but also the repeat students who have studied with her in the past. Ms. Imai refers this program as "Kangeiko (winter exercise)" and regards it as an important event for her to mark the beginning of a new year.

Ms. Imai values VMCO as much as Viola Space and Viola International Contest, both of which she has organized. In fact, she brought and performed new pieces and new arrangements by Ms. Mamiko Kobayakawa for VMCO and presented them at Viola Space as premiere pieces. Since 2015, Ms. Imai set up "Bach Music Class" as a special seminar to learn the fundamentals of classic music and invited Mr. Koji Otsuki as a lecturer. Mr. Otsuki from Philadelphia is highly regarded as a specialist in Baroque music. And also invited Mr. Veit Hertenstein, Mr. Ryo Oshima and Ms. Yumiko Yamamoto as a teaching assistant.

For the students, VMCO provides a rare opportunity to concentrate on music making and spend ten days together in such an ideal, rustic environment. Through interactions and encouragement with each other, they can develop their awareness in music onto the next level. These activities of VMCO would provide a springboard for them to jump onto the world stages.


In response to Ms. Imai's wish to hold a viola master class in Otaru, Rumi Takano, the committee representative and a friend of Ms. Imai, worked with a local NPO whose main activity was the promotion of the area to hold the first Viola Master Class in July of 2004. After the second Viola Master Class in 2005, upon Ms. Imai's request the class for 2007 was held in winter and since then, the class has been regularly held in January. In 2011, the main sponsoring body was changed from the NPO to VMCO. The NPO still plays an active role in the project along with the City of Otaru and the City of Otaru Education Department.
In the past twelve years, 140 students have participated in VMCO and these graduates are pursuing their music careers as professionals in Germany, Switzerland, France, Holland, UK, USA, and Japan.