A life in New York city
As she heads back to America for our 2019 US Tour we sat down with violinist Aiko Goto to chat about returning to New York, her old stomping grounds during the 90s. It was there, amidst the hustle and bustle of one of country's largest cities, that Aiko first heard the Australian Chamber Orchestra, their sound bringing her to tears and changing the course of where she would go next.
Tell us a little bit about living in New York city during the 90’s. What took you there and what was it like back then?
Yes I lived in New York from ‘91 to ‘98. In the beginning of that time I was living in the Juilliard dormitory and back in that time things were different, New York was different. The dormitory is right next to the Lincoln Center and I remember being told not to travel on the subway in the night alone, but when you are living there you just do it anyway. Now in New York things have changed so much.
While studying at Juilliard what do you think was the most important thing that you learnt for your future career in music?
[Aiko laughs] I think I learnt everything!
How can I explain… I was studying in Tokyo then moved to The Juilliard School where there were many international students. My violin teachers had lots of amazing students like Gil Shaham and Midori etc. - world class.
Every two weeks we had a master class with five students, and we had to play in front of them and give feedback to the these other students who were already professional. I was really shy, my English wasn’t so great back then. I was shocked thinking “How could I give comments back to them?” and was also so nervous to have to play in front of them, and this was just in the first year of Juilliard. It was both exciting and very nerve wracking all at once, but I loved studying with those teachers at the Juilliard School. They taught me so many different ways to play music, to make music and they became and still are my gurus for me and my mind. It was also my first time living without my parents and family and first time living overseas. Every day, every moment, every season was just new.
So after graduating from Juilliard you spent time freelancing, teaching and performing recitals. Did you have a favourite place to play music and a favourite place to go and listen to music?
I think my favourite place to play was Carnegie Hall, it is such a beautiful venue to be in. I also went to listen to jazz a lot! I would head to an area downtown where there were a lot of jazz bars all together and I would just go between the nice bars that were playing interesting music in the evenings. Everytime I go back I like to return to that area and listen to jazz - I will definitely be going back this time.
And outside of the music scene, what did you enjoy doing the most in New York?
Walking. Or running and walking in Central Park. As you know, New York is quite a busy city and it can be quite tense and suddenly you forget about nature. So when I was getting too busy I would just try to walk to Central Park, it was different there - so many trees and greenery.
Yes sometimes you just need to escape the concrete jungle of the city! And then in ‘98 you auditioned for the ACO in New York. Had you been planning this for a while?
No! I didn’t know about the ACO at all. So here’s the story…
Some months before they arrived in New York I looked in the Musician Union and saw that the Australian Chamber Orchestra was looking for a violinist. The first step of any audition is to record something. I had been wanting for some time to play in a smaller string orchestra, but I didn’t know anything about the Australian Chamber Orchestra! So I recorded by tape and sent it in with my CV.
I should tell you that at this time of my life I had already decided to move back to Japan. I was feeling that I needed change after seven years of living in New York. I thought to go back to my parents and family in my home country.
A few weeks after I sent the tape I received a letter saying ‘Congratulations you have passed the first round of auditions’ and they wanted me to audition live. Well, that sounded good to me! They mentioned they were coming to New York for a tour and playing at Carnegie Hall and so I could audition the day after, and not have to travel to Australia for the audition.
Back then there wasn’t as much on the internet as there is today, and so I thought to myself that I should probably go to the ACO concert at Carnegie Hall the night before my audition to hear what they sound like. So I went - amazing. I still remember the pieces they played and there were tears, all I could think was ‘wow.’ They had such a beautiful and warm sound. After listening to the concert all I could think was that I really wanted to meet them, I didn’t necessarily think that I had to get this job, but I truly just wanted to meet the people I had seen perform and say thank-you to them for their incredible concert but I was so shy I couldn't approach them to tell them.
So when the audition time came, were you nervous?
A little bit of course, but I just tried my best. I just wanted to perform and didn’t think so much about getting the job.
What happened next?
Well I had already sent half of my things back to Japan, as I was telling you I had planned to move back there. But I got the job with the ACO! And so for two months I returned home to stay with my parents before moving to Australia.
What a journey! What are you most looking forward to about returning to visit New York on the 2019 US Tour?
Well it’s been 21 years now since I lived there, but I have returned every two or three years for the ACO tour or to visit my friends. I’ve always made a reason to go back to New York!
It’s still my home. It’s like my main home is Japan, now Australia is very much my home, but New York is still part of that - there’s lots of life there. So, I look forward to just walking through the city and all the memories coming back to my mind of everything in my life there - the excitement, learning lots, how wonderful and how hard it was to survive, live and study there.