As a toddler, Masaya Kamei preferred plunking around on a keyboard to playing outside.

Toddlers will bang on keys, but Kamei’s mom noticed that it wasn’t just noise, he was playing the melody of a song they’d recently heard.

After that, his mom bought a piano. Now 20, Kamei is hoping that he’ll get to compete for a medal at this summer’s Sixteenth Van Cliburn International Piano Competition.

When he first took the stage at PepsiCo Recital Hall he was a little bit nervous and cold, Kamei said, but he settled in quickly.

He breezed through two compositions from Liszt, and afterward estimated that he was able to show off 90% of his full ability on the keys.

For Kamei playing comes naturally.

“Piano is like eating, like sleeping,” he said. “I feel the melody or music more than thinking (about it).”

Anton Nel, a former winner of the Naumburg International Piano Competition, is a member of the jury at the screening auditions that will decide which pianists advance to the next round.

I assume that everybody who’s playing here is going to be excellent,” Nel said of the current crop of contestants. “But sometimes, when you least expect it — and this is part of the magic of what music really is and what keeps me at it every day — you get touched when you least expect it or you get moved by a performance, and that’s special. So, I wait for those moments.”

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In addition to hoping he struck a chord with the judges and will be invited to compete in the next portion of the competition, Kamei hopes to perform his own compositions, write a concerto and continue to play abroad. 

“I want to go to Europe, America’s other states,” Kamei said. “I want to know each culture and play more all over the world.”

Kamei is one of three Japanese artists performing at the auditions. Since the competition’s inception, Japanese pianists have performed well. Takashi Hironaka placed 8th in the first Cliburn competition. Minoru Nojima and Michiko Fujinuma placed 2nd and 6th respectively in the third Cliburn competition. And, more recently, Nobuyuki Tsujii was named a co-winner of the gold medal at the 13th Cliburn Competition in 2009.

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On March 17, Kamei will learn if he is one of 30 pianists selected to participate at the competition this summer. The list will be made public March 30.

“It’ll be very interesting to see how it all comes out because we just vote a simple yes, no, and so on. It’ll be fun,” Nel said of the decision. “Of course, there is nobody that I would want to not give the chance to be in it. But, you know, unfortunately, that’s part of (it). If you enter in a competition, you have got to understand that you might be eliminated even though you are probably excellent.” 

Marcheta Fornoff covers the arts for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at or on Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.

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For just over seven years Marcheta Fornoff performed the high wire act of producing a live morning news program on Minnesota Public Radio. She led a small, but nimble team to cover everything from politics...

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