FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE - November 4, 1997


Chris Komai - - 213-625-0414


Jon Nakamatsu, Surprise Van Cliburn Winner, to be Honored at Japanese American National Museum Dinner

Even his piano teacher, Marina Derryberry, was surprised when Jon Nakamatsu earned the Gold Medal at the 10th Van Cliburn International Piano Competition earlier this year in Fort Worth, Texas. And Derryberry has been instructing Nakamatsu since he was six years old.

Nakamatsu and NBC-TV’s Today News Anchor Ann Curry will become the first recipients of the Japanese American National Museum’s Awards for Excellence when they will be honored at the institution’s Annual Dinner on Saturday, November 15, at the Century Plaza Hotel. The dinner’s theme is “Building New Traditions: Recognizing Japanese American Excellence.” The Museum will also present its Corporate Leadership Awards to Mikasa and Kenwood and will give special recognition to the late Noby Yamakoshi, a Museum Trustee.

Besides being honored, Nakamatsu will perform at the dinner. Now 29, Jon became only the third American in 36 years to earn the Van Cliburn gold medal and the first in 16 years. More dramatically, Nakamatsu was the only entrant in the competition to not study at a music conservatory or even major in music in college. Nakamatsu majored in German studies at Stanford and earned his masters degree in education. For the past six years, he has earned his living as a German teacher at St. Francis High School in Mountain View, California. Unlike most of his competitors, Jon has had just two piano teachers in his life: Derryberry since 1974 and Karl Ulrich Schnabel since 1977.

Awaiting the judges’ decision, Derryberry told a reporter, “I don’t expect (the gold medal). The standard of talent is so high. To be among the high ones is such an honor.” Even after winning the gold medal, Nakamatsu knew his beloved teacher would still have some points to make about his performance. “I pretty much know what she’s going to say,” he explained. “That there (are) still things to work on. Which is good.”

Derryberry is expected to attend the Museum’s Annual Dinner to see Nakamatsu receive his award and perform. The son of Karen and David Nakamatsu of San Jose, Jon is currently on a concert tour under the guidance of the Van Cliburn Foundation. Winning the gold medal included prize money, travel subsidy and two years of management services. Also, Nakamatsu is featured in the documentary, Playing with Fire, which focuses on this year’s Van Cliburn International Piano Competition. It is scheduled to air in October on PBS stations around the country.

“I remember watching the Cliburn television specials when I was younger and wondering what it would be like to win,” Nakamatsu told the New York Times. “It really is a fantasy, and given the nature of the competition, it’s something you can never count on. My goal had been only to get through the preliminaries, so yes, this is really a complete surprise.”

During the 16-day competition, Nakamatsu performed Beethoven’s Second Piano Concerto and Rachmaninoff’s Third Piano Concerto, the latter being familiar to movie-goers who saw the film Shine which chronicled the life of pianist David Helfgott. He also performed works by Stravinsky, Chopin, and Dvorak, drawing extended standing ovations from the crowds in Fort Worth.

The Museum is also honoring NBC’s Curry, who is seen by millions of Americans daily on the popular Today show. Besides working as the news anchor, Curry fills in as substitute host. She also appears regularly on MSNBC and does reports on Dateline NBC and Dateline International. Curry, who is from Oregon, worked for the CBS affiliate in Los Angeles in the 1980s and won two Emmy Awards. Hired by NBC News in 1990, she worked in Chicago before being named anchor of the NBC News at Sunrise show where she worked for five years.

Corporate Leadership Awards will be presented to Mikasa, one of the world’s leading dinnerware manufacturer, and Kenwood, a top consumer electronics firm. Both companies were founded by George Aratani in collaboration with other Japanese American businessmen after World War II. As both companies prospered, they shared their success with the Japanese American community by supporting its many organizations.

The Museum will also recognize the late Noby Yamakoshi, the former Vice Chairman of the Museum’s Board of Trustees, and founder of Nobart, Inc. Incarcerated with his family in a concentration camp in Arizona during World War II, Yamakoshi relocated to Chicago, attended school and worked nights. He and his wife Aya eventually started a creative print graphics company, which evolved into a multi-million dollar printing and publishing firm. Yamakoshi joined the Museum in 1988 and provided visionary leadership until his death in 1995.

Dinner sponsorships begin at $10,000 per table which includes participation in the Museum’s golf tournament at the exclusive Sherwood Country Club on Oct. 20 and a full-page ad in the dinner journal. Other levels of support include Gold Tables ($5,000), Silver Tables ($2,500), and Bronze Tables ($1,500). Individual dinner tickets are available at $500, $250, and $150.

Money raised from the dinner and the golf tournament funds the Museum and its many national activities. The only private non-profit national institution dedicated to preserving and telling the story of Japanese Americans as an integral part of U.S. history, the Museum is currently building an 85,000-square-foot Pavilion adjacent to its current historic site. The expansion is expected to open to the public in January of 1999.

For more information on the Museum’s Annual Dinner or on other activities, please call 213.625.0414.