Jon Nakamatsu

Jon NakamatsuWith spectacularly unflashy technique, this pianist is strong in a huge swath of repertory. His winning, down-to-earth personality has made him an audience favorite.

Born: 1968, San Jose, California

Career highlights

  • 1997: The 29-year-old pianist comes out of nowhere to win the 10th Van Cliburn Competition over heavily-favored other pianists. He is the first American to win in 16 years. Multiple major debuts follow, along with extensive tours.
  • 1999: Plays for President and Mrs. Clinton in the White House.
  • 2004: Teams for the first time with clarinetist Jon Manasse. The duo release their first album on Harmonia Mundi in 2007.
  • 2006: He becomes co-director of the Cape Cod Chamber Music Festival (with Jon Manasse).

Fun Facts


  • Jon Nakamatsu plays some Stravinsky Etudes, Op. 7
    Fame Calling: Nakamatsu was teaching German at a local high school when he won the gold medal at the Van Cliburn Competition and rocketed to national exposure. He says it was the last competition he was planning on entering before at last giving up his attempt to become a full-time professional musician.
  • Sticking to Socks:: Nakamatsu's duo-partner, clarinetist Jon Manasse, reveals that if the pianist feels that he aced the previous night's concert, he'll wear the same socks, unwashed, at the next concert.
  • College boy: Nakamatsu attended Stanford University, partly in order to keep studying with his teacher of many years. He never made it to a music conservatory or music graduate program.

SFCV Articles Featuring Jon Nakamatsu

May 14, 2011

Cape Cod Comes to San José

Nakamatsu and Manasse have a chemistry that only comes with dedication to each other. The Jon/Jon piano/clarinet duo recently recorded a pair of CDs: The Brahms Clarinet Sonatas plus a collection of jazzy pieces, including a duo version of the Cape Cod Concerto titled Cape Cod Files. Also on the CD is James Cohn’s virtuosic setting of Gershwin’s I Got Rhythm. Manasse introduced the piece by pointing to Nakamatsu at the keyboard and saying only, ”He’s got rhythm!” before playing the work as a preintermission encore.

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May 7, 2011

Small Hands, Big Heart

Jon Nakamatsu has small hands but a big heart. That anatomic mismatch was abundantly evident during his appearance with the Santa Rosa Symphony on Saturday, which featured a swoon-inducing rendition of Tchaikovsky’s canonic First Piano Concerto. From the familiar opening to the thrilling conclusion, the petite Nakamatsu held the audience in thrall, as much by his prodigious technique as by his elegant phrasing.

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April 12, 2010

Pianist Jon Nakamatsu: Teaching Them Well

Jon Nakamatsu is the epitome of “local boy makes good.” He burst on the international music scene in 1997 when he was named the Gold Medalist at the Tenth Van Cliburn International Piano Competition. He was certainly an unexpected winner; he had studied with one teacher since he was 6 years old, he had neither attended a music conservatory nor studied music in college, and he had a full-time job teaching German at a Mountain View high school.

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