Adjunct Webster professor co-composes classical music CD

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The classical music CD “Poésie” was co-created by adjunct professor of piano Mieko Hironaka Bergt and Takashi Aoki, a professor of violin at Kunitachi College of Music in Tokyo.

A 30-year gap in the reunion of two childhood friends led to the creation of “Poésie,” a 2022 classical music CD co-composed by Webster adjunct professor of piano Mieko Hironaka Bergt.

Hironaka Bergt recorded the album with Takashi Aoki, professor of violin at Kunitachi College of Music in Tokyo, Japan, and former concertmaster of the Tokyo Philharmonic. The two were classmates three decades prior at the Toho Gakuen School of Music in Tokyo.

Professor of piano Mieko Hironaka Bergt (left) plays the piano next to professor of violin Takashi Aoki (right) to record tracks for Poésie. Photo contributed by Mieko Hironaka Bergt.

“During the recording session we felt as though we entered a different world, where only music existed,” Hironaka Bergt said. “When we played together, we didn’t need any words; we were able to communicate through music.”

For Hironaka Bergt, the most important thing in an ensemble is to listen to what your partner is trying to say musically; to have a conversation with them via music.

The two have known each other since high school. When Hironaka Bergt went to study music abroad in France her freshman year of college and Aoki continued studying in Japan, however, they lost contact.

Then, in 2011 they re-connected via Facebook. They met again in 2017 and two years later were able to perform together for the first time since high school.

“We were just amazed how easy [duetting] was, just like when we were in high school,” Hironaka Bergt said. “We wanted to capture the moment, and that’s how the CD came to be.”

Aoki said their different musical interpretations is what makes music-making unique, interesting and enjoyable. He said these differences are the beauty of chamber music.

Poésie incorporates the musical influences of composers such as Strauss, Massenet, Brahms, Suk and Dvorak. Hironaka Bergt said she and Aoki wanted the compositions for Poésie to be inspired by pieces they love. For both, music is their lifeblood.

“Music gives me such a joy that words cannot describe. This is my life’s treasure,” Aoki said.

For Hironaka Bergt, music is like oxygen; she cannot live without it. She said music gives her comfort, healing and energy.

Both musicians’ mothers were music teachers, so they began learning their instruments at an early age. Aoki was influenced by his cousin to pursue the violin when he was 6 years old. At around 3 years old, Hironaka Bergt started piano lessons with her mother.

When she was 12 years old, Hironaka Bergt saw the International Music Competition on TV. This was the first time she saw French pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet perform.

Thibaudet, only 19 at the time and a gifted musician, became an inspiration to Hironaka Bergt. She said this is when she began dreaming of studying music abroad in France.

Her dream later came true at the age of 19, when Thibaudet came to Japan on tour.

“He listened to me and suggested that I went to France and study,” Hironaka Bergt said. “He made arrangements for me and became my mentor and friend.”

Thibaudet later introduced Hironaka Bergt to his own teacher, Lucette Descaves, who was a friend of composers Ravel, Fauré and Stravinsky.

Since coming to the United States, Hironaka Bergt has performed with St. Louis’s Arianna String Quartet, an internationally recognized group, every year for two decades to perform a concert for Webster’s music department.

The string quartet consists of four full-time faculty professors of music from University of Missouri-St. Louis (UMSL). Hironaka Bergt met the group over twenty years ago when she first came to the U.S. and was a collaborative pianist working at UMSL.

She has worked at Webster since 2008 and said she finds further enrichment in teaching music to her students. Associate professor of music David Werfelmann said she does a phenomenal job as a teacher for young composers and musicians of all disciplines.

“I’ve heard really wonderful things from her students. She’s a warm, kind but very informative teacher,” Werfelmann said.

Hironaka Bergt said that when she teaches, she also learns from her students.

“When I teach my students how to convey the joy of music making, it helps me to be mindful of how to communicate with my audience,” Hironaka Bergt said. “I keep telling [students] that you have to tell a story and you have to communicate with the audience.”

Werfelmann said Hironaka Bergt challenges her piano students to work hard at their craft, gives them a wide variety of repertoire selections and also serves as an accompanying pianist to student singers.

“When collaborating with students, we try to make conversation musically,” Hironaka Bergt said. “When I teach them, I have to be really aware of how I am playing too, so that they can understand what I am telling them.”

Werfelmann has been a colleague of Hironaka Bergt since fall 2015. Hironaka Bergt has collaborated with him in the past to perform concerts at Webster. She performed Werfelmann’s own composition, “Suite à l’antique,” in 2017 and 2019 in concert.

“She can bring out the kind of nuances that you want to hear from anyone playing your music,” Werfelmann said. “She’s very much aware of the other musicians on stage; she’s very sensitive to interact with them in the performance in a way that makes all the musicians on stage really shine.”

Assistant professor of music Matthew Pickart met Hironaka Bergt when she performed a piece during his audition to join Webster in spring 2018. He said her performance that day pushed him to another level and helped him win his professorship.

On March 1, 2020 they performed a Retrospective of E.C. Schirmer together in Winifred Moore Auditorium. Pickart said Hironaka Bergt is an exemplary pianist, colleague and educator.

“My students and I are very grateful to work with Hironaka Bergt regularly,” Pickart said. “Her musical insights in collaboration with my violin and viola students make my job easy.”

In addition to working with students, faculty and other musicians, Hironaka Bergt performs with the Arianna String Quartet each year. The Arianna String Quartet has performed across North America, South America, Europe and Asia.

Last year, the concert was held virtually in the Sheldon Concert Hall. This year, the Arianna Quartet will be performing in-person with Hironaka Bergt at Webster’s Community Music School Concert Hall on March 25, 2022 at 7 p.m.

Webster adjunct professor Mieko Hironaka Bergt co-composed the album “Poésie” with Takashi Aoki. Photo contributed by Mieko Hironaka Bergt.

Werfelmann said Hironaka Bergt’s musical endeavors have done substantial work to increase the university’s reputation, especially in terms of the music department.

“[Poésie] is a major undertaking that she has been working on and I think it really is going to put Webster on that international map we’ve all really wanted it to be on,” Werfelmann said. “We’re really proud of her for the work that she’s been doing and for continuing to play such an active role in the department.”

The CD will be released in Japan on Feb. 25. It is produced through Nami Records Company. Anyone wanting to purchase Poésie can email Hironaka Bergt at bergtmieko@gmail.com.

For now, Poésie will only be sold in Japan but Hironaka Bergt said she is researching how to get the CD in the U.S. market in the future.

“I’m so happy for her and the extraordinary violinist Takashi Aoki on their forthcoming album Poésie,” Pickart said. “The repertoire is gorgeous, and their musicianship is astounding!”

Both Hironaka Bergt and Aoki said it is a magical experience when two musicians are able to find a connection through collaboration.

“We simply enjoyed every moment performing together,” Hironaka Bergt said. “We hope that we can communicate with people the same joy.”

You can listen to Mieko Hironaka Bergt on YouTube. Currently there are two video previews of songs from the Poésie album.

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Lifestyle Editor | + posts

Kate McCracken (she/her) is the lifestyle editor for the Journal. She is a double major in Philosophy and History, minoring in Professional Writing. She has always loved to write and create stories, and she wrote her first book at age 10. Aside from writing, Kate also enjoys photography, environmental/animal activism, paranormal investigation and oneirology, the study of dreams.