Nobuko Imai is considered to be one of the most outstanding viola players of our time. After finishing her studies at the Toho School of Music, Yale University and the Juilliard School, she won the highest prizes at both the Munich and the Geneva international competitions.
A keen chamber musician, Miss Imai has often performed with such distinguished names as Gidon Kremer, Yo Yo Ma, Itzhak Perlman, Andràs Schiff, Isaac Stern and Pinchas Zukerman. In addition she has toured with Midori, performing chamber music, while further collaborators include pianists Ronald Brautigam, and accordionist Mie Miki for recitals. Her trio combinations include concerts with Pamela Frank and Clemens Hagen, and Mihaela Martin and Frans Hemerson. In 2003, along with Mihaela Martin, Stephan Picard and Frans Helmerson, Nobuko Imai formed the Michelangelo Quartet, of which the debut concerts at the Amsterdam Concergebouw in 2003 were met with great success leading to many engagements in halls such as Theatre des Champs-Elysees and the Tonhalle, Zurich, and at festivals such as Edinburgh, Naantali and the Tokyo edition of La Folle Journée de Nantes.
Nobuko Imai appears regularly at Marlboro Festival, Lockenhaus, the Casals Festival, Saito Kinen Festival, Aldeburgh, and the BBC Proms. Together with Yuri Bashmet, Kim Kashkashian and Tabea Zimmermann she was one of the four violists featured at the International Viola Festival in Kronberg. She returns to Japan several times a year, to perform as soloist and notably for the annual “Viola Space” project, which she founded in 1992 and where she now serves as Artistic Adviser.
In 1995/1996 Nobuko Imai was artistic director of three Hindemith Festivals which were organized on her initiative at the Wigmore Hall in London, at Columbia University in New York and at the Casals Hall in Tokyo. She was initiator and co-producer of a series at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam and in Tokyo in 1999/2000, featuring Japanese and Dutch early and contemporary music, celebrating the 400th anniversary of the relationship between the two countries. Furthermore, she has recently founded the ensemble East-West Baroque Academy for young music professionals, in which they can gain experience in authentic style performance practice of early music, trained by an early music specialist.
An impressive discography of over 40 CDs shows Nobuko Imai's recordings for BIS, Chandos, EMI, Hyperion, Philips and Sony. Most recently, she is attracting attention with her Philips recordings of Unaccompanied Cello Suites (for Viola) by Bach, as well as Mozart's Sinfonia Concertante for Violin and Viola with Midori/Eschenbach/NDR. While on BIS, she received acclaim for her CD with 20th century works for viola and piano, entitled ‘A Bird came down the Walk' , named after the work dedicated to her by Takemitsu. Takemitsu also wrote a viola concerto for Nobuko Imai - ‘A String around Autumn' - and contemporary music features prominently in her repertoire, which contains all the major works for viola.
Her many prizes include the Avon Arts Award (1993), the Education Minister's Art Prize for Music awarded by the Japanese Agency of Cultural Affairs (1994), the Mobil Prize of Japan (1995) and the Suntory Music Prize (1996). In 2003, Imai received the Purple Ribbon Medal from the Japanese government for her outstanding contribution to Japanese musical life.