Mitsuko Uchida, a thoughtful and iconoclastic pianist, was born in Tokyo in 1948. She began her studies in piano during childhood. Her parents, who were diplomats, moved to Austria when Uchida was 12, and she enrolled at the Vienna Academy of Music. Even at this young age, Uchida rebelled against the conventional wisdom her teachers tried to impart. She wished to exercise her own judgment in performance, and the academy did not want to let her. Judges at competitions, on the other hand, liked her judgment, giving her second prize at the 1968 Beethoven Competition and another second prize at the prestigous Chopin Competition in 1970. Uchida, however, was dissatisfied with her playing and retired from the competition circuit. Her career built up mostly through word of mouth during the 1970s. During the 1980s, Uchida built up a particular reputation as a Mozart interpreter, ironic for someone who did not like Mozart's music when studying it at the Vienna Academy. She received notice for outstanding performances of the Mozart sonatas in London and Tokyo in 1982, and recorded a universally acclaimed set of the complete sonatas for Philips. Uchida also appeared as soloist and conductor with the English Chamber Orchestra in a cycle of the complete Mozart concerti during 1985-1986. She eventually recorded these for Philips as well, with the ECO conducted by Jeffrey Tate. Uchida, never one to rest on her laurels, moved into different repertoire during the 1990s, winning particular notice for her Debussy and Schubert solo piano recordings and her Beethoven concerti. She has also been a champion of the music of Schoenberg, Bartók, and Berg, and often seeks to draw parallels between standard repertoire works and these modern masters. Like Martha Argerich, to whom she is sometimes compared, Uchida does not record or concertize prolifically. Uchida does not like to be pigeonholed, and often strikes out on her own path; for example, she and a piano technician spent two years transforming a piano into something she felt she could use for Schubert. Uchida then insisted that Philips put the technician's name on the back of the CD in an unusual gesture. While serving as artist-in-residence with the Cleveland Orchestra (2002-2007), she again recorded Mozart concertos as soloist and conductor. She also has been artist-in-residence with the Berlin Philharmonic (2010), where she performed the Beethoven concertos with Simon Rattle, and serves as co-artistic director of the Marlboro Music Festival.
While Uchida's interpretations generally sound fresh and spontaneous, these characteristics arise from reasoned and deliberate musical choices. Far from prolific, she is always thought-provoking. Uchida currently resides in London.