Isao Nakamura was born in Osaka in 1958. As an eight-year-old, he debuted with traditional Japanese taiko drums at a festival in his homeland. He studied with Makoto Aruga and Michiko Takahashi, among others, at the University of Arts Tokyo and Bernhard Wulff at the Freiburg University of Music.
Several concert tours took Isao Nakamura through Europe and East Asia, where he was a soloist, chamber musician, and accompanist with John Cage, Heinz Holliger, Toshio Hosokawa, Mauricio Kagel, Helmut Lachenmann, Hans Ulrich Lehmann, Luigi Nono, Wolfgang Rihm or Karlheinz Stockhausen.
Isao Nakamura has performed at many international festivals with the conductors such as Lothar Zagrozek, Peter Eötvös, Rupert Huber, Steven Sloane, Jonathan Stockhammer, Kazushi Ono, Ken Takaseki. He has appeared with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, WDR Symphony Orchestra Cologne, the Deutsche Radio Philharmonie Saarbrücken Kaiserslautern, Southwest German Radio Symphony Orchestra, the Stuttgart State Opera Orchestra, l'Orchestre National Bordeaux Aquitaine, the RAI National Symphony Orchestra, the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra, and the Osaka Philharmonic Orchestra.
In addition to radio productions, Isao Nakamura has also recorded many CDs, including an album with works by Toshio Hosokawa, as well as a DVD production of Ekstasis by Dieter Schnebel. In 1995, he founded the duo Conflict with the Korean pianist Kaya Han, recording works dedicated to them on the CD, Duo Conflict. In 2006, he founded the Isao Nakamura Percussion Ensemble.
Many works were composed especially for Isao Nakamura, for example by Toshio Hosokawa, Klaus Huber, Peter Eötvös, Younghi Pagh-Paan, Robert H.P. Platz, Gerhard Stäbler, Nikolaus Richter de Vroe, Thomas Lauck, and Bernfried Pröve.
In 1986, he was awarded the Kranichstein Music Prize, in 1992 the Aoyama Music Award's Special Prize, and in 2004 the Keizo Saji Prize. Isao Nakamura is a Yamaha artist.
Isao Nakamura was a longtime lecturer at the International Summer Course for New Music in Darmstadt from 1994 to 2006 and the Akiyoshidai International Contemporary Music Festival in Japan from 1991 to 1998. Since 1992, he has taught as a professor at the University of Music Karlsruhe. Since 2014, he has also been visiting professor at the Kyoto City University of Arts.