Next Stop Singapore – Tokyo Philharmonic 100th (+3) Anniversary Tour

SingaporeSingapore Mayuzumi, Tchaikovsky, Stravinsky: Kyoko Takezawa, violin, Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra, Eiji Oue, conductor, Esplanade Concert Hall, Singapore, 20.3.2014

Mayuzumi: Bugaku
Tchaikovsky: Violin Concerto in D major, Op 35
Stravinsky: The Rite of Spring

After concerts in New York City, Madrid, Paris and London, the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra added Singapore to the list on its 100th Anniversary World Tour 2014.  Bangkok is the next and the last stop. Founded in 1911, the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra’s actual centennial celebration was cancelled after the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami. The New York City concert, the first of the tour, was held on 11 March 2014, the third anniversary of the catastrophe.

The Tokyo Philharmonic has not appeared in Singapore in ten years.  Conductor Eiji Oue stated that the chance to return to Singapore and work with local music students at the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory was a factor in his agreeing to lead the tour. Thunderous applause and cheers from the upper reaches of the Esplanade Concert Hall, where the average age had to be well under the age of 30, greeted the orchestra and its conductor. Their enthusiasm was infectious.

The concert began and ended with 20th century works marked by pounding, incessant rhythms. Toshiro Mayuzumi’s Bugaku was commissioned by George Balanchine for the New York City Ballet in 1962.  Mayazumi was asked to compose for Western instruments, but in the style of traditional Japanese court music. From the dissonant, jagged sounds of the opening, played with absolute precision and transparency by the first chair violins and violas, to the massive orchestral climaxes, Mayuzumi’s stylistic debt to both Stravinsky and  latter day film composers is  apparent. It was an intense, driving performance of a complex, challenging work.

The Rite of Spring which concluded the concert was almost simple in comparison. Oue’s reading of it was lively, energetic, almost spiky in character. The Rite of Spring’s primeval urges are primitive and folk-like. Its rhythms may be just as relentless as those of Bugaku, but they hearken back to an earlier time. Mayuzumi channels ancient sounds through a mid-20th century lens. The world had changed in 50 years.

In between was the Tchaikovsky violin concerto. It is almost impossible for a contemporary audience to grasp that this music was once deemed unplayable. Taste and technique evolve. There was a lovely, lyrical, almost hushed quality to this performance. Violinist Kyoko Takezawa draws you into the music. It is almost impossible to take your eyes off of her. She and Oue were engaged in a dialogue. The orchestra was sensitive to every change in dynamic. Lyrical of course does not mean soft and boring. Takezawa can be as fiery as the next violin virtuoso and the orchestra let those familiar melodies soar.

The audience was rewarded with two encores. Following the concerto, Takezawa accompanied by Oue on the piano in a solo violin work.  It was just simple, quiet and lovely. The orchestra’s final encore was anything but with a return to rhythmic pounding with the audience standing and clapping to the beat.  It was a concert that ran the gamut of style from A to Z.

A word about Maestro Oue. His style is idiosyncratic. He directly engages with the orchestra and soloist alike, seemingly pulling the music out of them. It is safe to bet that few in the audience have a sense of the path that led Oue to Singapore’s Esplanade Concert Hall. Early on, the journey started in Erie, Pennsylvania, a city that does not immediately spring to mind when one thinks of US’s musical meccas. It has been in the news recently for being one of the snowiest US cities in 2014. As a native of that part of the world, I take a bit of pride that the Erie Philharmonic appreciated and nurtured the talent of a young Japanese conductor. It is also a mark of the man that Oue acknowledges it in his biography.

Rick Perdian

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