March 2012

Music After the Tohoku Disaster (5) 東日本大震災と音楽 

March 11, 2012 13:02

Today, on the anniversary of the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami disaster, I attended what might have been the last charity concert in support of the victims in Copenhagen. At least 12 concerts in aid of Japan have taken place in Copenhagen to date, which is pretty impressive for a relatively small city in a small country far from Japan.

Meanwhile, the Japanese not only organized charity concerts. For Japan, one of the world's major donors of overseas development aid, being at the receiving end of foreign aid is not an easy experience. Giving "Thank You" concerts is a way of expressing gratitude in a positive manner. Ôtani Yasuko, concertmaster of the Tokyo Symphony Orchestra, besides playing in charity concerts and for disaster victimes, performed for representatives of the nations and international organizations who sent rescue teams immediately after the disaster. In September she played to an audience of invited guests in Tokyo, partnered by the pianist Fujii Kazuoki. For the programme she aimed to include composers from several of the countries represented, and while she played Monti’s Czardas as an encore she circulated among the guests.

I couldn't find a Youtube of the Thank You concert or one of the charity concerts, only photos ( ), and a link to a ueam channel from Ôtani's official website ( click on one of the pictures and fast forward past the speech).
- But here is a publicity video of her playing extracts an unaccompanied Chaconne from the composer Samuragochi Mamoru's CD "Chaconne":

Incidentally, one of Ôtani Yasuko’s students is Yasui Yuko, is a violinist in Sjaellands Symfoniorkester/Copenhagen Phil ( in Danish). Yasui staged seven of the 12 concerts here in Copenhagen, together with the pianist Makimura Eriko, other Japanese artists in Europe, and colleagues from the Orchestra. The first two performances, where Yasui and Makimura were joined by the cellist Gomi Keiko, were held already on 26 and 27 March 2011. With the last one today, at Tokai University European Center on the outskirts of Copenhagen, Yasui and her fellow musicians achieved their target of raising 100, 000 Danish Kroner (close to 18, 000 USD), and indeed surpassed it.

There seem to have been quite a number of "Arigato" (Thank You) Concerts of many kinds. The Japan Foundation put on a show featuring traditional Japanese performances. A big "Arigato Concert: Our Appreciation to the World" took place on 8 November in Suntory Hall, with soloists, members of theNHK Orchestra, the orchestras of the Tokyo Unviersity of the Arts and Tôhô School of Music, as well as a school wind band from Fukushima prefecture and a school choir from Iwate prefecture. I guess, "Thank You" concerts are another facet of forging and maintaining “kizuna” (bonds between people), a concept that has become especially important in the wake of the disaster. May the power of music continue to draw people closer together, both withing Japan and across national borders!

Previous entries about the musical aftermatth of 3//11:
1. Sendai Philharmonic Orchestra
2. Tamaki Hiroki's "pure temperament music" for disaster victims and Kino Masayuki to the rescue of Sanriku Railway
3. Hakase Tarô in London
4. "Ivry Gitlis' Tears" in Ishinomaki

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Music After the Tohoku Disaster (4) 東日本大震災と音楽

March 10, 2012 09:30

In the wake of the triple disaster in northern Japan last year, many foreigners fled Japan in panic. This was understandable, but still deeply demoralizing to the Japanese who did not usually have the choice to leave. Where would they have gone?

Of course visiting foreign musicians had a good reason to leave or stay away in the first place in the immediate aftermath of the catastrophe. Many scheduled concerts were cancelled and they had no good reason to hang around. Whether there was justification for panic later in the year is a matter of opinion. According to the magazine “Sarasate,” Japanese fans of the Bavarian State Orchestra were shocked to hear that several of its members did not want to come and play in Tokyo in September because of radiation fears. The tour did take place though, and “Sarasate” reported that members of the orchestra put on an extra charity concert while they were in Tokyo. The orchestra had already taken part in a charity performance in Munich.

Ivry Gitlis, on the other hand, far from panicking, made it known to his managers in Japan, Tempo Primo, that he wanted to come and play for disaster victims as soon as possible. Tempo Primo have his letter of condolence displayed on their webpage:
Oh well, some will say, Gitlis’ll be 90 this year, so what’s he got to worry about. And maybe post-tsunami Ishinomaki was only marginally more dangereous than Paris truck drivers. But for the Japanese this kind of response meant a lot, and not just to people who suffered most. The August issue of “String” reported his visit to the town of Ishinomaki on the first inside page under the title “Gitlis’ Tears,” with a photograph of him surrounded by Japanese children in school uniforms. He told “String” that as soon as he heard the news, “I immediately wanted to visit the areas affected by the disaster and bring music to them.” Gitlis performed in the gymnasium of Ishinomaki High School for Girls on 1 June, and talked to a group of kindergarten children he met by chance. Among his pieces he played was an improvisation on “Hamabe no uta” (Song of the Seashore). I found an earlier performance (2008) of this song by Gitlis on Youtube:

Other pieces he played are said to have included Elgar's "Salut d'Amour." I guess not many people in Ishinomaki at the time were in a position to video his performance and upload it on Youtube, so here is an older performance by Gitlis (1985, pianist Neriki S.):

Gitlis has been visiting Japan regularly for the last 30 years “Until now id did not understand Japan’s true nature and how wonderful it is,” he told the interviewer of “String.”

“Sarasate” too carried pictures of Gitlis in Ishinomaki on one of its front pages, including one of him playing in the gymnasium of Kadowaki Middle School, where he was joined by the violinist Waseda Sakurako. The reporter for “Sarasate” began her article by contrasting Gitlis’ behaviour with that of several musicians who cancelled their visit to Japan. When she met Gitlis, he had himself felt and earthquake the previous night in his hotel in Tokyo; a “huge vibrato,” he called it. His interviewer underlined Gitlis’ courage by telling readers how he played for people in England during WW2 as well as working in a factory, and how he joined soldiers in the front line during the war in Israel and braved the barricades during the May Revolution in Paris in 1968 to play for the people in that town. Gitlis’ advice to Japanese musicians not knowing what to do in the midst of a mood of self-restraint and cancelled engagements was, “follow the voice of your own heart.”

Tomorrow, on 11 March 2012, Ivry Gitlis will be the first to perform on a violin partly made of tsunami driftwoold by Nakazawa Muneyuki in a relay that will take the instrument around the world to a total of 1,000 violinists. The inaugaral concerts will take place in Rikuzentakata, Iwate prefecture.

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Music After the Tohoku Disaster (3) 東日本大震災と音楽 

March 9, 2012 04:12

A stream of e-mails have appeared in my inbox, announcing events to commemorate the anniversary of the triple disaster that struck northern Japan last year. I can’t help wondering whether the anniversary will be the last time the events of 3/11, 2011 get a large share of media attention. Charity concerts, media specials and other commemorative events are very well in their way, but they are a short-term thing almost by definition. Some of the musical initiatives have included programmes that are intended to be long-lasting. For example a new foundation whose initiators include the musician and composer Sakamoto Ryûichi aims to revive music in 1,850 kindergartens and schools in Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures in cooperation with local music shops. The foundation (Kodomo no Ongaku Saisei Kikin) is supported by the Japan Musical Instruments Association (Zenkoku Gakki Kyôkai) and plans to support instrument repairs, the purchase of new instruments as well as staging concerts to promote music appreciation.

Still, it’s too early to say much about more long-term initiatives, so here’s an example of a violinist who got moving immediately after the disaster. Many people felt powerless in the face of the horror they saw on their TV and computer screens. For Japanese living abroad the sense of powerlessness could be all the more acute. Embarking on a whirl of activity was one way of coping with the tragedy. One violinist who managed to stage several concerts within days after the disaster was Hakase Tarô, violinist of many genres whose recording of "To Love You More" with the singer Celine Dion headed the Japanese charts for five weeks in 1995. Unlike classical music, the Japanese prefer their own artists when it comes to popular songs, so for a foreign singer to do so well was something of a record. Hakase subsequently appeared live with Dion on her world tours (just google the two names and you'll find as many Youtube versions of the song as you like and probably more).

Hakase moved to London in 2007, although he still spends a lot of time in Japan. In fact, he was due to return Japan on 19 March 2011 for a tour that would last to mid-May. He decided to stage as many charity performances as he could before he left, and with the help of his wife Mayuko he played at the Japanese Mitsukoshi department store in London already on 14 March. His fans made sure that videos of this and subsequent concerts went up on the internet the same day. Here are just two of several uploads.

The second clip shows the substantial Japanese audience, suggestsing that his concerts brought comfort to those who, far from their homeland, had to witness the tragedy from afar and cope with their own feelings of helplessness. Although the concert raised 50, 000 pounds, the event was clearly about more than money. The third piece he plays is one of his own compositions.

Hakase even made it onto the BBC breakfast show on 17 March 2011:

By then he had played in many different venues in central London, from busking in St Pancras Station to playing among the fruit baskets in the famous Fortnum & Mason department store, to a formal charity concert in Cadogan Hall.

Here is a performance of his composition "Jônetsu Tairiku" (Continent of Passion) in St. Pancras Station in London (adjacent to King's Cross, of Harry Potter fame) on 16th of March, 2011. The other violinist, by the way, is David Juritz who, of course is no stranger to busking. He is the initiator of the yearly Musequality World Busk to raise money for charity. The next one will be from 11 to 17 June 2012

The following clip of his performance at Fortnum & Mason's is a sleek production, one better than most of the uploads with good shots of the setting. He is playing Etopirika, another of his compositions and a popular theme song from a Japanese TV series. He also talks about his motiviation (with English subtitles). The concert raised more than 10, 000 pounds.

By the time Hakase left for Japan on 19 March he had given 7 concerts n 5 days. There are many more clips of Hakase's charity concerts in London, especially the one at Mitsukoshi on 14 March. Indeed people are still uploading their own versions. It's almost as if they think that the next best thing to playing yourself is making someone else's performance available to the world.

Whatever the motives (I'm writing as someone to whom the whole concept of Youtube, social media etc is still a mystery), giving charity performances is apparently about being seen to be doing it as much as about anything else. Besides the obvious benefits of reaching a large audience and generating substantial donations, the publicity raises the profile of the performers and the cause. It may well be that it also spurs other performers into action. Hakase himself said in interviews during his eventful playing week (likewise uploaded by aficionados, but they're mostly in Japanese) that he himself did not quite know why he was doing it and wouldn't know until later. So I'll still be watching out for him on Youtube after 11 March...

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Music After the Tohoku Disaster (2) 東日本大震災と音楽 

March 7, 2012 13:57

A year after the earthquake and tsunami hit Japan the scale of the disaster is perhaps even more apparent than at the time. When I was in Miyako (Iwate Prefecture) at the end of last year, someone told me that for a week or so after the disaster they had only the vaguest idea of what had happened; electricity was down; no phone, TV, no internet. I was shocked to think that I, in far-away Denmark, could watch film footage of what was happening through 24-hour ueaming and see the extent of devastation in a way the people actually experiencing it could not.

In the face of such destruction it seems cynical to dredge up the trite saying that nothing is so awful that something good can’t come of it. Still, most of us – and presumably all the members of – do regard music as a Good Thing, and the 3/11 catastrophe has undeniably inspired a lot of music-making. I’m wondering whether it will set a new record in charity concerts worldwide, but it would probably take a team almost as large as a full symphony orchestra to count them.

Violinists, Japanese and foreign, in and outside Japan, have been among the musicians mobilized by the disaster. Members of can probably come up with their own examples. In this and my next blog I am introducing a few initiatives I've come across.

Tamaki Hiroki, violinist, composer and promoter of ”pure temperament music” (English profile here: ) is a regular contributor to the magazine “String.” In the May issue (which carried a message of condolence from the publishers) Tamaki used his regular column to share his memories of the Hanshin earthquake in 1995 (he has relations in the Kobe area). Thinking about what he could do to help in the current catastrophe, he decided to make freely available some of his compositions in “pure temperament.” According to him, a health journal has reported beneficial effects of this music on conditions like anxiety, sleeplessness, headaches and tinnitus. You can listen for yourself and even download the pieces at:
Number 5 is “Furusato” (Homeland), a song that has featured at many concerts, often with audience participation. I was at such a concert myself in Miyako, when on 30 November 2011, when members of the Kyoto Philharmonic chamber ensemble with support from the Rohm Music Foundation played for the people of Miyako during their tour of the region.

All in all, people in the coastal regions north of Sendai, especially in Iwate prefecture, have tended to feel they were at the end of the queue when it came to relief efforts. One violinist who did venture all they way up to Iwate is Kino Masayuki, solo concertmaster of the Japan Philharmonic Orchestra. Apparently he is also a well-known railway enthusiast. Together with the pianist Hirasawa Masaaki, Kino gave special concerts in support of the Sanriku railway line in in July 201, in Ôfunato and Rikuzen Takata, as well as in Morioka station. With the profits from the concerts and the CDs sold in connection with them, Kino bought multi-journey tickets for 480,000 yen (nearly 6,000 USD) and donated them to regular users of the railway, such as people commuting to hospitals. Here is a link to his performance in Ôfunato station, in front of two carriages from the Sanriku railway Minami Riasu line:

The Sanriku line connecting towns along the north-eastern coast was badly damaged by the tsunami. As a local line in a rural area it wasn’t doing too well even before the disaster, and its future is uncertain. When I was in Miyako last year, the souvenir shop in the Sanriku rail station was selling “deficit-rice-crackers” (akaji sembei) in a box with a picture of a rail carriage on it. Let no one say the company isn’t putting on a brave face!

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Music After the Tohoku Disaster (1) Sendai Philharmonic Orchestra 仙台フィルハーモニー管弦楽団

March 5, 2012 03:58

March 2012 has arrived and for many of us with links to Japan thoughts inevitably turn to the anniversary of what has become known as “3/11”, the triple disaster of earthquake, tsunami and atomic reactor meltdown. Last year I posted the programme of a charity concert for victims of the Meiji Sanriku tsunami in 1896. This month I’ve finally got round to reading the articles I found in the string magazines “String” and “Sarasate” when I was in Japan last December. I wanted to find out about reactions to the disaster in the musical world. Back in 1896, charity concerts were still a novelty for the Japanese, but not any more. In fact, I would not be surprised if the Tohoku disaster didn’t produce something like a new record. Japan is a global musical as well as an economic power, and Japanese musicians in Japan and abroad organized charity concerts in the wake of 3/11. And of course they have musical friends worldwide who did the same.

First, to the Sendai Philharmonic, which Buri brought to our attention in his blog on last year. “String” published a 4-part series in its June-September issues paying tribute to the orchestra’s resilience and resourcefulness. As you might remember, the members and their instruments were unharmed. They were rehearsing in a hall in Sendai when the quake hit, and had to evacuate the hall. The hall and other venues were damaged during the quake and the orchestra had to cancel all its regular concerts until July. But that doesn’t mean the members stopped playing. They established the "Center for Recovery Through the Power of Music" and organized performances in evacuation centres as well as charity concerts. By 2 July they had organized 8 orchestral concerts, 32 ensemble performances in evacuation centres in Fukushima, Miyagi, and Iwate prefectures, 112 concerts in the town of Sendai and 6 in places like hospitals, as well as 7 orchestral performances outside Tohoku. Smaller delegations from the orchestra had joined in concerts outside Tohoku on 9 occasions.

Here are three of several links to Youtube clips of concerts by members of the Sendai Philharmonic, a string quartet on 3 May 2011:

and 2 undated clips from one of their concerts in the AER building by Sendai station:

“To be honest, watching you all, one can’t help thinking you might be doing it for the sake of the players,” the music journalist Watanabe Yawara asked the violinist Ogawa Yukiko, proving that Japanese journalists can be just a blunt as their Western counterparts. “I can’t deny it,” was her answer, but then why should she deny it? She and her colleagues in the Sendai Philharmonic escaped largely unharmed, but they were close to the scenes of suffering. Shock and survivor’s guilt are natural reactions, and if performing has a therapeutic effect on the players as well as their audience, so much the better.

A mere 15 days after the earthquake, the Sendai Philharmonic Orchestra even performed together as an orchestra, albeit on a reduced scale, in Kenzuiji Temple, near Sendai Station. They played Barber’s Adagio for strings which, as the news item on the Sendai Phil homepage reminded its readers, was also played at the funeral of President Kennedy. But the concert was as much about hope as about mourning the dead, and it ended with the audience joining in the song “Furusato” (Homeland), which has become part of many a concert played in support of Northern Japan. The Orchestra even resumed something approaching the format of their regular concerts, performing regularly in a school hall.

Meanwhile, other orchestras around the country showed their solidarity by inviting members of the Sendai Philharmonic to join them for concerts. Among them were the orchestras of Gumma, Shizuoka and Kanagawa and the Ensemble Kanazawa.

On 21 April the Sendai Philharmonic was invited to play in a big charity concert in Tokyo’s Suntory Hall. The musicians from Sendai were joined by high-profile musicians including the violinists Tokunaga Tsugio, Miura Fumiaki, Katô Tomoko, Takashima Chisako, Urushihara Keiko, Fujiwara Hamao and Iso Eriko.
In the wake of the disaster the word “kizuna” (bonds between people) has gained currency – the Chinese character it is written with has even been designated “kanji (Chinese character) of the year.” The solidarity shown by musicians from other parts of the country with their colleagues from the Sendai Phil is a prime example. “Kizuna” even transcends national borders. The Sendai Philharmonic and the Christchurch Symphony Orchestra were both invited to Tokyo for the Asia Orchestra week, a regular event held since 2002.
Christchurch, like Sendai, was devastated by earthquakes in 2011 – reason enough for the CSO to extend its first foreign tour northwards and to join the Sendai Philharmonic for a concert in Sendai on 5 October. The day before the CSO Brass Quintet gave performances in various locations in Sendai.

On 22 July the Sendai Phiharmonic Orchestra could finally resume its regular concerts. For their 257th regular concert they played Mahler’s 5th Symphony and his Rückert-Lieder. This marked the return to some kind of normality, but of course the rebuilding work will continue for many years to come. Still, the experience of “kizuna” and of making a difference together is one of the good things that have come out of the disaster. The tsunami broke down high walls, supposedly designed to resist the force of the sea. Its aftermath may be bringing down barriers that serve no useful purpose, as musical outreach takes on a wholly new meaning.

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