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Tokyo Philharmonic celebrates 103th anniversary with world tour

Violinist Kyoko Takezawa will play with the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra, led by conductor Eiji Oue (above)./Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra

Publication Date : 18-03-2014


Japanese conductor Eiji Oue will lead the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra on an international tour this month to celebrate its 103rd anniversary


Japanese conductor Eiji Oue turned down the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra 10 years ago, but has agreed to lead it on an international tour this month to celebrate its 103rd anniversary.

Ahead of the concert at the Esplanade Concert Hall on Thursday, he reveals that what clinched the deal this time was the chance to return to Singapore and play with local music students at the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory.

The Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra will rehearse Mahler's Symphony No. 5 with conservatory students tomorrow at the Conservatory Concert Hall.

"I insisted that we play at the conservatory," he says in English during a Skype interview from the orchestra's office in Tokyo. "Singapore is one of the most important places for me on this tour. I'm so much looking forward to seeing the students, to not teach, but simply share music with them."

Oue, 56, led the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory Orchestra on April 18 last year in a performance including music by Profokiev, Stravinsky and Oue's late mentor Leonard Bernstein. He says he was impressed by the students' passion for music as well as the conservatory facilities.

He replaces the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra's chief conductor Dan Ettinger on this world tour.

As conductor laureate of the Osaka Philharmonic Orchestra, he refused to lead the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra a decade ago, citing a clash of interests. He chose instead to focus on full-time appointments overseas with ensembles such as the Minnesota Orchestra in the United States and Germany's NDR Radio Philharmonic Orchestra Hannover.

His decision then raised eyebrows, given the Tokyo Philharmonic's status as Japan's oldest orchestra. It is also among the country's most prolific, performing up to 300 times a year and reaching an audience of 250,000.

The orchestra often pays the bills by accompanying performances of Western opera and is also the first choice to accompany world-class singers such as Placido Domingo when they visit Japan.

Established in 1911 in Nagoya, the orchestra's centennial celebration was derailed by the catastrophic tsunami and earthquake which rocked Japan in March, 2011. The celebratory tour this year is its biggest in over a decade and includes concerts in Paris, London, New York, Madrid and Bangkok.

The concert in Singapore is the orchestra's first visit here since 2003. The programme, which is the same as for Paris, features Stravinsky's Le Sacre du Printemps; Japanese composer Toshiro Mayuzumi's Bugaku which was commissioned by the New York City Ballet; and Japanese violinist Kyoko Takezawa playing Tchaikovsky's popular Violin Concerto In D Major.

Takezawa, 48, is a regular performer with the Singapore Symphony Orchestra, the West Australian Symphony and the New York Philharmonic. She says that like many Japanese musicians, she owes a debt of gratitude to the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra. It was the first professional orchestra she played with after she won the gold medal at the Second Quadrennial International Violin Competition in Indianapolis in 1986.

"It gave me the chance to play with a professional orchestra," she says in English in a separate Skype interview. "I think the orchestra has a very powerful sound and very exciting music-making. They respond to the soloist very quickly, so I can have quite good communication."

Oue agrees, saying: "The Tokyo Philharmonic and I, in less than five minutes, we felt like we knew each other for all our lives. I feel what they want to do and they understand what I'm after."

More than having perfect performances on this tour, he wants to "share music with the rest of the world", especially with "people who want to better themselves through music", such as students.

"We have a responsibility to speak to the next generation, so we can create a peaceful new world of music," he says.


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