Yet another downside of the Corona crisis in Japan, like so many other countries, has been the lack of classical music concerts. This has been particularly so here because enthusiastic and knowledgeable fans flock to the performances by leading orchestras from across the world. So, we were very excited to be able to attend a concert of music by English and American composers given by the NHK Symphony Orchestra at Suntory Hall last week. But even that had fallen victim to the crisis as both the Chief Conductor Paavo Jarvi, and guest violinist Hilary Hahn were unable to enter Japan due to additional Omicron border control restrictions. However re-knowned Japanese conductor, Tadaaki Otaka and Japanese -American violinist Mayumi Kanagawa stepped in: The Show must go on.
Tadaaki Otaka CBE has been the NHK Symphony Orchestra’s Principal Conductor since 2010, and was previously the principal guest conductor of the BBC National Orchestra of Wales in the United Kingdom. I first saw him in 2011 when he took the Sapporo Symphony Orchestra to the UK for a charity concert to raise funds for the Japanese Red Cross Society following the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami which had happened whilst I was in the UK. Otaka has a close affinity with British composers, which was reflected in last week’s concert which included the Four Sea Interludes from Benjamin Britten’s opera ‘Peter Grimes’, and Edward Elgar’s ‘Enigma variations’.
Benjamin Britten (1913-1976) was born in Lowestoft, in the county of Suffolk on the east coast of England. It’s a part of my home country I know well having spent some of my teenage years swimming in the cold North Sea, birdwatching in some of the sanctuaries, and, more recently running the Suffolk coastal footpath marathon, so I have an affinity with one of the most famous of Britain’s composers, Britten. He is known best for his orchestral showpiece The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra (1945) and the War Requiem (1962). Peter Grimes (1945) is his best known opera and is a tragic tale set on the dramatic Suffolk coast so the Four Sea Interludes took me closer to my UK roots for a while.
Edward Elgar (1857-1954) was born in the English Midlands, close to Worcester where I also have family links as it was there that my parents first met at college. A senior of Britten he is known not only for the Enigma variations (1899), but also for his Pomp & Circumstance Marches, No 1 being a firm favourite at the British Promenade concerts with the words ‘Land of Hope & Glory’, as well as his choral work the Dream of Gerontius (1900).
Samuel Barber (1910-1981). My American friends would not forgive me for omitting reference to his Violin Concerto Opus 14 which allowed the soloist, Mayumi Kanagawa to display her virtuoso skills. I sometimes wonder why people relate violin playing to sad stories, but her brief encore could have moved me to tears even without knowing its name or provenance.
A wonderful concert spoilt only as the audience were asked not to vocalise their appreciation at the end, as part of the anti-infection measures. However, an audible behind-the-masks groan of approval said it all along with rapturous applause for the conductor, the orchestra, and I’m proud to say, the best of English classical music in Japan. BRAVO!!