WELCOME TO THE 25th DAILY INSTALLMENT OF SYMPHONIES & SCORPIONS: AN INTERNATIONAL CONCERT TOUR AS AN INSTRUMENT OF CITIZEN DIPLOMACY.
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Tokyo: Friday, May 9
6:15pm-6:30 ACOUSTIC REHEARSAL Suntory Hall 7:00pm CONCERT Suntory Hall PROGRAM: Glinka: Overture to Russlan and Ludmilla Tchaikovsky: Violin Concerto Berlioz: Symphonie fantastique, Op.14 CHARLES DUTOIT, conductor JANINE JANSEN, violin
9:15pm Reception for Maestro Dutoit, Orchestra, Staff and Friends Group, ANA InterContinental
Here’s what I found out later about The Mysterious Case of the In Limbo Instruments. Contrary to what I had learned earlier, it seems that neither Ambassador Kennedy nor the State Department were successful pulling rank to get the instruments flowing through Japanese Customs. I was told that, in fact, our esteemed ambassador was stonewalled. Why the big kerfuffle? Uncorroborated speculation is that it was pushback for her public criticism of Japan’s centuries-old annual dolphin hunt. “Deeply concerned by inhumaneness of drive hunt dolphin killing,” Ambassador Kennedy tweeted in the winter of 2013-14 in both English and Japanese. Japan responded by accusing critics of the hunt, including Kennedy, of being hypocrites for not also lamenting the slaughtering of cattle and chickens in their own country.
If not the doing of State Department, how did the instruments ultimately manage to get through? Mark Volpe confessed, “We threw everything we could against the wall and hoped something would stick.” Everyone from our end frantically contacted everyone they knew on the Japanese end. Volpe even asked Seiji Ozawa if he had a personal contact who might help. According to Volpe, Seiji seriously considered the question and replied, “the Emperor,” but then thought better of going that route.
An uneasy stalemate reigned until Jasper Parrot, Dutoit’s manager, made the magic phone call. The Japanese spokesman for the Foreign Secretary, someone Parrot knew personally, was finally able to set the wheels of progress in motion, and none too soon.
Because Volpe had a notion that there was a symbolic backstory issue at the root of the Japanese intransigence over the ivory, he maintained confidence all along that the instruments would have eventually arrived by concert time one way or the other. But he was more concerned about the rehearsal that preceded it, and not simply because it was our one and only with Jansens. Our lead tour sponsor, EMC2, had provided serious financial backing and in return asked the BSO to invite hundreds of its employees in Tokyo to attend the rehearsal. If the instruments had not arrived and the rehearsal was canceled, EMC2 would have been sorely disappointed, and one does not want to disappoint major sponsors.
In the end, the tempest in the Japanese teapot appears to have been a matter of making a not-so-subtle political point. Like Volpe, I can’t imagine that the Japanese authorities would have prevented the concert from taking place, especially considering the embarrassment it would have caused some important dignitaries in attendance, including Ambassador Kennedy herself. On the other hand, the next time we come to Japan we might want to have mammoth bone tips put on our bows.
Points of View
Here’s another example of the wonderful world of geopolitics. This is how Chinese and Japanese newspapers reported the same events taking place in their south Asia neighborhood:
The Chinese version from the China Daily; Tuesday, May 6, 2014, Guangxi (page 2):
Dien Bien Phu Battle remembered
China and Vietnam face new opportunities and challenges in a volatile international situation, and young people from the two countries should remember history and promote cooperation and friendship. That was the consensus of participants at a seminar commemorating the Viet Minh victory over the French in the two-month battle of Dien Bien Phu in 1954.
The Japanese version from The Japan News by the Yomiuri Shimbun; Friday, May 9, 2014 (page 1):
Vietnam: Chinese ships ram vessels near oil rig
Hanoi (AP)—Chinese ships have been ramming into and firing water cannons at Vietnamese vessels trying to stop Beijing from putting an oil rig in the South China Sea, according to officials and video footage Wednesday, in a dangerous escalation of tensions over waters considered a global flashpoint.
Propaganda or perspective? Or just deciding what to print and what not to print? How different is American journalism, if at all?
I’m meeting Toshiko Tanaka for lunch at her favorite sushi restaurant. Once a promising violinist who decades ago was forced to quit the concert stage due to a hand injury, Toshiko became a very formidable and dedicated teacher with generations of devoted and loyal students who ranged from highly gifted youngsters to amateur seniors playing the violin simply for the love of it.
Toshiko was already friends with several of my older colleagues by the time I met her on my first BSO tour to Japan in the late ‘70s. She still makes pilgrimages to Boston, hauling some of her best students in tow to provide them the opportunity to have lessons and master classes with BSO musicians. Whenever my Abramyan String Quartet toured Japan, Toshiko was always happy to arrange private performances for us.
So slight in build that a gentle breeze could blow her away like a cherry blossom petal, Toshiko is more diminutive than ever, yet still wields an iron will over her students. Though she’s getting on in years, she is still intensely committed to consider new ways to teach and to play the violin.
The pint-sized sushi restaurant she takes me to is on a colorful neighborhood shopping street in the Nakano district. It’s one of those sushi places where you sit at a counter and a seemingly limitless array of delicacies streams out of the kitchen on train tracks. As it chugs along you just grab what you want and go to town. Typically, restaurants like this are as low in quality as in price, but Toshiko, a person of modest means, is right on the money with this place. Yes, the price is right, but the food is as fresh as a spring day, and delicious. At the other end of the sushi spectrum, some of my colleagues went to Giro for lunch, perhaps the most famous sushi-ya in the world, and according to reports had an incredibly memorable experience in all ways. For me, I’ll take the simpler.
After saying goodbye to Toshiko and exchanging gifts, I stroll back among the crowds to the Yamanota Line to return to the Okura. It dawns on me that I haven’t seen any evidence of obesity in either China or Japan, except of course among American tourists. When are Americans going to relearn how to eat, if ever? (Yes, I understand the challenge of low-income populations in the US to access fresh, nutritional, affordable food; but by definition, tourists to Beijing and Shanghai and Tokyo are far from that poverty-stricken population.) Between stuffing ourselves and shooting ourselves, we Americans have little to fear from terrorism or even climate change, because we’ll be long gone before those annoyances will make a dent in our ability to kill ourselves.
Suntory Hall opened in 1986 and is the oldest and most distinguished of the five halls in which we’ve performed on this tour. Not only is it a pleasure to play here, I have two surprises in store for me.
Surprise No. 1: Seiji Ozawa is backstage and is in better health than expected, with some of his old pep back. Always dubbed something of an iconoclast, which hasn’t always gone over well in tradition-bound Japan, tonight he’s true to fashion, dressed in jeans and a windbreaker and wearing his Red Sox cap, high-fiving everyone. All the musicians who were in the orchestra during his tenure want to have their photo taken with him and he is very obliging. As word had spread he might be attending one of our performances, I readied a copy of my first mystery novel, Devil’s Trill, gift-wrapped at the hotel, and he insisted on opening it up right away. I’m not sure if he even reads books in English, but I think he’ll like the cover, anyway.
I certainly have a lot to thank him for. Along with violinists Sheila Fiekowsky and Slava Uritsky, the three of us were among Seiji’s first BSO hires in 1975—we all started our jobs on the same day—as he only had become fulltime music director the year prior. Plus, he was influential in setting up my short-term guest professorship at the Musashino Music Academy in 1986, during which time I made so many lasting friends in Japan.
Surprise No. 2, a personal one: The Yogo family is here. They are among my dearest friends in Japan who, like Toshiko, I met because they were friends of older BSO members. Tetsuro, the son in the family, even came to live with us in Salt Lake City for part of a year when he was still in high school. Now he’s an I.T. guy, apparently a successful one, because tickets for this concert range from $125 to $375.
Many Americans think of Japanese people as being distant and formal. There may be some truth to that perception until they get to know you well, at which time they become the warmest and most loyal friends imaginable. They are also among the world’s great partiers. But I have found that even as a stranger, without exception, I’ve been treated politely, cordially, and with thoughtful consideration. On one occasion years ago, I got myself lost in downtown Tokyo. A total stranger came up to me and in halting English asked my destination. He himself couldn’t help me, so he took me to his office nearby, sat me down, found me an English newspaper, gave me a cup of tea, made a few phone calls, drew me a map, and walked me to the correct subway station. He then bowed and thanked me.
Hiroko (Mrs. Yogo) and I give each other a very unselfconscious, public bear hug. We’ll all be having dinner together in a couple of days, and will have a chance to chat, but for the moment it’s great just to see them all again.
Seiji’s presence and Suntory Hall’s acoustics have buoyed everyone’s spirits, Dutoit’s included, and the music-making sparkles from the get-go. The audience response to the Symphonie fantastique is as enthusiastic as I’ve ever heard from a Japanese audience. There are even some boisterous bravos, a rare accolade. We play Bizet’s Farandole for an encore, and the applause is such that not only does it continue as we leave the stage, it continues long after! In fact, it’s still going on after Dutoit has changed into street clothes, and he has to go back on stage to wave to the remaining audience.
On tour there’s usually at least one elegantly catered post-concert reception hosted by the Symphony corporation and attended by the entire entourage plus the local hoity-toity. This tour was no exception, with a big bash in the ANA Hotel next door to the hall. Musicians tend to work up a growling appetite during a concert, especially if they’ve eaten lightly beforehand. So it’s not an uncommon, if a bit ungracious, sight for musicians to make a mad dash for the buffet tables, especially the one with seafood, as soon as the doors open.
After one long-ago concert in Tokyo, the orchestra was invited to a bash hosted by the international fashion designer, Hanae Mori. She was a good friend of Seiji Ozawa and his wife, Vera, and the party took place at her downtown studio, which was very chic but a bit claustrophobic for such a large group. Coincidentally, the Berlin Philharmonic was also in town, and they too had been invited, making the studio yet more hot and cramped. Both orchestras arrived simultaneously and, musicians being musicians the world ‘round, everyone charged the buffet tables, vying especially for the sushi and shrimp, which beckoned to us as enticingly as the Sirens did to Odysseus. Some pushing and shoving ensued, and perhaps heated words were exchanged. Would this be a renewal of the Axis versus the Allies? The members of the Berlin outfit on the whole looked brawnier than the BSO musicians and were almost exclusively male, so their aggressiveness topped ours and we had to content ourselves with yakitori. Fortunately, there was plenty of sake for all. The crisis was thus averted and we departed as a friendly fraternity of musicians.
The highlight of international tours in the ‘70s and ‘80s took place on those rare days that were free of both concerts and travel, because that’s when Ozawa hosted parties for the entire orchestra. One might debate the profundity of his Mozart, Beethoven, or Brahms, but no one can disagree that his orchestra fetes were nonpareil. And of those, the one that topped all the others was when he rented an entire onsen, orJapanese hot spring resort, high on a rocky bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean on the Izu Peninsula of Japan, for an all-day/all-night bash with limitless free bar, free sushi, and of course, free hot spring bathing.
In the evening there was an enormous formal dinner for the entire troupe, during which we sat on a ballroom-sized tatami floor and were served individually by costumed geishas. (For the entire day we were all dressed in blue and white yukatas—lightweight cotton robes. The late Vincent Mauricci, one of our more gentlemanly and modest violists, wore slacks and a shirt and tie under his yukata.) During the festivities, there was a traditional ceremony in which Seiji clubbed open a cask of fresh sake, which was then poured into our wooden sake cups. Toasts of “Kanpai!” echoed through the hall, after which the sake was expeditiously consumed. After the dinner came line dancing with the geishas, then yet more drinking. I found myself seated next to my buddy, Ronan, at the bar. Upon raising his glass for what turned out to be the final time, he fell over backwards, making a soft landing on the tatami floor.
They say sake doesn’t give you a hangover.
The reception at the ANA had the winning combination of short speeches and tall drinks, so it was a big success. The hero of the moment, Maestro Dutoit, was charming and gracious, and like Seiji was very obliging with the photo ops. What’s happening with conductors these days? They’re becoming so…likeable.
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NEWS FLASH: MY FIRST POLITICAL THRILLER, THE BEETHOVEN SEQUENCE, IS SCHEDULED FOR RELEASE ON SEPTEMBER 8! A MENTALLY UNBALANCED MUSIC TEACHER BECOMES PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES! PREPOSTEROUS? STAY TUNED.