I’m writing this from the country home of our longtime friends Makoto and Hitomi in the small mountain town of Kusu in Kyushu, Japan’s southern island. We’re here for a few days of r&r after the conclusion of the Boston Symphony tour. It’s cool and cloudy, the perfect poetic atmospherics for a haiku-like vacation. (By the way, Makoto and Hitomi were the prototypes for the characters Max Furukawa and Yumi Shinagawa in my Daniel Jacobus mystery series.)
The final concert at Suntory Hall in Tokyo ended with a joyful Mahler Symphony No. 1 and seemed to encapsulate the positive feeling of the entire tour. I think the audience caught the vibe, yet another reason live performance can’t be reproduced by electronic technology. Before the concert there was a lot of the usual chatter about sight-seeing, restaurants, and major purchases. At the high-spirited post-concert party, the tour’s sponsors were gifted with Red Sox caps and conductor’s batons. The speeches by all parties included vows of return BSO visits and sounded more than just empty promises. I think everyone in the orchestra would welcome the prospect.
One of the highlights of the tour was the open rehearsal for students. School uniforms are standard garb in Japan, so Suntory Hall was awash in a sea of blue. I’m not sure how much the kids understood what Maestro Nelsons was saying to them, even with a translator, but it clearly was an exciting event for them. It’s something the BSO should consider doing more often as it’s yet one more way that music can build bridges over oceans.
For a number of young BSO musicians, this was their first time to Japan. For them, and for the rest of us, too, what might be the most impressive and memorable thing we carry away from the experience is the level of civility that is a given in this country. People speak to you respectfully and politely. Tokyo, a city of 20 million, is spotlessly clean. The subway system, which is used by almost 8 million riders everyday is prompt to the minute. Crime, at least in comparison to the US, is virtually unheard of. (Violent crime is 148 times greater in the US than in Japan: http://www.nationmaster.com/country-info/compare/Japan/United-States/Crime)
While sitting on a crowded Tokyo subway two days ago, a little six-year old girl sat perfectly at ease on her way home from school. A powerful image. Fifty years ago we might have seen this in the US. No longer. We need to consider why.
When an orchestra like the Boston Symphony travels to foreign countries we bring the best of what America has to offer. I hope upon returning to the US we’ll share the positives we’ve learned and experienced from our host nations and help make our own a better place.