Christmas in Tokyo, Already (?)

Christmas spirit has already arrived in Tokyo. It must have something to do with the time zones. Early or not, I’ve begun celebrating with reunions with old friends.

Christmas in Tokyo

The BSO arrived in town on Sunday evening, and I immediately jumped on a subway to meet my friend, Michael Selman, and his wife, Sachiko, at a restaurant near Tsukiji. Mike and I were fellow violin students at Yale, after which he became a violin expert for the famous shop of Charles Beare. Mike now divides his time between Dallas, New York, New Mexico, Mexico, Japan, and Korea, so he’s not an easy guy to pin down. We spent the evening laughing about our student days over a lovely dinner of grilled eel.

eel

An eel

Mike Selman

Mike Selman & I reminisce over post-eel coffee.

Yesterday, our free day, I paid a visit to the Musashino Music Academy, where I taught for four months in 1986 while on sabbatical from the BSO. It was a life changing experience for me, so it was wonderful to meet with President Fukui, who has not changed a bit in thirty years, along with other old friends on the staff and faculty.

Pres. Fukui

President Fukui with his copy of my Devil’s Trill audiobook!

Then last night, the best reunion of all. I took the train out to Narita Airport, where my wife Cecily arrived from Salt Lake City to join me for the rest of the tour and little R&R with Tokyo friends thereafter.

Have to run now. Rehearsal at Suntory Hall starts shortly.

If you’ve enjoyed reading my blogs, I may have a very exciting announcement to make in a few days! If you haven’t enjoyed reading them, then of course it won’t be nearly as exciting.

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Game, Set…Concert

Our travel director handed out our randomly designated seat assignments for the Bullet Train from Nagoya to Kawasaki, where we had a matinee concert, followed by a bus ride to Tokyo. I was handed a chit for 7-D in Coach No. 10. En masse, we followed our guide to the correct track and boarded. (There’s never any question whether the train will be on time.)

Chit

Chit

I took my seat next to a woman a few years older than me who I had seen at our concerts and receptions, but who I had never met. James Orleans, my friend, long-time BSO string bassist and excellent tennis player, was sitting on the other side of the train aisle. Even before the train started to move he did the honors with the introductions. Anita Klaussen was his good friend and neighbor from back in Boston.

Anita and I started to chat, and shortly thereafter she mentioned she had been married to Bud Collins for twenty-five years before his recent passing. Did I know who Bud Collins is, she asked.

If you know anything about sports, especially tennis, you know who Bud Collins is. A world-class player, he gained even more fame as a world-class sports journalist. He was THE voice of American tennis for decades.

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Anita no doubt anticipated the standard deep, baseline crosscourt response: “Wow! Bud Collins! Of course I know who he was.”

Instead, I surprised her with an unexpected topspin lob: “Bud Collins was my older brother Arthur’s tennis coach at Brandeis in the ‘60s.” From the widening of her eyes, I could tell I had the advantage. Jim, too, immediately perked up.

And then I went for the kill with an overhand volley: “And because Art taught me how to play tennis, in a way that makes me Bud Collins’s grandson, doesn’t it?”

Point won. Street cred achieved.

Anita showed me the tribute book she had put together for Bud’s memorial service. It included testimonials from famous tennis players and lots of photos. She thought there might be one of Bud’s Brandeis days, maybe even with my brother in it, but there were so many photos that it’s still in a drawer with thousands of others.

Anita Klaussen

Anita and me with her tribute to Bud

We enjoyed a conversation about tennis, Japan, and life until we got to the Kawasaki station. I’m sure we’ll have more. One never knows what to expect on a concert tour. Just like when I’m playing tennis.

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Anita and Bud

 

The Osaka Conundrum

No, that’s not the title of a Robert Ludlum thriller. Rather, it was the BSO’s predicament for its concert in Osaka last night.

On the program was the colossal Shostakovich Symphony No. 11, “The Year 1905.” Here was the situation:

  1. The Symphony No. 11 is a very long and difficult composition, full of potential musical traps for everyone, and which doesn’t lie well on anyone’s instrument. It’s the kind of a piece that is typically referred to in the profession as “a bitch.”
  2. The orchestra hadn’t looked at it in well over a month, since the beginning of the concert season in Boston.
  3. Before September, most of the musicians in the orchestra had never played the Shostakovich at all. It’s one of his least performed symphonies—I admit to never even having heard it–so there was no muscle memory to pull out of the hat.
  4. The rehearsal for the piece that was supposed to have taken place the day before had been washed out when the truck carrying our music was delayed beyond our ability to reschedule. (See yesterday’s post: Intrigue in Nagoya.) All we had was a 15-minute acoustical rehearsal an hour before the concert at the Osaka Festival Hall to slay all those millions of phantoms.
Maestro at the train station

Strategizing at Nagoya Train Station

Well, wouldn’t you know? The performance went of without a hitch. What a credit to the BSO musicians and Maestro Nelsons! (Smart guy, he took ½ an edge off the perilously frenetic tempos he had us play in Boston. It made everyone onstage feel much more secure and confident, but the Osaka audience got just as big a thrill.) When it was all over the sense of accomplishment (and relief) was palpable. The post-concert reception had even more levity than usual.

Happy campers

Maestro & Musicians Celebrating

 

Being on tour does not preclude life at home interjecting itself from time to time. Just before the concert I received an email from a violist who was going to be one of the soloists in Bach’s Sixth Brandenburg Concerto that I’m conducting next month in Salt Lake City to tell me she won’t be able to do it. So I have to find another violist from afar and quickly.

To more than counterbalance that bit of unsettling news, however, was another email I received, this one from Alison Larkin, the producer of my new, critically acclaimed audiobook mystery, Danse Macabre, to tell me it is now finished (weeks ahead of schedule) and available for download purchase. (CD sets will be ready in the near future.) Check out the audio sample. I can’t think of a better, easier, or more “novel” way to get your holiday shopping out of the way. Can you?

Danse Macabre AUDIO COVER

DANSE MACABRE: AUDIO

Intrigue in Nagoya

It wasn’t the way you’d want to start a concert tour. At 8:00 we received a message from Chris Ruigomez, the BSO Director of Concert Operations. “Good morning. We have just been notified that one truck with some of our instruments will not arrive until about noon.” That was unfortunate, since the rehearsal at NTK Forest Hall in Nagoya was scheduled to start at 10:30. “We will move the rehearsal to be from 1:00 PM.”

Schedule

Changes were made on the fly, including our bus departure from the Nagoya Hilton, where the orchestra was staying. Rather than returning to the hotel after the rehearsal and going back to the hall for the 5:00 PM performance, we would stay at the hall. Food would be provided in between the rehearsal and concert.

We were at the hall and ready to begin rehearsal—our first of the tour—at 1:00. Only problem, still no music, still no string basses. The truck was still somewhere between Tokyo and Nagoya. Rumors spread. The one consistent one was that the driver had overslept. Jet lag? Nope. Not one of ours. A Japanese driver. This seemed strange. Oversleeping a half hour, maybe. Even an hour. But to be four or more hours late?

Waiting

Thumb twiddling time.

Already, the inconvenience and the expense were adding up. “What ifs” started seeping into the conversation. All the contingencies had to be considered. It could be a major disaster.

Finally, at about 1:30 the truck arrived. The BSO stage crew and their Forest Hall counterparts sprang into action. Swinging into actionThe rehearsal, which was supposed to run for 2 ½ hours, went from 2:00 to 3:00. No time for Shostakovich today. Maybe tomorrow. Maestro Nelsons was his usual unflappable self. All smiles. No hurry. Take care of business. See you at the concert.

Backstage Subway sandwiches and bento boxes. A quick dash to a nearby coffee shop for additional caffeinated sustenance to ward off potential jet lag.

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The audience never knew.  Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto with Gil Shaham. Mahler Symphony No. 1. Beethoven Egmont Overture as an encore. Everything went off without a hitch. Disaster averted. At least for us. I heard the driver was fired. Actually, that made me relieved. I worried it would go much worse for him.

We’ll see what tomorrow brings.

 

Sand Castles

Castles still serve a valuable function. They inform us about ancient history, architecture, art, culture, and politics. They’re gathering places for friendly, informed tourists and for tourist dollars, helping support the local economy. And, in the case of Nagoya Castle, offer excellent soft serve green tea ice cream.

Green Tea Ice Cream

Samurai nourishment

I had been to Nagoya Castle once before, decades ago. At that time, it was impressive but a bit tattered so yesterday, on our day off, I considered it more a destination of my walk—I needed to stretch my legs after all those hours in the plane—rather than as something I particularly wanted to see.

It turned out my route was a lot more circuitous than I planned. That will happen when you start out ninety degrees in the wrong direction.

Walking Map

You figure it out!

It being a lovely fall day, however, I enjoyed whatever came my way. Walking through city streets and parks in a foreign country is always interesting, if occasionally bewildering.

NOT Nagoya Castle

NOT Nagoya Castle

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Arriving at the castle entrance, one cannot be anything other than awestruck by the massive stone works that form the walls of the moats and base of the castle tower. The only places I’ve seen that might equal it are the Incan stone work in the mountains of Peru or the Etruscan walls in Umbria, Italy.

Nagoya Castle

The correct Nagoya Castle

Things had certainly changed since my previous visit. Gardens had been re-landscaped. Extensive renovation had taken place. And most of all, the palace, which had been totally destroyed along with the original castle tower by American bombing in World War II, has been painstakingly reproduced in every detail. The beauty of the architecture and murals are as breathtaking a marvel of Japanese artistry and esthetic as the original apparently was.

Palace Mural

Palace mural

The current, rebuilt castle tower looks like the 17th century original on the outside, but is of cement construction. Unlike the palace, which is a virtual recreation, the inside of the castle tower is simply a museum space of various interesting exhibits with photos and artifacts. One floor recreates a street scene in old Nagoya. Another has an impressive scale model of the entire city from the time of the Tokugawa Shogunate.

17th Century Taxi

17th Century taxi

Some of the exhibits have captioned photos of the castle pre- and post-bombing, and of pieces of artifacts seared by heat of the explosions. There is a subtle implication in much of it that the bombing of the castle, which had been designated a national treasure, was wastefully unnecessary.

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Bombing of Nagoya Castle, 1945

 

 

Though it certainly was tragic that so much irreplaceable beauty was destroyed, one must also consider the original purpose of the castle. It was a military, government fortress in which endless wars of conquest and destruction were planned and executed. While Nagoya Castle had long abandoned that function, in a sense its bombing was a continuation of history more than a disruption of it. Poetic justice? Perhaps not. The real tragedy is war itself and the killing of innocent civilians because all castles, whether made of stone, sand or of metaphors, are eventually are swept away by the tide.

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Let Me Eat Your Pancreas

On the flight from LA to Tokyo I watched a Japanese movie called Let Me Eat Your Pancreas. I turned it off after fifteen minutes upon realizing it was a touching film of love and loss, and not a Halloween special feature. After bidding a fond farewell to Let Me Eat Your Pancreas, I did manage to get through an entire two-and-a-half-hour samurai movie. This epic was called Sekigahara, about the battle for the reunification of Japan by Tokugawa with a great half-our battle scene near the end in which many people get hacked into pieces. I wonder if they’ve used the same costumes in all these historical sagas as they did in The Seven Samurai. They look suspiciously similar. They must have plenty of holes in them by now.

Pancres

I had a good reason for watching a movie. Any movie. Two-hundred-fifty-nine of the two-hundred-sixty-one passengers on the long flight—eight hours? ten hours? who knows?—were perfectly quiet the whole time. The two babies in the seat in front of me, however, had different ideas and didn’t stop screaming the whole time. I take that back. Every time their parents and/or their grandparent walked them down the aisle they calmed down almost immediately. You’d think the adults would have done that for more than ten minutes rather than sitting there for hours trying to ignore their poor kids’ bawling. Go ahead. Call me a curmudgeon. To be fair, the last hour the two tykes were quiet. But one time when they were performing a duet that would put hyenas to shame, I donned my headphones and perused the classical music channel on my console. Guess what? There was a performance of my old boss, Seiji Ozawa, performing Beethoven Symphony No. 1 and Piano Concerto No. 1 with Martha Argerich. I enjoyed listening to that, with the volume turned way up.

Seiji .jpgOther than that one mild annoyance, the flight(s) from Salt Lake City to Japan were relatively uneventful. The seats were eminently comfortable on LA-Tokyo leg (courtesy of a Japan Airlines jumbo jet), including plenty of leg room and a seat console like the helm of the Star Trek Enterprise. Dinner was pretty decent too. Caesar salad, cold soba, pickled vegetables and fish, chicken curry with rice, fresh fruit, and ice cream for dessert. Beats peanuts.

In between movies, meals, and the occasional snooze, I had a great time studying scores for the Vivaldi by Candlelight concert on December 9. Castrucci, Stradella, Brescianello–no, those are not gelato flavors. They’re contemporaries of Vivaldi who wrote spectacular music, and along with Bach and Biber it was so much fun to dig deeper into their individual esthetics.

I did have a couple of curveballs thrown my way by well-meaning American Airlines representatives. First, in Salt Lake they told me my suitcase would be checked all the way through to Nagoya, my final destination. Not! I had to retrieve it at Narita Airport in Tokyo and then reload it. Good thing the JAL rep straightened me out when I checked in at LA or I might be wondering whether it had been jettisoned somewhere over the Pacific. Also, the AA rep at my arrival in LA directed me to the AA gate for the connection to Tokyo instead of to the JAL gate. Another curve, but hey, what’s one terminal between friends? But I managed to foul that one off and ended up in the right place with time to spare.

JAL

Friendly JAL customer reps

I joined up with the BSO guys at Narita in Tokyo, and then the final slog to Nagoya and the bus to the Hilton. It was about 9:30PM when we arrived and I was still awake enough to find a tiny akachochin just down the block. Akachochin–literally red lantern–are tiny holes-in-the-wall that serve great food at low prices for the local population and stay open late. The menu was entirely in Japanese so it was also an adventure to order, but I managed to get some first rate yakitori and an excellent draft Kirin. All in all, a very auspicious start to the tour.

YakitoriAkachochin

 

 

Flying West to the East

7:00 AM at Salt Lake International Airport. I’m waiting to board a flight to Los Angeles, where I connect to Tokyo, where I join the Boston Symphony en route to Nagoya, Japan. There we begin a ten-day tour, performing six concerts in four cities.

The past week has been a whirlwind! First, we put the final editing touches on my new audiobook, Danse Macabre, which is now available for preorder and will very soon be available both as a download and CD set. You can hear an audio sample for this unique audiobook, which features music by Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, and Saint-Säens woven seamlessly into sensational reading by Jim Frangione, by going to Alison Larkin Presents.

Danse Macabre AUDIO COVER

Thursday, October 26, was a very special day. Jim Bradley, owner of the snazzy 15th Street Gallery in Salt Lake City, graciously provided his space for a fabulous fund-raising event for Citizens Climate Lobby-Salt Lake City. We had a packed house for a pre-Halloween presentation I gave of my seasonally appropriate murder mysteries, Playing with Fire, Spring Break, and Devil’s Trill and Danse Macabre audiobooks, performing music by Tartini, Saint-Säens, and Vivaldi along with readings. Screen Shot 2017-04-14 at 12.05.11 PMCombined with a delectable reception catered by The Avenues Bistro on Third, we raised thousands of dollars in donations and book sales (provided by The King’s English Bookshop) for student scholarships, enabling them to attend regional and national conferences where they learn firsthand how to engage actively in the democratic process in a nonpartisan, respectful way.

screen-shot-2017-02-23-at-8-15-03-pmscreen-shot-2017-02-23-at-8-11-19-pmFinally, on Sunday, October 29, I had the great pleasure of performing a program of great chamber music on the Faculty Showcase series at Libby Gardner Concert Hall at the University of Utah School of Music with my colleagues Vedrana Subotic, piano; Julie Edwards, viola; and John Eckstein, cello. We had a large and enthusiastic turnout for Brahms sublime B Major Trio and fiery G Minor Quartet.

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Brahms at the piano

Yesterday I packed! I’m actually looking forward to the long flight to Japan because I get to study scores undisturbed for the annual Vivaldi by Candlelight concert I’m conducting on December 9. It’s a wonderful holiday season fund-raising event for the Utah Council for Citizen Diplomacy, which fosters international relations “one handshake at a time.” In addition to Vivaldi’s music, we’re performing some wonderful music by lesser known but equally accomplished composers: Heinrich Biber, Pietro Castrucci, Alessandro Stradella, and Giuseppe Brescianello.

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Vivaldi by Candlelight

And then, of course, is the BSO tour itself! We always have wonderful audiences in Japan and I expect this tour will be no exception, especially with Maestro Andris Nelsons on the podium. The major works are Mahler’s Symphony No. 1 (my favorite Mahler symphony!), Rachmaninov Second, and Shostakovich Eleventh. The Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto is a pretty major work to, and with Gil Shaham as the soloist, it will no doubt be an audience favorite.

Between the concerts and the sushi, I’m looking forward to a very enjoyable Japan adventure. For the moment, I need a cup of coffee.