By Janelle Gelfand
The Cincinnati Enquirer
TOKYO - "It's sort of like that movie, If It's Tuesday, It Must Be Belgium," laughed Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra principal violist Marna Street.
It was Saturday, and this was Tokyo. CSO musicians were beginning to feel settled on their third concert day in Japan, as they prepared to play in Yokohama that night. It's been a whirlwind tour; they arrived at the hotel around 11:30 p.m. Friday from Sapporo, in the second-most grueling day of this seven-city, eight-concert tour.
Their toughest day was the 26-hour day they had last Monday, when they left Cincinnati in the morning and arrived in Sapporo, in the northernmost region of Hokkaido at 10 p.m. on Tuesday.
"Last night, when I was warming up before the concert, my arms felt like rubber bands. I was not sure I could get through a whole concert," says violinist Mari Thomas, who is subbing on the tour. "But Paavo (Järvi, CSO music director) has some kind of way of reaching us, and inspiring us. He probably felt the same way. But he just did a couple of extra things that made us look at him. So everybody was like, OK, don't just space out for two hours."
Sari Eringer-Thoman, a CSO violist for 28 years, agreed that performing at a top level is a challenge on the road. But when one plays under Järvi, she says, "you always have to perform at your top level, because every performance is different. No matter how tired you are, you have to totally focus on what he's doing. It's very exciting. This is just top-of-the-line. I just feel so fortunate that he's with us."
For principal clarinetist Anthony McGill, the musical high point was Sibelius' Valse Triste, an encore.
"I don't think the string players realize how good they sound sometimes," the clarinetist says. "Paavo gets (them) to play like gods. I don't think I've ever heard another orchestra play it like that, in a hall where you could actually hear a pin drop."
Besides getting to the halls on time for their concerts, the musicians worry about fitting in practice time, being ready to go in concert dress, and managing to squeeze in dinner before going onstage. Their concert promoter, Japan Arts, helps out by transferring their luggage ahead by truck to the next hotel.
Most of the musicians' instruments are in specially designed crates that are also shipped ahead. The players often don't get to practice until an hour or two before the concert.
Cherie Benedict, a newer member of the CSO, carries her violin with her. She practiced for a half hour that morning.
"It's better than nothing. You fit it in," she says.
Concertmaster Timothy Lees, who also has his violin along, warms up in his hotel room using a practice mute, a metal piece that stops the sound "so you can play full throttle and not be heard," he says.
The musicians get little time to adjust to each new hall.
"We certainly have to make adjustments," says Scott Mozlin, assistant principal second violinist. "These halls are very different from Music Hall. We had a two-hour rehearsal before the first concert, where we got the feel of the place."
"I really liked the Sapporo hall. It's different sitting onstage, and having the audience all around you (they were surrounded)," says violinist Anna Reider, a graduate of the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, who joined the CSO last year.
Mito's hall, however, was an acoustically dry auditorium, most musicians agreed. All are impressed at the politeness of the Japanese audiences, that do not give standing ovations - but keep applauding and applauding. They have played two or three encores at each concert.
"If we played 10 encores, I think they would keep clapping," Benedict says.
Despite jet lag, adrenalin was high for the concert in Sapporo. They keep up their endurance by frequenting the hotel gyms, walking, and in the case of Mozlin, jogging 5 miles a day.
Almost everything has gone smoothly. Several musicians, including Lees, were still recovering Saturday from a virus that has gone through the ranks.
Is this the toughest tour they've ever taken? They don't know.
"We still have a week left," says Mozlin.
Tour coincides with 'Visit Japan' campaign
This year is the 150th anniversary of U.S.-Japan relations and the 400th anniversary of the city of Tokyo as the capital of Japan.
The Cincinnati Symphony tour coincides with a "Visit Japan" campaign to boost Japan's tourism business. The promotion includes discounted airfares, such as "Welcome Japan" domestic fares for Americans holding international tickets - tours and other special offers.
The Japanese government hopes to increase the number of foreign visitors to Japan to 10 million by 2010. Last year, 730,000 Americans visited the country.
For information, see the government-run Japan National Tourist Organization Web site: www.jnto.go.jp. For tour package deals, visit www.japanwelcomesyou.com.
E-mail email@example.com. Read Janelle Gelfand's Web log about the orchestra's Japan tour at Cincinnati.Com, keyword Japan.
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IN CASE YOU MISSED IT...
Sunday's tempo report