By Janelle Gelfand
The Cincinnati Enquirer
The Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra's tour of Japan, which ended last Sunday, was exhausting and exhilarating for the orchestra.
The seven-city, eight-concert tour was so tightly organized that nearly every minute was scheduled - on a plane, a bus, in a rehearsal or a concert. In addition to playing halls in Tokyo, Yokohama and Osaka, the tour took the symphony from the northernmost island of Hokkaido to the southern island of Kyushu.
Artistically, it was a high-water mark. Presented by Japan Arts and sponsored by Toyota Motor Manufacturing, North America, the tour put the Cincinnati players on equal footing with the best musicians on an important world stage. In the process, it put Cincinnati in the spotlight.
"Musically speaking, we're accomplishing something amazing to me, in a way," music director Paavo J”rvi said during the tour. "Not only are we representing our team in a different country, but we're also doing the same repertoire, five, six and seven times in a row. That's a luxury, and you can see how every night they're getting better. There's this heightened alertness and concentration."
Despite the fatigue of traveling all over the country and playing in eight different concert halls, the musicians rose to the challenge with exceptional performances. J”rvi had a way of energizing them. At every concert, the orchestra played up to four encores, and the audience applauded enthusiastically, even after the lights came up and J”rvi waved goodbye.
"I haven't had this kind of reaction here before," says J”rvi, who led the NHK Symphony in Tokyo last season. "It is not as explosive (as American audiences), but much more persistent. ... There's something very Japanese about the way they react. They listen very quietly and they are very attentive. I think people who truly love music come to the concerts. It's way too expensive and there are too many things to do here, to just show up."
The reviews from Japanese newspapers are not all in yet, but the orchestra impressed one veteran critic who attended the Suntory Hall concert.
"There are the most famous American orchestras - New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Cleveland and Chicago," said Masaaki Niwa of The Yomiuri, Japan's national newspaper, with a circulation of 10 million. "There is also Cincinnati."
And during an interview, a journalist from a record magazine Ongaku no Tomo told J”rvi, "Now there is another great CSO" - meaning the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the Cincinnati.
"This is how reputations are built," says J”rvi.
The orchestra brought along three concert programs. One of the most remarkable readings was Sibelius' Symphony No. 2, given just one performance on tour, in Yokohama's Minato Mirai Concert Hall. The next night, the orchestra gave a knockout performance of Berlioz's Symphonie fantastique in Tokyo's Suntory Hall.
"This is the best I've heard them," says J”rvi. "(The musicians) seemed to be involved, and it wasn't just cold execution or technical brilliance. There was a real physical and emotional involvement. You could see the energy."
J”rvi knows it's important to have the kind of chemistry he shares with the orchestra. But even more important, he says, is to show it. J”rvi's London-based manager, Jasper Parrott, was at the Suntory Hall concert in Tokyo.
"He knows a lot of influential people and many of them came to the concert," J”rvi says. "Everybody was amazed that the orchestra is so good. The last time the orchestra came (to Japan) was in 1990, and that's ancient history. There are five major orchestras here every week. ... Really, you have to come and show that you have this, and it's not just talk. We really do play well."
Perhaps no one did more to sell the Cincinnati Symphony than J”rvi, who signed autographs after concerts (at least 75 fans lined up in Yokohama) and did three hour-long interviews with major Japanese record magazines. For the tour, Universal distributed J”rvi's four Cincinnati Symphony albums, priced at about $26 each, with liner notes translated into Japanese.
"These are major stories that basically talk about Cincinnati and Telarc (record company), in prestigious Japanese magazines," J”rvi says. "I think it will generate sales. But more importantly, I think the momentum is growing and it is an important investment."
Regular touring is essential to the orchestra's reputation, says J”rvi. The orchestra has been invited back to New York's Carnegie Hall next season. If funding is found, he hopes to take his players on a swing through Europe next fall.
"You keep coming and impressing again. It's a process," he says.
What did he learn in his first international tour with the Cincinnati Symphony?
"I learned, if you really go for it, there is no limit," he says. "After the (Suntory Hall) concert, I felt that the potential is great. I always knew it was great, but greater than I thought.
"I told everybody, 'You're all missionaries; we're here on a mission.' And if that concert didn't convince people, nothing will."
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