Sunday, November 23, 2003

Only virus managed to play sour note on tour of Japan

Amazingly, in the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra's 14-day tour to Japan, everything went smoothly. The tour's only glitch was a virus that traveled through the ranks early on. When principal oboist Richard Johnson was sidelined by illness before the prestigious Suntory Hall concert, Lon Bussell dramatically stepped in and triumphed in the important solos.

Tour support was well choreographed. After each concert, Cincinnati and Japanese stage crew packed up 18,509 pounds of musical equipment worth $3 million, and trucked it overnight to the next venue - twice traveling nearly 550 miles.

Japan Arts, which arranged hotels for the 103 musicians and symphony staff, had room keys waiting as the musicians got off their buses. Their luggage was sent ahead to each hotel.

The tour, arranged by one of Japan's two major concert presenters, seemed calculated to show off music director Paavo J”rvi and the orchestra.

They played in four of the country's most prestigious halls in Tokyo, Yokohama and Osaka. Concerts were promoted ahead of time in magazines and posters. Tour soloists, Japanese-born violinist Akiko Suwanai and Chinese phenom pianist Yundi Li, were chosen because of their star appeal in the Japanese market, said Masayuki Sekita, president of Japan Arts.

Listeners paid up to $180 a ticket. Although none of the concerts was a sell-out, the Cincinnati Symphony attracted good-sized crowds, considering the weak Japanese economy.

More than 1,300 students from 10 schools attended the orchestra's rehearsal, and J”rvi did a "Q&A" for the students (translated into Japanese). While there, a crew from Radio Television Hong Kong taped the symphony and pianist Yundi Li, for documentary about eight young Chinese musicians, to be aired in February.

Sekita was pleased.

"We are already discussing with management bringing the orchestra back in 2008," he said.

Janelle Gelfand

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