Follow Kent Nagano and the OSM in Asia! The OSM lead, throughout its history, some forty excursions and tours. Follow this new adventure day by day in company of OSM`s musical director, soloists, our musicians and members of the administrative staff. Backstage interviews, testimonies, highlights of the cities and venues visited and much more… not to be missed!

While in Beijing, Kent Nagano, Dina Gilbert, OSM assistant conductor and Alexander Read, principal second violin, gave a master class at the China Youth Symphony Orchestra.
Kent Nagano and Dina Gilbert conducted the orchestra and Alexander Read acted as soloist.
Here are a few highlights.

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I was invited to give a masterclass at the Central Conservatory of Music (where there are over 1000 students) on our day off.

All of the trumpet students were in attendance, but Maestro Nagano was giving a class there at the same time, which involved several trumpet students .They really wanted to be there so they were running back and forth between his rehearsal and my class. This became quite funny, as new students kept appearing in my class, sweaty, with trumpet in hand ready to play even for a few minutes.
I extended my class in order to hear everyone and take photos after. I was impressed with the playing; they all had a special sound, and knew the major orchestral works well. We talked a lot about varying colors of sound, and not playing defensively but rather thinking about singing through the horn and really making a statement musically as performers. It was a very rewarding experience for me.

I also must thank two of the students Chauncey and Ben for guiding me through Beijing and the Great Wall! Thanks to them, I got to play Gershwin with one of the most beautiful background!

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A few weeks before the tour I emailed Isabel, a friend from elementary and high school whom I had not seen in over ten years. She’s been living in Beijing with her husband and their two kids for the past five years, or so I thought, until Isabel wrote back and told me they had recently moved to… Hong Kong! As luck would have it the kids had a week off from school, so they decided to hit two – or three! – birds with one stone: the kids got to visit their friends in Beijing; we went out for dinner the night before our concert; and Isabel and the kids came to our rehearsal at the Forbidden City Concert Hall before heading back to Hong Kong the night of our concert. In addition to discovering – or rediscovering – cities and concert halls throughout the world, meeting up with old friends, colleagues or former students is an aspect of life on tour which I particularly enjoy.

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For its first concert in China, the OSM performed tonight at the Forbidden City Concert Hall in Beijing! To be continued…

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Signature d'autographe avec Kent Nagano après le concert / Autograph signing session with Kent Nagano after the concert

Taking our leave of Japan it is hard to believe that we played our first concert of the tour only just over a week ago. In nine days we travelled from one side of Japan to the other on buses and trains and we even weathered a typhoon. We joyfully sampled Japanese culture while offering audiences some of our own. Recently, I wrote on the various halls and cities we performed in – what made them different and unique. For our last concert, we performed in Sapporo at the Kitara with its impressive organ and beautiful acoustic. The concert there was particularly spectacular, similar to Berlin’s Philharmonie Saal in design, and beautifully finished entirely of wood – it immediately became one of personal favourites of the OSM .

One aspect that makes this tour different from some of our others – in Europe or South America for example – is the relative newness of most of the concert halls: many Japanese concert halls were designed and built in the 1980s or 90s. Where we were impressed with the historical significance of some of the great European halls, here we have encountered daring architecture, carefully engineered acoustics and the bold shapes and ambiences of modern performance spaces. Though they may be young, many of the Japanese halls already have storied histories and beautiful resonant properties. Before the Maison symphonique de Montréal was built, the OSM musicians felt that all these halls were better than ours – including during our last tour here in 2008. This time, many of my colleagues mentioned to me how the tour felt different and how they will enjoy going back to our residence once our journey comes to an end.

Also, I have commented on the pace of our travels so far. Seven concerts in nine days is no small feat for a travelling group of so many people. Nonetheless spirits in our group have been high. It is impressive to observe that many among us have had the energy to take in the sights, sounds and tastes while still maintaining a consistently high level of performance every night. It speaks to the quality and integrity of the work of the OSM musicians.

How many times now have we performed each work on our tour repertoire list? At least a few times each, and some more than others. But far from repetitive, it is for us a rare and coveted opportunity reperform the same works, bringing new energy, fresh interpretations and greater refinement with each concert. Our audiences in Japan have been warm, gracious and enthusiastic, and our liaisons and concert organisers have worked with a characteristic professionalism and efficiency.

As we bid farewell to Japan, I am confident that before long we will see these halls again, since we have developed such a strong and significant rapport with the audiences here over the years.

But for now, in a new experience for the OSM, we will explore China in two more concerts – and with a radical change of repertoire. Both our concerts in Beijing and Shanghai will exclusively feature works by Richard Strauss. We have been drawn to the works of Strauss this year in remembrance of a former OSM conductor, Franz-Paul Decker, whose interpretations of those works were well-known and greatly respected – and who first brought the OSM in Asia 1970.

It is in this perspective that we are honoured to have the chance to bring our great tradition and Quebec sound to a Chinese audience for the first time.

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This tour is especially exciting for me because the OSM is going to China for the first time. At first I have to admit I was less than enthusiastic about visiting China. I had memories of my first and only trip to China with my family way back in 1992. It was so hot and stuffy in the summer, the tourist destinations were all crowded, and I remember not being able to read a single character or understand anything in Mandarin. But two great things happened because of this trip. The first thing, after returning home I decided that the next time I went to China I didn’t want to feel like such an illiterate! Entering into my 2nd year of University, I started Chinese classes and I did this for two years. This meant classes 4 days a week and nightly sessions of drilling those characters and strokes into my head. Slowly, I learned the tones of spoken Mandarin, and slowly I amassed a vocabulary. I practised by writing letters to my grandmothers, who could only read and write in Chinese. But with Chinese, if you don’t use the characters and continue reading and writing you can very quickly forget it all. In the 20 years since leaving university and living in Montreal, I can still speak a little bit but it takes me hours to write a letter as I have to check every character in the dictionary. This tour has inspired me to improve my Chinese again and I’ve been taking lessons for the past two months trying (desperately) to get some fluency back!

The other fantastic thing about my first trip to China happened in Shanghai. It was on August 19, 1992 to be exact. My family was part of a tour group and we were visiting the Children’s Palace that morning. I really don’t remember much about that day except that while we were in the gift shop I was approached by a girl a few years younger than me. She was trying to improve her English by working in the gift shop and helping the tourists. We talked for a few minutes and then she asked me if I wanted to exchange letters with her. Of course I said yes. When I was younger, I LOVED writing letters only because I loved RECEIVING letters even more. Her name is Ge Jia-Ying (or Tracy) and she lived in Shanghai. We wrote letters for the next 10 years, a few times a year, always in English. She heard about my life through graduate school, getting my first job in Winnipeg, meeting my husband, my wedding and finally my job in Montreal. I heard about her life after high school, the pressure of the entrance exams to get into a good university, the boredom of working life… and then, and I do believe it was my fault – I stopped writing.
After moving to Montreal in 2002, and starting my job at the OSM and then starting a family, I just didn’t write letters anymore.

Until now.

When I found out we were going to Shanghai, I realized this was my chance to see Tracy again. I went through her old letters, and found the last one I received in December 2001. In this letter, she gave me her email address. Even though we both had email for several years before that, we chose to keep writing letters. But this past June, I decided to write her an email. Ten seconds later, to my disappointment, the email bounced back to me. I now realized I had to sit down and write a proper letter, my first to her in 13 years!! I sent a photo of me and my two boys and at the end of the letter, I gave her my email address hoping that I’d get a faster response. And then I waited… With all the human migration going on in China, who knew where she might be now?

Four weeks later – I finally received a short email from Tracy! I was SO happy that I had found her again! She wrote “So thrilled to hear from you! I’m literally crying now! I’ll write you a long letter when I calm down…” And she did. I was equally thrilled to hear all her news and see a photo of her. We will meet up in Shanghai after the concert. I had already decided to stay in Shanghai a few more days after the tour ends so we will have extra time to catch up. And 22 years later, I’m hoping to finally talk to her in Mandarin.

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These last two halls in Japan, Suntory in Tokyo, and the Sapporo Concert Hall, “Kitara“, are inhabited by a similar spirit. They could be sisters.  The shape of each hall is similar, although Suntory’s shape is in the “vineyard” style and Kitara is described as “arena style” on its website.   Both are stunningly beautiful halls in the modern style, not very ornate, but with wonderful lines, lots of woodwork and great lighting.   Nobody seems too far away in either hall;  there are seats all around the stage to keep things intimate.

 The sister spirits of these halls are graceful, unobtrusive and eloquent.  There’s a feeling of supportive understanding as we play.  There’s no Loki flinging sound back at us, so there’s hardly any period of adjustment needed.  The spirits are allowing the music to flow uninhibited, just warming the sound enough to enhance, not enough to distract.

For the first time since arriving in Japan, at the end of the concert I saw a few people standing during the applause.  That’s very unusual here, where the norm is enthusiastic, prolonged applause, but no shouting or standing.  Tonight we had a bit of both. It was a nice way to end the Japan leg of the trip.

Looking forward to Beijing and Shangai, but with a touch of trepidation.  I’m curious, but what I’ve heard about the air pollution worries me!  Being a wind player (a trombonist, to boot!), I’m wondering what that kind of air might do to my lung capacity.  We’ll see. On our day off in Beijing there’s a trip organized to take some of us to the Great Wall. Can’t wait to see one of the Wonders of the World!

Not sure whether we’ll be blogging much from China, since the internet is a little iffy there, from what I understand.  Perhaps there will be some post-tour blogging to make up for it.

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Tim Hutchins, OSM principal flute, gives his impressions on the Japanese portion of the Asian tour

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Concert à Tokyo - Concert in Tokyo

After more than 6 years, the Japanese public welcomes back «it’s » OSM offering them exceptional concerts night after night!

Our trip to Japan, offered us incredible opportunities. We discovered an extremely rich millennial culture, made interesting encounters and soaked in the beautiful scenery and effervescence of the big cities. More importantly, however, it was the opportunity to see our Orchestra perform so brilliantly this rich and varied repertoire that makes this trip so important.

Each hall we performed in had its particularities, its colors. These differences gave each concert a beautiful new dimension. Maestro Nagano and Dina Gilbert, OSM assistant conductor, refined the sound during the acoustic rehearsals which helped the artists familiarize themselves with the space. These acoustic rehearsals are the perfect moment to work on the balance between the different sections of the orchestra and align the one musical path or the other to respect the musical text.

As for the concert experience, every night is different and unique. It gives us the chance to rediscover the French and Russian repertoire presented in Japan. Debussy, Ravel, Mussorgsky, Stravinsky, the Japanese public is not only very attentive but their applause confirms the admiration for our musicians and maestro Nagano. Encores are demanded after each performance. A virtuoso performance of Le Corsaire overture, Bizet’s Farandole was impeccable and what is there to say about the public’s reaction when the Orchestra performed some of the Japanese songs from their latest album “Shoka.” It was very touching to see a public, sometimes considered as reserved, nod and subtly swaying to this music that moves them so. When the last note was heard, the public still asked for more!

For Maestro Nagano, it’s after the concerts, during the very popular album signings, that he has the chance to meet the public. The compliments were never ending. Moved, they ask maestro for autographs on albums, phones, instrument cases or pictures they took with Maestro somewhere in the world. These privileged moments created beautiful reunions and Mo. Nagano had the chance to see colleagues and friends.

The last concert in Japan for the OSM was in Sapporo. The city was draped in fall colors just for us. We were still moved by the concert presented in Tokyo’s Suntory Hall, one of the most prestigious halls of the world. It has to be said that the OSM performance, heightened by an exceptional acoustic, was a memorable experience. The colors, shades, flexibility and subtlety of the ensembles are still ringing in our ears.

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One week and six concerts into our tour we have travelled from Tokyo Bay to the sea of Japan and back again. We started on a positive note in Tokyo city, jet-lagged from the long journey, and impressed by the sheer excitement of the world’s most populous urban centre. We mustered our energy for our concert at the Metropolitan Art Space, featuring soloist Ryu Goto with Stravinsky’s Violin Concerto in D, and were rewarded with such a wonderfully enthusiastic audience response – and this was only the beginning.

Then on to the city of Fukui with its majestic Harmony Hall. A much smaller city, surrounded by beautiful mountains; the contrast in pace couldn’t have been greater. Not far away, Kyoto the city of ten thousand shrines, was a sight to behold. As the former seat of the Imperial Palace, this ancient city is a lasting testament to the long and noble history of Japan. We performed in the Kyoto Concert Hall, home to the Kyoto Symphony Orchestra, and were joined in this concert by Boris Berezovsky for his powerful interpretation of Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 2. Then, we returned to the greater Tokyo area the naval port of Yokosuka and of an all-Ravel program in the horseshoe shaped concert hall of Yokosuka Arts Theatre. From one performance to the other, my colleagues musicians surpassed themselves to attain higher levels of perfection and we felt privileged to receive in return a generous and vibrant reception from the public.

When our concert at the Women’s University in Koriyama took place, in memory of the 2011 Fukushima earthquake, we felt privileged to offer the community a very special concert. We broke from our programming so far to present Onna-no-ko no uta, a selection of traditional Japanese songs in a new orchestral arrangement by Jean-Pascal Beintus. These songs, performed with soprano Erika Colon (and recently recorded by the OSM and Diana Damrau for the album Shoka: Japanese Children Songs) date back to the nineteenth century period in which Japan opened up culturally and economically to the west. Passed on from mothers to daughters, the songs confront this painful period of change in Japan with the regenerative power of music. So often in the face of adversity people turn to music as a source of hope and faith that beauty, cooperation and healing can prevail over pain and heartbreak. Through this special concert, my colleagues and I were deeply honored to have had the chance to make a musical contribution of our own to the healing process and the memory of the earthquake which caused so much destruction in this region only a few years ago.

It is with much anticipation that we travelled back down to Tokyo for a performance at the legendary Suntory Hall, which Herbert Von Karajan famously helped design in a similar style to the Berliner Philharmonie, with the audience seated all around the stage. As the finest ensembles of the world present themselves here (with Vienna and then Marinsky just before us), it is with pride that the OSM played for a sophisticated, warm and generous audience in a hall internationally renowned for its fantastic acoustic.

 

The OSM were called back for 9 curtain calls and 3 encores at Suntory so if the reception so far is any indication, we still have much to look forward to in the coming days.

 

 

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When it is a day of rehearsal and concert, I am always backstage or in my dad’s, dressing room. My dad is OSM concertmaster, Richard Roberts. In Sapporo, when the musicians were warming up for rehearsal, I explored the hall entirely. It was a huge and beautiful hall. What I loved the most was the big organ backstage. There are organs in almost every hall. My grandmother would be happy, it’s her favorite instrument.

I heard so many rehearsals and concerts; I’m starting to know the works by heart. I love the last encore, Georges Bizet’s “Farandole”. Yesterday, I was humming it all evening. I didn’t stop singing it to my parents.

Also, I am really happy when I find a piano to practice. Yesterday, there was one in my dad’s dressing room. When I practiced, I couldn’t hear the orchestra rehearse, but as soon as I finished practicing, I read a book listening to the orchestra play. I love listening and playing music and having musicians as a mom and dad!

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Concert au Metropolitan Art Space à Tokyo / Concert at  Tokyo's Metropoliitan Art Space

Sometimes we want to write right away; sometimes we need to breathe it in before writing it all down. I decided to wait this time. Japan is a beautiful, fascinating and refined country where politeness, cleanliness and precision in organization are equal to none. Here are then my comments on this Japanese tour, the second one for me.

I am a privileged witness to the OSM success. It’s always intriguing to sit with the audience every night. The Japanese audience might be reserved, but it was very sophisticated and warm towards our Orchestra. I could feel the admiration and enthusiasm of the public after the concerts. Particularly when maestro turns towards the musicians and make them rise one after the other and then all together. We witnessed many encores, resounding applause and arms in the air always asking for more.

I am always curious to see the reaction of the audience when the OSM performs the Japanese songs (works we just recorded under the Analekta record label). Do they recognize them? What impresses me every time however is the hundreds of people lining up after the concert to meet Kent Nagano to get his autograph or to simply thank him. We were also joined by the team at Sony to promote the release of our latest recording of the Beethoven symphonies (Nos. 2 and 4).

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There are 3 moments of this tour in Japan I will always cherish:

The Suntory Hall: a mythic hall! I will always remember the feeling I had the last time we performed here 6 years ago. We were still examining the possibility of building our Maison symphonique. The Suntory will always remain for me one of my favorite halls in the world. (I visited about 30 halls). It is also considered to be one of the best in the world. The acoustic is exceptional and the elegance of the architecture, breathtaking! My ears are still hearing the resonance and transparence of Debussy’s La Mer and Ravel’s Daphis and Chloe.

The second unforgettable moment for me is completely different. Seeing the warm welcome of the public when we arrived to Koriyama for the memorial concert for the victims of the Fukushima earthquake was truly touching. People were lined up next to our bus and applauded the musicians as they got off the bus. An unforgettable moment!

Activité éducative dans une école primaire de Yokosuka / Educational activity in a Yokosuka elementary school

Last but not least was the visit to the Higashiyama elementary school located in a Tokyo suburb. An orchestra with 10-12 year old musicians welcomed Kent Nagano, Dina Gilbert, OSM assistant conductor and Pierre Beaudry, OSM bass-trombone and our small team, in procession singing the Canadian national anthem. A huge poster overhanging the stage welcomed the OSM and Kent Nagano. They performed works for our conductor entirely from memory and with an incredible discipline which was pretty impressive. They asked for his comments in their carefully prepared Japanese and English. The older students joined them as well as Pierre Beaudry, (the kids were ecstatic around him!) and Kent Nagano conducted in Finlandia by Sibelius after working with them on the musical expression. The performance was followed by warm acknowledgements and autographs on instrument cases. Working with these students is so important! I had the impression that I was back in my Joliette youth orchestras a few (few…) years ago!! My first contact with classical music started there. Congratulations to Kent Nagano, to Pierre and Dina for their generosity. Thank you to Kajimoto, our producer, for organizing the event and for sharing Kent Nagano and the OSM’s vision on the importance of educational activities within the community.

And now: China!

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As members of the Orchestra’s board, we discuss the pros and cons of going on tour. The comments always include:

“What for?” “This will cost a lot of money and will have to be auto financed” “it’s risky” “it doesn’t help our local market!”

I would like to offer my perspective as one of the OSM board members participating at the OSM Asian tour.

A world-class orchestra

First and foremost, the OSM has to be considered as a world-class orchestra, it is at the heart of its mission. In order to do so, it is necessary to be compared to the best orchestras in the world, which is done by going on tour. As we are witnessing during the present tour in Japan and China, our orchestra is received with open arms. The halls were almost full, no less than 4-5 encores at each and every concert, “bravos” shouted by the audience, not usually done by the Japanese public, flowers offered to Kent Nagano spontaneously by fans and more than 300 fans waiting in line for an autograph after each concert. Absolutely unseen!

It’s risky!

Yes, but it depends who are your partners. Here, Kajimoto answers to this demand and offers precious support, an association that made 10 tours in Japan possible.

Kajimoto accepted to produce our tour at a guaranteed fee, taking care of the logistics which includes, travel, accommodations and every other detail that contribute to the well-being of the musicians and the concert’s success. The traveling logistics in train, metro, bus or plane was minutely prepared to make them as easy and as natural as possible.

The development of the musicians

I had the chance to speak to some of the young musicians of the orchestra during our travels. The answer is the same for everyone: participating on a tour, performing in different world renowned halls every night is an unrivaled experience.

Spending time with Kent Nagano and the best OSM musicians so intensely during the twenty day tour is particularly educational and every musician grows and becomes stronger.

To be an ambassador with Kent Nagano for 20 days

To perform in Montreal and go home after each concert, every day, is easy. To live, eat and perform together, night and after night, for a different audience for 20 days, is not so easy, but it creates relationships, camaraderie and solidarity among the musicians. It can only reinforce the orchestra which in turn produces a better product. On the international stage, Kent Nagano and the musicians are Canadian ambassadors, OSM ambassadors and classical music ambassadors.

The OSM Brand

The OSM and Kent Nagano represent an important Canadian brand that different governmental administrations (for Quebec and Canada but also Montreal) are proud to export overseas. We have to invest in tours to maintain, consolidate and grow our international notoriety in order to preserve this precious relationship in the future.

The audience in Quebec loves to win in sports, in arts, in business. They are proud of what they accomplish. If the local media speaks about our successes overseas positively, the enthusiasm and the support of the local market for our concerts presented in Montreal will be bigger than ever!

Georges Morin,
Member of the OSM Board of directors

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Eating on tour always presents its challenges. On the plus side, we have the opportunity to try different foods from all around the world.  On the negative side, we are often eating on the go, at airports and train stations.  This is difficult for the health conscious, but it’s even more difficult if you have dietary restrictions.

My dietary restrictions are really nothing serious, but at home I don’t eat gluten, and I don’t eat red meat at all.  One meal with some wheat might be ok, but after a day or two of this I really don’t feel well.  During the OSM tours to South America and Europe, it was nearly impossible for me to avoid gluten on tour.  Food on the go was almost always a sandwich, which never leaves me feeling great.

So far, Asia has been so much easier!  There are so many options that don’t include bread and red meat.  Starting on day one when I ate the traditional Japanese breakfast of raw fish over rice, I knew this tour would be so much healthier for me.  Here are a few gluten- free or low in gluten options that I enjoyed in Japan:

Sushi, obviously

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Donburi: raw fish on rice

Donburi fish on rice

Soba noodles are made mostly from buckwheat, which is gluten free! I had no idea, and it was amazing.  

soba noodles

 

Sautéed veggies and tofu with beans and fish flakes

 

Sautéed veggies and tofu with beans and fish flakes

And of course, some less gluten free options that I just had to try:

Tempura- There is gluten in the batter

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Ramen- a bowl full of gluten

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I hope China is just as easy and successful for food as Japan was!

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Listen to Patrick Masbourian’s interview on ICI Radio-Canada Première

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