Thank you all for following your orchestra on tour in Asia on the #OSMTour blog! Here is a glimpse of the concert in Sapporo!
It is one thing to travel the world performing in many different cities and across entire continents, as many professional musicians do quite regularly. But is another thing altogether to travel and perform with an entire orchestra and a group of nearly 130 people including support staff. It is a monumental undertaking in every sense – energy-wise, logistically, financially – and this is not even to mention the most important part of all, the music!
Remarkably, it is the music that holds a tour like this together. Much like in Montreal, we gather on a daily basis while on tour to perfect our ensemble, mine ever deeper and more meaningful interpretations from the works we rehearse. This is when my colleagues and I are at home – the moments between hotels, high-speed trains, busses and schedules, when we get to regroup and make music. And our great joy is to encounter a new hall and a new public every night. Concert etiquette is different in each country, but sincere appreciation translates through every language. We have been honored by the enthusiasm and genuine respect shown us by audiences throughout our entire journey through Japan and China.
Over the last 20 days we have fulfilled many goals of our broad cultural mission. I take this moment to congratulate and thank each and every member of the OSM for their consummate professionalism, endless energy, but most of all the consistent level OF excellence that can only be achieved through total dedication and cohesion within the ensemble.
Less publicized but just as important, we have had the unforgettable opportunity to meet and work with young musicians in both Japan and China. At Higashiyama school in Yokosuka we were impressed with the high level and exceptional attention to detail of the school orchestra, and humbled by their gracious welcome. A visit to the China Youth Symphony Orchestra for a masterclass introduced us to some of the most talented young people in that country. At Koriyama Women’s University we had the opportunity to offer our music in remembrance of the devastating earthquake of Fukushima – an unforgettable experience which seemed to genuinely touch the community, who thanked and applauded us heartily.
We felt the spirits of past musical legends at the magnificent Suntory Hall in Tokyo, where the very best orchestras regularly play. And within Beijing’s Forbidden City we had the singular experience of introducing Strauss’ Symphonia Domestica to a Chinese audience for the first time. Some of our musicians were able to make a pilgrimage to one of the great wonders of the world – the Great Wall of China – before our final appearance in Shanghai.
I must finally express my deep thanks on behalf of all the musicians, to our producers and concert organizers, to our sponsors and partners, and to the staff along with us and back in Montreal who have worked countless hours to make this tour run like a well-oiled machine. The graciousness of our hosts at every concert venue was only matched by the efficiency and precision by which our travel plans were executed.
All in all it has been a wonderful cultural and musical experience. Every time the orchestra goes on tour, we return to Montreal the better for it – a stronger, more unified and inspired ensemble. This is the energy that my colleagues and I will now carry forward through our season at the Maison symphonique in Montreal.
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.
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!
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.
After a heartfelt farewell to Japan, we arrived in Beijing for the OSM’s first ever performance in mainland China. Another one of the world’s largest, busiest and most active cities, Beijing is constantly on the move forward. And yet everywhere are the reminders of the thousands of years of history: beautiful temples and luscious gardens, particularly within the area of the legendary Forbidden City.
We were delighted at the opportunity to take part in the 2014 Beijing Music Festival – a tribute to Richard Strauss on the 150th anniversary of his birth. Performing in the esteemed company of other guest orchestras including the Munich Philharmonic and l’Orchestre de Paris, this festival gave us the chance to perform an all-Strauss concert. We even found ourselves in the remarkable position of performing the Chinese premiere of Strauss’ Symphonia Domestica. It is not every day that one gets the occasion to premiere a hundred-year old work by Richard Strauss!
Lesser known in China than some of the other European masters, audiences here welcomed our performance of Strauss’ music warmly and enthusiastically. We also played Tod und Verklärung, which presents profound emotion, grandiose gestures and instrumental virtuosity, making the experience of performance intense and deeply gratifying. The soaring melodic beauty of the Four Last Songs was a moving way to end our concert at the Forbidden City Concert Hall, surrounded by the splendor of Beijing Zhongshan Park, a former Imperial garden. Soprano Olga Peretyatko interpreted these four songs with great sincerity, and my OSM colleagues, as always, approached the music with energy, style and a profound sense of reverence.
As the 4 last songs ended a program which begins with huge symphonic forces playing with verve and slowly evolved into an exceptionally poetic and reflective ending it was here that we, or at least I, felt that we were performing for a different audience in a different land, within the context of a different culture with Strauss texts in the German language.
Normally, as in Montreal, such existential texts would bring quiet listening and thoughtful response following a performance, especially when sung as well as Ms. Peretyatko. In my experience there have been times when there was no applause at all and only a silence reflecting the solemnity of the atmosphere. In Beijing and Shanghai however, there was joyous, warm and appreciative applause between and after each lied. The text was in the program so surely the audience were aware of each lied’s meaning. To me, it suggested a completely different cultural relationship to life, the metamorphoses from life to death, and to thoughts of afterlife between the east and west cultures.
It is only a part of the never ending discovery and deep richness which comes when taking part of a tour such as this.
With literally hundreds of museums, temples, historic sites and cultural attractions, one could stay and explore Beijing for weeks. But in our now-well-established habit, we packed our suitcases in preparation for travel. We next performed in Shanghai at the Grand Theatre - another first for the OSM - on the occasion of the Shanghai International Arts Festival, which 16th edition features Canada. It is in this context that it felt a privilege to serve as cultural ambassadors. This was our last stop before returning to Montreal, and as we put an end to our Asian tour and a first visit to China, it certainly felt like it will not be the last time.
For its first concert in China, the OSM performed tonight at the Forbidden City Concert Hall in Beijing! To be continued…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.