Musical exchanges

Musical exchanges

The Tokyo Symphony Orchestra launches its 'Asia Project' with a stirring performance

Musical exchanges
Violin soloist Moné Hattori.

A completely packed Thailand Cultural Centre (TCC) was witness to a truly awe-inspiring concert on March 22, as a top visiting orchestra, the Tokyo Symphony Orchestra (TSO), took to the stage to officially mark the opening of its brand new, brave initiative called "Asia Project".

Aimed at developing multifaceted activities throughout the region to further promote the value of cultural and human exchanges through the universal values of music, the programme consisted of two major pillars of the classical orchestra repertoire -- Sibelius' Violin Concerto and Brahms' Symphony No.1 In C Minor.

Japan, of course, boasts a plethora of world-class orchestras which exhibit consistently high levels of performance and excellence, and both the Royal Bangkok Symphony Orchestra (RBSO) and Silpakorn University Music Faculty are delighted to have recently signed a meaningful new partnership with the TSO to promote their qualities of constant improvement, tenacity and vigour here in Thailand.

Every ticket was sold for this unique event, with a sizeable contingent of the Japanese community coming out in support, and consequently the atmosphere in the Thailand Cultural Centre had a noticeably higher-than-usual sense of excited anticipation in the busy foyer, and also as the TSO musicians took to the stage.

Honorary guest conductor Naoto Otomo -- for a long time a highly regarded leading figure and central to the Japanese orchestral scene -- directed the TSO with great assurance from the podium, with young violin sensation Moné Hattori making a bold entrance in a dazzling blue-green dress for that most iconic of all violin concertos, that by Finnish composer Sibelius. Still only 24, this prodigious talent was born in Tokyo into an influential musical family, taking the musical world by storm at a very tender age in 2009 when she became first prize winner of the 11th Lipinski & Wieniawski Competition for Young Violinists in Poland.

Since 2020, Hattori has been studying with the great teacher Zahkar Bron, one of today's leading pedagogues, as well as at the Toho Gakuen School of Music -- Tokyo's own admired institution of excellence.

Performing on a priceless, sweet-sounding 1743 Pietro Guarneri violin (on generous loan from Ueno Fine Chemicals Industry), her approach to the Sibelius was certainly one of the most energised that this reviewer has ever encountered, with breakneck tempos in the already rapid passage-work of the outer movements challenging the audience's ears to keep up with her ultra fiery interpretation.

The orchestra supported sympathetically throughout, with secure contributions from the viola front desk in the first Allegro moderato movement, the clarinets in the second Adagio di molto movement, and all string front desks in a rhythmically taut Allegro, ma non tanto finale. Meanwhile, Hattori's lightning-fast delivery of the famous up-bow-staccato challenge in rising 3rds was of the truly dare-devilish variety, on the very edge of left- and right-hand technical feasibility!

Overwhelmed by this experience, the enraptured audience then demanded not one but two encores from the soloist -- Cleopatra by Turkish composer Fazil Say and Scherzo by Fritz Kreisler, both of which showcased her incredible, jaw-dropping virtuosity.

Conductor Naoto Otomo.

A powerful, full-blooded reading of Brahms' Symphony No.1 after the intermission then made an equally positive impression on the patrons of the TCC and reminded everyone of what the composer broadly set out to accomplish with this pivotal opus. In his daunting self-imposed mission to match Beethoven's symphonic legacy (as self-conscious heir-apparent to the "great creator"), he became utterly obsessed with filling every last corner of his own all-embracing universal conception with a comprehensive compositional content vis-à-vis every parameter of musical language. The extensive exploration of melody and thematic development, driving rhythmic vitality and insistent phrasing, the profound harmonic structuring which propels the overall design from C minor to tonic major (as in Beethoven's 5th) -- all these aspects were conveyed forcibly.

Not least, it was his desire to cover so comprehensively the vast instrumental range and pitch-register possibilities of the symphony orchestra, which also preoccupied Brahms to a large degree, and in this polished interpretation by maestro Naoto Otoma and the Tokyo Symphony Orchestra, that aspect of symphonic "high fidelity" came across most convincingly. Hence, the lower strings, in particular, with impressively honed double-bass and cello sections underpinning with deep and resonant tone, projected noticeably well into the cavernous TCC -- a space so large that this level of tone production is often, alas, not achieved.

Moreover, a wonderfully rounded and penetrating contra-bassoon timbre added significant weight and presence to Brahms' thick textural orchestration, as did the finely blended trombone section. At the other end of the registered spectrum, the TSO also boasts excellent woodwind players in every seat, not to mention a very fine-sounding upper-string section led by concertmaster Issey Kobayashi who played his slow movement solo beautifully. The poignant French Horn solo, which heralds the gloriously extended transition into the tonic major denouement, was also rendered with a sublime panache.

Consequently the TSO also needed two encores to fully satiate the crowd's enthusiasm. Sweet Words by King Bhumibol Adulyadej the Great was most fitting as regards to the friendship theme of this concert, followed by Yagibushi, an electrifying Japanese folk song arrangement which really brought the house down. Bringing into stark relief the truth that all neighbouring countries in a geographical region retain their own distinct cultural characteristics and styles, this juxtaposition was indeed a delightful way to bring proceedings to a close.

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