from Jerusalem Post
January 2, 2000
Youngsters prove up to the challenge
A stage densely populated with young people turned into an immensely enjoyable night: 100 players from 20 countries, in the concert of Jerusalemfs International Symphony Youth Orchestra, conducted by Uri Segal.
The almost forbiddingly ambitious program ? Malherfs Symphony No.2.hResurrectionh- poses a formidable challenge even for an established adult orchestra, to say nothing of youngsters who met for only five rehearsals. The surprise was that it was an excellent, exciting performance by any standards. What was perhaps lacking in experience was made up for by youthful freshness, enthusiasm, involvement, and resolve to respond to the conductorfs every intention. The orchestral sound was rich, well rounded and homogeneous, the various contrasting instrument groups sounded thoroughly professional, and the overall result was an impressive, inspired performance of the demanding work.
The two solo singers, soprano Danna Glaser and mezzo-soprano Janine Hawley captured the workfs spirit
well and blended in finely with their environmentfs sonorities.
The Tokyo Oratorio Choir, reinforced by the Ramat Gan Chamber Choir, was a pure delight. An indescribably quiet, subtle piano, produced by soft, caressing and cultured voices, working up very gradually to the workfs grandiose climax, came close to a realization of wishful thinking for a work of such dimensions.
As an organizer of concert tour in Israel
The idea of taking the choir to Israel started last March, when Maestro Uri Segal sent me an e-mail in which he asked if it would be possible to bring a choir of 150 members to Israel in order to sing Mahlerfs gResurrectionh Symphony.
From then on it was nine months of worries. We had no idea if anyone would actually want to go to Israel, we did not know what to do if only 10 or 15 people registered for the tour, we did not know how people would react if there was some kind of terrorist attack in Israel. On top of this we did not know if people would be able to book flights for the Christmas and New Year period, and there were also the problems connected with the year 2000. And then there was all the hard work, and itfs unbelievable how much work was involved in planning this project. There was something, which had to be done virtually every day, whether it was a fax to be answered, an e-mail message to be sent or a telephone call of some kind, which had to be made.
But now I can look back and say (with a certain amount of relief) that the project was a huge success. The concerts were an unforgettable experience for everyone involved. They not only gave the members of the Japanese choir a chance to meet with the members of the Israeli choir, but also to sing with world famous ensembles like the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra and the Prague Chamber Choir.
It is also a source of great satisfaction to me that almost 100 of my friends from Japan had the opportunity to see Israel, a place most of them would not have visited if it were not for this project. Even though the concert schedule was very tight, everybody made good use of every second of free time to see as much of the country as possible. I know that people had bad experiences as well as good ones, such as being overcharged by Israelfs notorious taxi drivers, but that is all part of gtastingh a new country and culture. But seeing everyonefs genuine excitement at what they were seeing and experiencing in Israel was a great joy for me.
Some people were kind enough to say to me gJonathan, if it wasnft for you, then this project would never have happened,h but this is not true. It is not because of me that this project happened; after all, I could have worked all day every day, but if no one had wanted to join the tour then we would have got nowhere. No, it is because of each and every member of the choir that this project came to fruition, all of you who were prepared to make the necessary effort take the time and spend the considerable amount of money needed for participation.
All I can say is that I thank all of you from the bottom of my heart.
There is nothing more beautiful in todayes often called ?globalg world but to bring people together ? people from different regions of the world, with different backgrounds, cultures, values and ways of thinking; at least for me, after growing up myself between two cultures, Germany and Japan, and experiencing ? differenceg in so many situations at so many points in my life ? but also experiencing the warmth of being welcomed and hosted with an open heart by people to whom I was, after all, a stranger...
When I responded enthusiastically to Mr.Gunjifs (chorus leader of the Tokyo Oratorio Society) request to look for a German chorus with the purpose of a joint concert in Germany, I did not imagine (fortunately) the amount of work I had just accepted. Instead, I very soon found a chorus in favor of the project, the ? Philharmonischer Chor Koelng, which I reckoned very soon was a perfect partner to Mr.Gunjifs chorus, in the sense that it was in the same way a community of enthusiastic amateur singers, regionally rooted, and doing much more than ?just singingg together ? (but when they were singing, they did it at a high level).
Bring them together and it will ?clickg ? so I thought and did. Of course, I insisted on the possibility of homestays, to provide the chance of ?realg individual encounters ? with the result that about half of the japanese guests would dare the adventure of participating for some days at ?true german lifeg. The numbers of hosts and ?candidatesg corresponding in a miraculous way, I dedicated myself much too late to more details ? then finding out with a shiver that most hosts were actually offering real double beds for 2 guests each, whereas on the japanese side, we had only 4 real couples (so much for the ?trueg experience to come...). Similarly alarming were the numbers of smokers on the German side versus the numbers of those candidates who did not like smoke, as well as (to my surprise) the numbers of japanese disliking pets versus the numbers of hosts having, quite natural in Germany, all sorts of pets, etc. etc.
Fortunately, it was by then much too late to change anything, and so I received with relief a list of artificial ?couplesg from Japan (just to get know at the day of their arrival that the combinations still had to be disclosed to those concerned as a ?fait accomplig ? an unchangeable fact ?...). In the meantime, the hosts were getting excited about the intercultural experience they were facing, too... reflected in oh so many questions to be answered ? if japanese people can digest milk, if they need rice for breakfast, if they can drink alcohol, etc. etc. To both sides, I sent the ultimate message: be as you are, but face it with an open mind, take it as an adventure, youfll like the experience... The project approaching, I was overwhelmed with organisatory requirements, communication between Germany and Japan highly intensifying ? and all of a sudden the day had come when I went to welcome the 90 choir members from Japan.
The next 5 days, the period of the ?projectg itself, are, for those in charge of the coordination, a memory of hyperintense presence and the simultaneity of thousands of decisions, numerous conversations led at the same time, and an incessant rushing here and there; with a very slight perception of the ? realitiesg of others around you: the first common rehearsal, the first encounter between hosts and guests (you may realize for a moment their disappearing together, ?homeg, in excited conversation), orchestra rehearsals, hall-preparations, dress-rehearsal --- until suddenly you realize that you are sitting in the concert you have been preparing for 14 months, and 230 german and japanese singers are singing most beautifully a chorale from St.Matthewfs passion ? a very moving ?awakeningg.
It was only after the concert, with this sudden relaxation over the first free rounds of Koelsch (= Colognefs famous beer) that I started listening to individual ?experiencesg of the participants, hearing anecdotes of human encounters, of desperate efforts to communicate through dictionaries and gestures, of funny misunderstandings and their solutions, and the more. The next day, during farewell at the bus, with so many people hugging, waving hands, and some crying, I knew that there were even more stories to be told and heard after this week; and that my experiment had worked out to provide the chance of the invaluable human experience of intercultural encounter I had made, to others. And that it was certainly worth doing it again, and again, and again ? to gradually fill the term ? globalizationg with personal and concrete truth for every one of us.
As soon as we arrived in Koeln, our bus took us directly to a western surburb, where we met and had our first rehearsal with Mr.Meinardus, the conductor and director of the Koeln Philharmony Chorus. It went very well and afterwards we all walked to another rehearsal place, the large, nice Kolen city rehearsal hall, where we met the Koeln Philharmony Chorus members and had our first common rehearsal for the Mattaeus Passion by J.S.Bach.
I was very happy to be back in Germany again after several years and enjoyed talking in German with the nice people of the Germain chorus. But the most amazing surprise Came when I found out that all our rehearsals were right in Koeln-Lindenthal. Here I had come back to my place of birth for the first time since I was born, without even knowing it. I think it was destiny. I was very excited and happy and from then on enjoyed the many interesting rehearsals and wonderful concerts, in Koeln in the modern and beautiful Philharmony Hall and in Maastricht in the very old and historic cathedral, with an even greater appreciation. The wonderful music of Bach and Brahms brought Japanese, German and Dutch people closer together than any other political power.
Many thanks to Maestro Gunji and his tireless crew of organizers for a memorable experience.
(The Director of Tokyo Oratorio Society)
When our performances of Bach's Matthew
Passion and Brahms' German Requiem in Germany and Holland were finalized, I
realized it would be a good chance for me to sing in the chorus, something that
is always impossible for me in Tokyo as I am always too busy with last minute
We have never performed such massive works in any of our tours so far, so I was wondering how the joint choirs would be able, in a very small number of rehearsals, to react to the dramatic changes in tempo and dynamics necessary in the Matthew Passion, and how the audience would react to such a large choir in this age of "authentic" Baroque performances. I thought it would also be interesting to see how the intricate textures of the German Requiem would sound in a church acoustic, and how the conductor would lead choirs that he is not used to working with. Another thing I looked forward to with interest was seeing whether these performances would be more than just a friendly meeting between two choirs and become something of real artistic value. I knew that this would be a really good opportunity to think about how our choir should grow in the future.
The choirs we sang with in Cologne and Maastricht were both of a very high level. I had previously heard a recording of the Cologne choir singing Handel's Messiah, and I was also lucky enough to be present at a Mass in which the Maastricht choir sang the Mass by Poulenc. They were both so wonderful that I was afraid that adding our choir to them would only serve to lower the level! However, when we all met I realized that there was not such a wide gap in the individual levels of each member, and as our choir had quite recently performed both works in Tokyo, we were by all means able to hold our own.
When we take it upon ourselves to perform works like these, we rehearse under a lot of pressure, and it is debatable whether our ardor and enthusiasm really contribute effectively to the end result. No such ardor could be seen among the members of the German and Dutch choirs, and I imagine that this is because they have been brought up with this music since
their childhood, and for them sacred music is not special music but everyday music.
In Cologne, the conductor Horst Meinardus was very successful in unifying the large choir and presenting a dramatic performance. His ideas for tempo changes, adjustments in the number of people singing in each choral number, and how to get the chorus to stand up and sit down without disturbing the flow of the music were all wonderful. However, it could be said that he didn't succeed in bringing out the sadness, hope and faith that I feel are always present in this work, which I think is a "religious work which must be sung over the backdrop of the sadness of losing a loved one". This could have been due to the conductor's character, and it goes without saying that this is also a perfectly legitimate way of performing this work.
In the Maastricht German Requiem, due to the large number of women in the Japanese choir, we added 3 or 4 professional men in order to correct the balance problems. Possibly because of the confusion surrounding the problems with the balance, while I was singing I felt that the intricacies of the work were somewhat muffled. But the church acoustic came to the rescue, giving the impression that the sound literally came down from heaven, and it seems that the problems we had were not perceptible to the audience.
The St.Servaas church choir was of considerable ability, and even though there were places in which it was more due to them rather than us, it was a magnificent performance. The soloists were first rate, and the orchestra, in which many members of Maestro Hirokami's Limburg Symphony Orchestra were present, had a deep and stable tone, but did not manage to master the difficulties of playing in a church acoustic (more accented entries were necessary). However, churches give us the inexplicable ability to "purify" music in our minds, and there are no words to express beauty of Brahms' music as it sounded there.
I am sure that the organizers had no idea of the level of the Tokyo Oratorio Society, and were extremely worried about what kind of choir they were going to get. However, the conductor, the staff and all the members of the choirs did not show this at all, showing great friendship towards us and giving us a heartfelt welcome. During the concert, while being enveloped in a
particularly beautiful aria, it was a particular pleasure for me to observe the warm reaction of the audience, of a kind rarely seen in Japan. I was also deeply impressed by the efficient way in which the conductor handled all the mishaps and accidents, which inevitably occur during rehearsals. The same problems seem to occur everywhere: the placing of the instruments, getting the soloists to stand up in the right places, arranging the chorus, making sure everyone has the same edition of the score, the lack of time during the dress rehearsal etc, and it was a very great pleasure for me to sit back and see how the conductor overcame all these issues.
Also, all the members of the staff treated us wonderfully. They showed us that it is important for people who make music to not only improve their technique, but also to welcome newcomers and "widen the circle" of people involved. This certainly served as a warning to us, who often forget the importance of the principle of "improving your level and widening the circle" in art.
Many different encounters are made possible through music. During our trip last year to Israel, I woke up one night and went down to the lobby of the Kibbutz hotel in which we were staying. There, I saw four young people enjoying themselves playing as an impromptu string quartet. The four were members of the Jerusalem International Youth Orchestra, which attracts brilliant young musicians from around the world. I will never forget seeing them playing there, intent on making the most of every second of the short time they had to mix with young people from different cultures and societies. I listened to them with such rapt attention I forgot to wipe the tears, which welled up in my eyes.
This time too, I will never forget the sense of achievement of getting apiece ready for performance with a very small number of rehearsals, together with people from different countries. The send off we were given by the conductor and the members of the Philharmonic Choir in Cologne, the final party in Maastricht and our conversations in broken English, and the smiles. These were the product of friendships born between people who had the privilege of creating something together.
This was a chance to examine the achievements of the Tokyo Oratorio Society, which for many years has held concerts in a number of foreign countries. It was also a new beginning.