Our Stravinsky and Prokofiev programme for the RLPO Japan Tour 2015 was put to bed last night. I always enjoy playing The Rite of Spring. It was written just over a hundred years ago and sounds as fresh as a daisy today. I’m not in The Firebird this time, but it is always a pleasure for me to listen off stage. I also like playing the quietly fancy trumpet part to the third piano concerto by Prokofiev. However, that programme is not being played again, and the Shostakovich/Rachmaninov programme for the rest of the tour. About twenty musicians would no longer be required so they set off to fly back to the UK this morning, after breakfast. It turns out, by all accounts, that their journey has been anything but smooth. I have just received the following from the legend, second tuba Ryan Breen, “… There was a malfunction on one of the air con/pressure systems and they can’t take off unless they have both, incase one malfunctions mid flight. That took an hour. Then we had to circle Heathrow for an hour due to the backlog of traffic from the U.S snowstorms. We missed the connection to Manchester, but they got the whole group on the next flight, so it could’ve gone worse!! We will be setting off in a moment, and only arriving back one hour later than originally planned! Really enjoyed the tour . Hope you guys have a good few days and a better journey back than us!!”
Could’ve been worse then…
During my wife’s time working in Sendai, Toko became very friendly with three teachers from Tohoku University. They were travelling all the way down from Sendai to hear the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra perform in Tokyo Suntory Hall. Toko and I set off to meet these young ladies at the rather grand Imperial Hotel, after which we would all be going for lunch in Ginza, just four doors down from the flagship Yamaha Music Store.
The Imperial Hotel is known by reputation as one of the best in Tokyo and this year is celebrating 125 years since opening. It is of course still a way off being as old as the RLPO, this year celebrating 175 years since starting off, but still a fine achievement. Incidentally, the RLPO is the oldest professional orchestra in the UK having started in 1840. This makes us more senior than the Vienna Philharmonic and the New York Philharmonic!
Ginza is merely a short walk from the Imperial Hotel, so off we set. Having spent a couple of grand on a new trumpet two days earlier at Yamaha Ginza I recognised the route to the restaurant as we passed through. The Yamaha store is an imposing fourteen floors high, so is easily spotted. Just a few doors away from there, we descended some steps going beneath pavement level to a pretty basement restaurant.
The food was basically as shown below. I was curious about the bowl of yellow ‘custard looking stuff’ on the left. This was an absolutely delicious bowl of savoury, hot tofu containing lots of vegetable ‘surprises’. The noodle dish contained fish & chicken and was equally delicious.
The lady on the left of the Photo a little earlier is Nao. Nao is currently waiting to leave Sendai to marry her fiance and live in Atlanta Georgia. Na0ko, the lady on the right of that photo is coming to live in London with her Psychiatrist husband and family and the lady in the middle, Norika, will remain in Sendai. Apart from them coming to see Toko it was a real compliment that they should travel so far to hear our second concert at Suntory Hall. They explained that pianist Nobuyuki Tsujii-san is treated like a rock star in Japan and is regarded as a national treasure. The Royal family often hear him play. Vasily Petrenko was also very well known to them. How well informed and cultured the Japanese people are. I am going to make a determined effort on return to the UK to be as nice, helpful and well mannered to people back home as these people have been to me…
I had to leave quite early because of the RLPO afternoon rehearsal but once outside the restaurant I found myself unable to resist popping into the Yamaha Ginza shop again. I couldn’t think of anything to buy, to be honest, so I settled on two small brushes. One for inside my mouthpiece and a slightly bigger, longer one for inside my trumpets.
I made straight for Suntory Hall for the one hour rehearsal. On arrival, Nobuyuki Tsujii was already practicing like mad on the piano as the orchestra gradually assembled around him. At the post-concert reception last night, Nobu (as he likes to be known) made a very moving speech, saying how much he had enjoyed working with the RLPO and that we must ‘do it again soon’! Well, we would be absolutely delighted. Tsujii-san is a pleasure to work with!We ‘top and tailed’ the third piano concerto by Rachmaninov. I am not in this piece so Section Leader Trumpet Rhys Owens agreed to play my new Yamaha 9610 D and E flat trumpet and I would sit in the audience stalls to listen to my new toy. Just in case anyone missed the photo of my new trumpet yesterday, here it is again. Any opportunityto show it off!
I blog a lot and do a lot of solo work and high level contemporary music etc. I think because of this a lot of people assume I am the first trumpet here. That is far from the case! I play first trumpet about half of the time. I am also the first cornet player of the orchestra and do some of the high profile stuff such as concerti, recitals, Messiahs etc but Rhys is the boss and has been in the orchestra for a quarter of a century.
The RLPO is very lucky to have him as he can turn his hand to just about anything. He is one of the finest first tumpets in the business. Therefore, I couldn’t wish wish for a better tester for the new trumpet. It sounded just great; everything I’d hoped for. He agreed that it was a very good trumpet indeed!
TRUMPET TIPS – Just in case there are any would be professional trumpeters reading this, it is said that: the first trumpet is the stunt man of the section. He gets left alone to do all those difficult, fiddly, pearly solos. The conductor will leave him alone to work out what he is going to do. The job of the second trumpet is to make the first trumpet sound in tune and to make sure he gets home in a good mood. Principal trumpet is a very intense position! It is the job of the third trumpet to be available to play any first part, at no notice, at any time.
If the trumpet section is on tour playing Mahler 5 and the first trumpet eats the seafood curry, the third player had better eat it too!
After the short rehearsal, I went back to my room in the next door ANA Intercontinental Hotel to ‘chill out’ before the concert for about an hour. I then dressed into my concert gear and set off for the ‘gig’ next door. Suntory Hall has an amazing installation at the front of house entrance which calls the audience to the hall when the doors open and they want to inform the people to start coming in…
The hall was already filling up. There was a buzz of excitement.
This concert, as the one yesterday, has been sold out for ages! My wife’s three friends from Sendai had to book a long way ahead. My wife and father-in-law actually only got tickets because our Chief Executive, Michael Eakin, was unable to join the tour because he is overseeing the continuing refurbishment of Liverpool Philharmonic Hall.
The front of house area had a very large selection of CDs on display. Loads of RLPO ones and very many Nobyuki Tsujii CDs too. Classical music is getting very commercially aware these days. I think it has taken many years to shift the millstone around our necks that classical music is elitist. I always remind myself when we wake up that orchestras are part of a sublime art form but we are also part of the entertainment business and have had to reinvent ourselves for a present and future audience.
Once again, the concert was a tremendous success. Nobuyuki Tsujii is being greeted by the Japanese with a reverence and level of excitement that is very moving. He played two encores again. It must be incredibly tiring to play those really big concertos and maintain concentration to further enthral the audience with extra music. The soloist must be shattered enough already!
The RLPO, having performed…
Shostakovich : Festive Overture
Rachmanonov : Piano Concerto no. 3
Shostakovich : Symphony no. 10
… were certainly likewise, shattered! It is a great symphony but two encores sufficed. I went straight to bed…
Once upon a time, Japanese audiences had a reputation for being very reserved. That is certainly not the case when Nobu plays or when Petrenko conducts the RLPO here.
It is a pleasure to be in Japan! We feel just as much at home here as Liverpool…