Tokyo musical typhoon in Košice

One of the highlights of the year’s musical production during Košice ECOC 2013 will undoubtedly be considered to be the concert by the Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra. The very fact that such an ensemble performed in Košice is an event whose importance hardly anyone realizes, though it is almost certain that getting orchestras of a similar calibre to Košice in the coming years will not be so easy. The Tokyo group arrived after performances at the Prague Spring Festival and Ostrava’s Janáček May in full force, which they decided to showcase at the House of Arts in Košice under the leadership of their residential conductor Kazuhito Koizumi.



As an easy appetizer, the sold-out auditorium was served a composition by the Japanese author Kosaku Yamada (1886-1965). The short Overture in D major, in sound and form flirted with the European tradition of the imaginary intersection somewhere between Beethoven and Mendelssohn. With its classicist lines it excited and whetted the appetite of listeners for the main work of the evening. The first of these was the Violin Concerto in A minor, op.53 by Antonin Dvorak. The soloist performing was young Japanese violinist Sayaka Shoji. This phenomenally talented violinist, who won the Paganini competition at the age of 16 as the youngest participant in history, was noticed by famous conductor Zubin Mehta and their cooperation meant a great start of her great artistic career. Dvorak’s concerto in her interpretation was very robust, virtuoso and dramatic. Shoji has a beautiful tone, every detail of her playing is beautifully drawn and the sound of her Stradivarius playfully exceeded the orchestral tutti in tense areas, on the other hand, even the subtle pianissimo and flanger sounded resonant and plastic. The performance by the soloist and orchestra can not be described otherwise than as perfect. Possible controversy could be caused perhaps by the excess intensity of the of the soloist’s performance, somewhat depersonalised pursuit of perfectionism and commitment at the expense of tenderness and lyrical sensibility of the second part and the Finale, which did not rely too much on the character of Czech folk music and amusing danceability, but rather was marked by the monumental spirit of virtuosity, pathos and ferocity.

The highlight of the evening was undoubtedly Symphony No. 5 in E minor, op. 64 by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. Koizumi, who conducted the entire concert from memory, directed the flow of music with just fine movements of his hands outstretched in front of him and at that moment it was impossible not to think of the legendary Herbert von Karajan and the fact that Koizumi studied in Berlin. Perhaps also because the Tokyo orchestra sound evoked the dense, complete and deep accent of the sound of the Berlin Philharmonic in the Karajan era. Typical characteristics of the Tokyo orchestra were the strictly “European” sound, the perfect line of bows, the perfect harmony of the wind section, fantastic playing of the brass instruments, unique interplay, depth of expression and cooperation with the presented music, the plasticity of the lines and the enchanting musicality.


After the introductory part, full of resolute movement and painful stops, the second part of the symphony was of a particular interest. It was Andante cantabile, which was in excellent proportions, even in spite of the heavy sound of bows; the woodwinds came naturally to the fore whenever the music required it. The finale of the symphony meant the climax of the evening and the dramatic tension caused some less experienced audience to applaud even before the end of it. The deep emotional world, the tragic visions and feelings of despair on the verge of personal uncertainty of Tchaikovsky, found amazing fulfilment in the hands of the Tokyo Metropolitan Orchestra. After an enthusiastic ovation from the audience, Koizumi spoke casually with the audience for a moment and as an encore the orchestra performed the polonaise from Tchaikovsky’s opera Eugene Onegin. Koizumi at the same time performed like a showman in the style of the British “Last Night of the Proms”, when instead of conducting he jokingly made fun with the audience and orchestra members.


In any case, such bombastic music had probably never been heard in the Košice House of Art before. The dynamics of sound orchestra worked almost like at rock concert and even the ordinary string Pizzicatos literally vibrated the room of the building. Their acoustic opposite was the dreamy surface of the sonorous Tchaikovsky’s Cantilena. The systematic architectural structure of the work, the perfect discipline of the members of the orchestra and the flawless execution with immense musicality conveyed to viewers a living experience, for which we would normally have to travel really far. The concert by the Tokyo Metropolitan Orchestra shifted awareness of the heights of the orchestral part of the world of performing arts to a reference level, with which we are now likely to compare all future musical events in the city and the region aspiring to the title of “exceptional”, for decades to come.

Peter Katina

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