BSO tickets become hot item in Japan

November 01, 1994|By Thomas Easton | Thomas Easton,Tokyo Bureau of The Sun

TOKYO -- Japanese classical music fans have had to settle for videos of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra at ticket counters for the past six months. Yesterday, though, the real thing finally arrived.

At a press conference attended by several dozen Japanese reporters at one of Tokyo's most expensive hotels, promoter Masahide Kajimoto said the orchestra had come close to selling out all 14 engagements in Japan.

The success is unusual these days, given the impact of an unprecedented recession on the music business, ticket prices of approximately $150 a piece, and no prior presence. Moreover, the orchestra's success comes despite intense competition for the Japanese ear.

Seven world-renowned orchestras toured Japan in October alone, including ones from Berlin, Vienna, Moscow and New York, as well as numerous other famed orchestras throughout the fall. However, all charged even higher prices and were said to have received a more modest response.

"The economy is terrible, the music business is at a bottom," said Mr. Kajimoto. But, he added, "We're smiling today, there's no worry about sales. This is a perfect introduction."

Efforts to broaden the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra's appeal in Japan began a year ago. In recent months, fliers have been handed out at classical music concerts and articles have been placed in music magazines.

"People are aware something is happening in Baltimore," Mr. Kajimoto said.

Journalists at the press conference agreed, saying that the Baltimore Symphony is reputed to be competent at the basics of music as well as having a distinct personality -- an unusual combination here given the Japanese preference to hear the familiar.

"This may make it successful but it is hard to know -- too many others are coming at the same time," said Kyoko Kato, of the monthly magazine Music Arts.

Most of the press conference was spent on explaining the style of the orchestra, including its willingness to break the strict formality of a classical music concert with theatrical presentations and whimsical discussions.

Representatives of the orchestra were asked about the frequency with which it commissioned new pieces and its desire to perform works by unknown composers.

One reporter, Akiho Kurita, noted that in American cities other than Baltimore, audiences have walked out when presented with the unknown.

"There are always people who want to hear what they know," said BSO music director David Zinman. "But we have a different attitude in Baltimore. We must be in the past and the present at the same time."

After considering Mr. Zinman's remarks in the context of the difference in Japanese patrons, rather than Japanese performers, Mr. Kurita remarked after the news conference, "We never walk out, even if we want to leave."

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