BSO impresses Tokyo its hall impresses BSO THE BSO'S ASIA TOUR

November 07, 1994|By Stephen Wigler | Stephen Wigler,Sun Music Critic

Tokyo -- Last night, in a country crazy for both baseball and classical music, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and David Zinman hit one into the cheap seats.

In their first concert in Tokyo's Suntory Hall, Japan's premier venue for symphonic music, the BSO and its music director won the hearts of a sophisticated audience with a program of Dvorak, Barber and Brahms. Audiences in this polite and reserved nation do not give standing ovations, but there was no mistaking the warmth with which the audience received the orchestra, the way it demanded curtain calls and how it was touched by the BSO's third and final encore -- an orchestral arrangement of the beloved Japanese folk song "Kojo no Tsuki" ("The Moon Over the Castle") by BSO bassist Jonathan Jensen.

"People will be scurrying to their maps to figure out where Baltimore is -- that it can have such a great orchestra," said Masa Kajimoto, chairman of Kajimoto Concert Management Co., who planned the BSO's three-week tour of Japan.

The musicians, who are usually their own toughest critics, couldn't have been happier.

"That was fun, man," said BSO trumpet player Langston Fitzgerald, striking the exhilarated note heard everywhere after the players put an end to the audience's applause by following music director Zinman off the stage.

Although lively ticket sales for its concerts indicate that the BSO's tour of Japan, with 11 days remaining, could already be called successful, the orchestra needed to triumph in Suntory Hall, where it will perform again Friday and Sunday, to put an emphatic period on that success.

"It's the same as coming into New York and playing Carnegie -- it's indisputably the most prestigious hall in the music capital of the Far East," said Byron Gustafson, vice president for touring of ICM, the New York agency that helped arrange the BSO's tour.

Suntory's significance is further heightened by this: On Friday, the BSO will perform not only for those in attendance at the hall, but for a live telecast in Japan plus a Maryland Public Television taping for the audience back home.

Despite Suntory's similarities to Carnegie and other great halls in the West that challenge visiting orchestras to prove themselves, important differences separate these venues. The differences point to deeper ones between East and West -- to the ways in which classical music is perceived and to the cultures and societies it serves.

Put simply, concert halls in the West tend to serve abstractions, whether exalting High Art, celebrating heroic figures or preserving the integrity of the city by saving its downtown from urban blight and suburban flight. Concert halls in the East tend to have a smaller, more human scale and attempt to serve groups -- whether a business and its workers or the social unit of a neighborhood -- rather than individuals or social abstractions.

The most important concert halls in the West were built in the 19th century and gradually acquired their status as hallowed ground through their association with great composers and their works as much as through their acoustic excellence. Suntory Hall -- which takes its name from the corporation that is Japan's largest manufacturer of whiskey, beer and wine, and that built and operates the hall -- opened its doors in Tokyo's Akasaka district only eight years ago.

It joined more than a dozen halls in other Tokyo neighborhoods that already presented symphony concerts and has been succeeded by several other new halls. That there are so many halls in Tokyo, instead of just one or two important ones, points not only to the eager consumption of classical music here, but also to the different assumptions that Westerners and the Japanese have about the function of buildings in a city.

While buildings may be torn down in the West, they are often put up with a view to their immortality and sometimes come to be regarded with veneration. It was such veneration that preserved Carnegie Hall from the wrecker's ball in 1961 after the completion of the new concert hall at Lincoln Center that was supposed to have made the older hall obsolete.

In the Far East (and in Tokyo particularly), another attitude prevails -- one that results in continually pulling down and putting bTC up. That is why Tokyo is perpetually under construction. If the Western city in its architectural style -- think of the soaring spires of Gothic architecture -- often strives for the more-than-human, the Eastern city is more of ten satisfied with the merely human.

In a culture pervaded by the influence of Buddhism, impermanence is seen as the natural state of the human race, and transience is the prime quality of life. To Japanese music lovers, Suntory is only a landmark in that it tells them something about their progress down the never-to-be-completed road of life.

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