Tour ends on a high note

BSO leaves Japan, good impression

BSO in Japan

October 05, 2002|By Tim Smith | Tim Smith,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

TOKYO - This tightly packed city has had quite a week. A few days ago, a typhoon hit. Last night, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra blew back into town and stirred up some downright visceral excitement in the sensationally designed Tokyo Opera City Concert Hall, after last Saturday's dynamic appearance at nearby Suntory Hall.

This followup proved even better than that earlier event. Everything on the program was delivered with extra flair - a heroically scaled account of Brahms' Fourth Symphony, a sparkling version of Weber's Oberon Overture and the best-yet tour performance of Schuman's Piano Concerto. In the latter, soloist Michie Koyama added many new lyrical touches to her phrasing, while the orchestra gave her richly grained support.

Last night's efforts also provided a decidedly satisfactory conclusion to the BSO's seven-concert, six-city tour of Japan.

"There was a lot of energy and power," said violist Karin Brown afterward. "It felt like everyone was trying to create a big boom for the last concert, so we can go home feeling we made a good impression."

Judging by the intense audience reaction (the Japanese press, slow to get arts coverage into print, has registered little opinion so far), there's no question that a favorable impression was made. It was shared by one man whose opinion counts greatly, perhaps more than any other right now - music director Yuri Temirkanov.

At the end-of-tour party in a traditional Japanese restaurant, he first offered a toast to the musicians, who filled rows of long tables and devoured fried beef and vegetables, cooked and uncooked fish, tofu and parchment-wrapped rice, all accompanied by plentiful rounds of beer and sake. Then the conductor effectively offered a challenge.

"I hope in the future in Baltimore," he said through his interpreter, "the orchestra will play as well as we played here."

Later, back at his own table, Temirkanov expanded on that thought.

"The musicians certainly try to play well for me in Baltimore," he said, "but I don't think they have played as well as they did here. Especially the second [Suntory Hall] and third [Yokohama] concerts. And also today's [Tokyo Opera City] - probably because they are so happy the tour is over that they give their all."

And is Temirkanov happy it's over, too?

"Da!" the Russian conductor said quickly with a big grin, then translated for himself: "Yes!"

Not that he hasn't thought at least a little bit about further touring with the BSO. He mentioned Spain and Italy as places that would make good destinations the next time. Possibly Russia, too.

Temirkanov heads off now to his homeland for concerts, then Europe and, in November, back to Baltimore. The BSO members are due to catch a flight this morning that is scheduled to have them arriving at Dulles Airport about a half-hour before they left Japan (the neat trick of time zones and the International Date Line).

Upbeat moods seemed to be the rule last night at the party.

"I thought all the concerts were fabulous," said flutist Elizabeth Rowe. "And the tour organization was tremendous. It was nice doing a short tour; you could always see the end. But I prefer the food in Europe."

Like an army, an orchestra marches on its stomach. And BSO members are masters of foraging for food within very tight time frames, quickly scouting out and invading convenience stores and take-away restaurants. The usual tour routine means that you won't eat at normal hours or with anything like normal pacing; meals on the run are consumed in cramped backstage areas, on buses or trains, in lobbies.

For Brown, there was an additional culinary issue.

"As a vegetarian, it was hard finding things to eat, especially in the smaller places we visited," the violist said. "But I liked the length of the tour; I think you have more energy on a shorter tour. I try to give every last ounce for every concert, even if I'm really sleepy or haven't eaten well."

Several musicians managed to squeeze in some sight-seeing, hooking up with old friends or visiting instrument shops during this 11-day trip, even during the most concentrated travel period.

Since Tuesday, the orchestra played four one-night stands, from Yokohama to Osaka to Niigata to Tokyo. And this meant four nights (starting Monday, on the eve of this final stretch, in Hiroshima) of dragging luggage down to the hotel lobby by midnight after a concert, so that all the bags could be shipped ahead to the next city.

Then there would be the group departure in the morning, by plane or train, which involved its own inconveniences.

But complaints seemed to have been quite muted since the ensemble's arrival on Sept. 25.

"It has been a wonderful tour," said horn player Peter Landgren, "especially for me, since I didn't get to go on the European one last year. The audiences in Japan are incredible and so are the halls. It's worth playing even the ones that are not that great, because they present a challenge, and we can build from that experience."

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