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Sounds of Amerıca

Gramophone’s guide to the classical scene in the US and Canada

Focus JapanNYC – page I » The Scene Musical highlights from across North America – page IV »

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Scene from the film Ran, scored by Toru Takemitsu, whose music is at the centre of the US

Japan festival

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East meets West S

Seiji Ozawa’s tireless support of Japanese classical music has led him to curate a festival of Japanese culture in the US, finds James Inverne ome, but not many, conductors feel like links to a vanished past. Temperamentally, Valery Gergiev is probably the closest we get today to the old-school autocratic maestro (minus the temper and the watch-throwing, pace Toscanini). But Japan’s most famous classical export, Seiji Ozawa, is very directly the product of many cultures, multiple pasts. Once a protégé of both Herbert von Karajan and Leonard Bernstein, he learnt the European and the American ways of doing things from the best. But it was a conducting guru from the East, Japan’s Hideo Saito (after whom Ozawa has named his Saito Kinen Orchestra and Festival) who had the first impact.

Today Ozawa embodies all of their philosophies and much of his own, but at 75 he has had health problems – he looks painfully thin, though he has beaten cancer – and gives one-on-one interviews only rarely. So I take advantage of my invitation to report on his festival (see Musical Journeys, Awards issue) to talk to him at length about the upcoming JapanNYC festival, an exploration of Japanese culture at and around Carnegie Hall, with a West Coast incarnation (JapanOC) at the Philharmonic Society of Orange County, which he has been invited to curate. Frail he may be, but enthusiasm stills bursts from him like a life-force.

The festival itself, like 2009’s China-focused Carnegie events, reaches far beyond Western classical music. There are the traditional shamisen players, Yutaka Oyama and Masahiro Nitta, a focus on ancient Imperial Court music, or gagaku, the admired jazz pianist Toshiko Akiyoshi, a retrospective of films scored by the pre-eminent Japanese composer Takemitsu and the quasi-religious Kodo Drummers. Away from music itself, there is Noh theatre, painting and calligraphy from the zen master Hakuin, even a mangadrawing workshop. There are bonsai trees (in Brooklyn Botanic Garden), sculpture installations and dance (celebrating Martha Graham’s collaboration with the artist Isamu Noguchi). Yet classical music, of course, is at the centre of the Carnegie fest. Ozawa’s own Saito Kinen players will be joined by Masaaki Suzuki’s Bach Collegium Japan and by the NHK Symphony Orchestra under André Previn. The New Juilliard Ensemble explores the music of post-World War II Japanese composers, and the violinist Midori leads a multi-cultural chamber music line-up that also features Jonathan Biss, Antoine Lederlin and Nobuko Imai.

For Ozawa, this multi-faceted approach is crucially important even though, he freely admits, he may not be the right person to talk knowledgeably about every art form the festival will host. “I am very open to the idea that it’s important to give a balanced image of Japan to America, and the music can feed into the art and vice versa. Above all it is www.gramophone.co.uk

GRAMOPHONE DeCeMber 2010 I

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