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Prayer in the house of music

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  • Prayer in the house of music

    The Japan Times, Japan
    May 30 2004

    Prayer in the house of music
    Self-starter conductor wants to work miracles

    Staff writer

    It is common for Japanese classical musicians to study in Europe, but
    Hisayoshi Inoue is a rarity. With only a diploma from a public junior
    high school, Inoue journeyed to Vienna in 1979, at age 16, to pursue
    his piano studies, and ended up staying there 24 years.

    Japan Sinfonia conductor Hisayoshi Inoue

    Inoue, who eventually switched to conducting, is now back in Tokyo
    with a new dream. Last year, he launched the Japan Sinfonia to
    realize his simple but difficult-to-attain ideal: to offer the best
    possible music to audiences.

    Inoue says that as musical director and conductor of the newly
    founded orchestra, which has 45 regular members, he wants to raise
    the bar for orchestras here. Orchestras in Tokyo tend to focus on the
    money and lose sight of the music, he says.

    "Under such circumstances, musicians are likely to become cogs in the
    machinery," he says. "Japanese orchestras also have this problem.
    Each orchestra's identity is weak."

    Japan Sinfonia will limit its concerts to once or twice a year,
    financed mostly with corporate and individual donations, and devote
    the bulk of its time to rehearsals. In fact, according to Inoue, some
    of its members drop out because the rehearsal schedule is so hard.


    Inoue was first inspired to take up conducting when he was in ninth
    grade, after seeing a rehearsal of the Yomiuri Symphony Orchestra
    under conductor Sergiu Celibidache.

    "They were rehearsing a crescendo in Respighi's 'Pines of Rome.'
    Celibidache said something like: 'Imagine the sound of Roman soldiers
    marching on the Appian Way,' " Inoue recalled. "His instructions and
    the rehearsal were full of such imagination, and I thought, 'What an
    amazing maestro!' "

    Inoue says he learned more about conducting by watching rehearsals
    than he did in the classroom.

    "In those years, all the orchestra rehearsals in Vienna were open to
    the public, except those of Herbert von Karajan," Inoue says. "I was
    able to go to them, see and listen to rehearsals by legendary
    maestros such as Lovro von Matacic, Eugen Jochum, Evgeny Mravinsky,
    Kirill Kondrasin, Karl Bohm and Leonard Bernstein. It was an
    incredible privilege. Once, I was even able to ask Jochum questions."

    In the spring of 1981, he started regularly commuting to Munich, a
    five-hour journey, to attend rehearsals by Celibidache. "I was
    obsessed with his conducting," Inoue said. "But one day, I realized
    that I was merely copying Celibidache's conducting, and that this was

    So in 1985 he lengthened his commute: He would ride 12 hours on the
    night train, from Vienna to Cologne, to study under a different type
    of conductor. For Gary Bertini, an Israeli conductor whose favorite
    composer is Mahler, Inoue eventually worked as a unpaid assistant.

    Inoue's conducting debut came in March 1992, when he led the Czech
    State Philharmonic Orchestra, Brno. He had been invited by the
    orchestra's manager, who had scouted Inoue after a conducting

    In September 1993, he received a bigger break when Loris
    Tjeknavorian, principal conductor of the Armenian Philharmonic
    Orchestra, invited him to serve as the orchestra's principal guest
    conductor. He was given carte blanche to conduct whatever pieces he
    wanted to. "For a 30-year-old conductor like me," Inoue said, "it was
    a fantastic opportunity."

    He says he did every conceivable piece and composer, including
    Mahler, Shostakovich, Prokofiev, Rachmaninoff, Stravinsky and
    Khachaturian, the best-known Armenian composer.

    His association with the Armenian orchestra continued to 2002.
    "Through my experience with this orchestra, I accumulated knowledge
    and a repertoire, which are crucial for a conductor," Inoue said.

    Higher ground

    Marriage to a Japanese woman brought him back to Tokyo in 2003.
    "I had time to think. And I thought that as a Japanese with a long
    experience in Europe, I have something that I can share with
    Japanese, something that I must do here," Inoue said. So he hit on
    the idea of creating a new orchestra, and many musicians offered to

    His goal is a lofty one: to re-create the image the composers impart
    to each particular composition and convey those compositions as
    vibrant, living entities to audiences.

    "Japanese orchestras only have a fixed, patternlike image of each
    composer. This pattern for Mahler, this pattern for Beethoven and so
    on," Inoue said. "But they don't have an image concerning a
    particular composition. Each one must have a different image."

    For musicians to fulfill their task, just analyzing the score is not
    enough: They must have the ability to understand the social, cultural
    and historical factors behind the composer and his compositions,
    according to Inoue. "When playing Shostakovich's music, for example,
    our thoughts must go as far as: Why did the Soviet Union come into
    being? What is Marxism-Leninism? Who was Stalin?" Inoue says. "In the
    case of Khachaturian's Symphony No. 3, we have to be aware that the
    composer must have been thinking of the 1915 massacre of Armenians by
    the Ottoman Empire."

    The audience responded positively at the Japan Sinfonia's first
    concert in December 2003, but Inoue said there is much room for
    improvement. For the upcoming second concert, Inoue and the Japan
    Sinfonia will visit milestones in the history of classical music:
    Beethoven's Violin Concerto in D-Major and Schubert's Symphony No. 8
    in C-Major.

    Inoue believes that being a musician is a God-given privilege, and it
    is the musician's duty to find the meaning of life.

    "A concert is not an extension of everyday life," he says. "If you go
    to a concert given by a great maestro, it is like prayer at a
    religious service, and members of the audience are joined with the
    musicians in a quest for the meaning of life."

    The second concert of the Japan Sinfonia will take place June 9, 7
    p.m., at Dai-Ichi Seimei Hall near Kachidoki Station of the Oedo
    subway line. Edward Zienkowski, professor at the University of Music
    in Vienna, will play the violin for Beethoven's concerto. Webern's
    Five Moments for String, Op.5, will also be played.

    For tickets (5,000 yen, 4,000 yen; and 2,500 yen for students), call
    (03) 3706-4102, 050-7505-5643 or e-mail [email protected]

    From: Emil Lazarian | Ararat NewsPress