Monday, October 26, 2009

CSO wows Japanese TV

By Janelle Gelfand, Cincinnati Enquirer • jgelfand@enquirer.com • October 26, 2009

TOKYO – “Lights, camera, action.” The Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra is familiar with those words – but not in Japanese.

On Monday night in NHK Hall in Tokyo, Japan, Paavo Järvi and the Cincinnati Symphony launched their seven-concert tour of Japan with a history-making concert: The orchestra’s first-ever nationwide broadcast on Japanese television.

The all-American program drew a large crowd, who cheered and called Järvi back for multiple bows until he provided an encore, Leonard Bernstein’s splashy Overture to “Candide.”

The all-orchestral concert was aired live over NHK radio network and will be broadcast on NHK television on Nov. 9.

“To shoot music is similar to shooting a baseball game,” said Kazuaki Sasai, senior producer, who produces up to 70 programs annually on NHK. “A batter hits the ball, the ball goes to the outfielder, and the cameras know what to follow.”

Six cameras were trained on the musicians, and a web of microphones hung over the orchestra. A hush fell over the crowd as chimes announced the broadcast’s beginning, and the program’s announcer, music journalist Sachio Morioshi, concluded his introduction on camera in a box near the stage.

Järvi opened with Copland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man” with the brass section standing, and the musicians gave it a brilliant, near-flawless performance. One was immediately struck by the razor-sharp clarity and presence of the sound in this hall.

Barber’s “Adagio for Strings” was deeply emotional, and the strings had a sonic beauty all their own.

But it was Bernstein’s Symphonic Dances from “West Side Story” which energized the audience in the evening’s first half. This piece sounded astonishingly alive in this hall, and Järvi was galvanizing as he led with both momentum and swing.

He seamlessly navigated from Bernstein’s beautiful tunes such as “Somewhere” and “Maria” to the high-energy mambos and rumbas. The percussion section turned in a sizzling performance.

The program concluded with Dvorak’s Symphony No. 9, “From the New World.” With Järvi leading from memory, it was a performance of momentum, lyricism and powerful, ringing cutoffs.

The evening's standouts included English horn Christopher Philpott’s stirring rendition of the Largo theme, and the glowing sound of the strings in the softest moments.

Behind the cavernous hall seating more than 3,000, part of the NHK Broadcasting Center, were tens of people working in editing and mixing rooms, as well as a control room with a wall of monitors showing the orchestra onstage. The final product will be broadcast in high-definition, says Sasai.

The producer and his team began preparing the broadcast's shooting angles and timings 10 days ago, and the taping will undergo little editing. What Sasai strives to do is capture the excitement and power of a live concert, rather than shoot many takes, he says.

“American orchestras have great power,” he says. “I think live music is so important for classical music. Even the mistakes can add to the enthusiasm.”

The CSO was performing as part of the NHK Music Festival, this year featuring three international orchestras, each performing a program on a theme of their country. In a rehearsal (including camera crew) during the day, about 200 school children watched, and Järvi met with them for a question and answer session.

“Cincinnati was chosen because we wanted to present a very historical orchestra from the USA, and the program was also a criterion,” said Kazutaka Shirota, event planner for the Japan Broadcasting Corp.

The Cincinnati Symphony will perform on Tuesday night in Tokyo’s Bunka Kaikan Concert Hall, before traveling to Nagoya on Thursday.

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