TOKYO --The Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra has always been a good orchestra. But the concert it presented under Paavo Järvi on Sunday afternoon in Japan’s Suntory Hall firmly established Cincinnati as one of the great orchestras of the world.
The reception throughout the five concerts of this seven-concert tour so far has been a steady crescendo of cheering and enthusiastic applause. But in the 2,006-seat Suntory Hall, which appeared to be sold out, it’s safe to say the normally reserved crowd went wild -- by Japanese standards -- with tumultuous applause and extended cheering. Afterwards, a long line of autograph seekers snaked through the lobby to the backstage door.
After a week in Japan, the orchestra’s playing has never sounded better – refined, powerful and in the end, thrilling. Their program, which included Dvorak’s “New World” Symphony and the Sibelius Violin Concerto with violinist Sayaka Shoji, was a triumph of artistry. It was not only witnessed by 20 Cincinnati patrons, who flew to Japan for the occasion, but proved to be a huge hit with the Tokyo audience.
“This orchestra is brilliant,” exclaimed audience member Hideya Taida, a trustee of Akita International University, adding that he had never seen such chemistry between an orchestra and a conductor.
There was also the extraordinary chemistry of this magnificent hall. Words hardly do justice to describe the sonic beauty of the orchestra’s sound in this, the “Carnegie Hall” of Japan. Then, to witness the Cincinnati musicians perform with such precision and expressive power was something to behold.
Built in 1986, Suntory Hall is a shoebox shape, with “vineyard” style seating down to the stage, as well as seating behind the orchestra. It is a cathedral for classical music, and Japanese audiences are so intent, they don’t move a muscle during performances. Suntory Hall is a magnet to the world’s greatest musicians. As legendary maestro Herbert von Karajan once said (and for whom the plaza outside is named), it is a “jewel box” of sound.
Dvorak’s Symphony No. 9, “From the New World,” which concluded the program, has never sounded so majestic as it did under Järvi in this performance. Leading without a score, his view had a natural spontaneity, and he allowed expressive details to emerge seamlessly.
This was a reading that breathed, and Järvi took his time to linger on Dvorak’s lyrical themes, and then galvanized the musicians to thrilling climaxes. The string sound was one of glowing precision. Christopher Philpott’s English horn solo in the Largo was breathtaking, both for his beautiful phrasing as well as his ease of delivery.
Järvi captured the rustic mood of the scherzo, with beautiful contributions from the winds, and then ratcheted up the excitement factor in the finale. He was a force on the podium, and the brass, in their great opening theme of the finale, responded with playing that was precise, powerful and noble. This was quite possibly the orchestra’s finest performance of the season, anywhere.
The collaboration with tour soloist Shoji in Sibelius’ D Minor Concerto, too, was the most impressive of the tour, with both soloist and orchestra projecting the Nordic sound world in a unified vision. Shoji’s virtuosity is effortless, and her unique combination of fiery spirit and lyricism was irresistible in this reading. She projected a relaxed, golden tone on her Mischa Elman Stradivarius in the slow movement, and tossed off fiendishly difficult feats in the finale. Tokyo cheered its native daughter, and the violinist provided a movement of Bach’s Sonata No. 1 for an encore.
Bernstein’s Overture to “Candide,” which opened the concert, was adrenalin-charged. Järvi provided two other showstoppers as encores: Brahms’ Hungarian Dances Nos. 5 and 6. A third encore, Sibelius’ “Valse triste,” made a ravishing finish.
Still they cheered. Finally, Järvi, hand over his heart, took a last bow and pulled concertmaster Timothy Lees off the stage.The orchestra performs in Yokohama’s Minato Mirai Concert Hall on Tuesday and returns to Suntory Hall on Wednesday, before heading home.