Tuesday, November 20, 2012
The Orchestra's final stop on tour. It has been 15 years since the SFS has visited Japan's capital city, its biggest and liveliest by far. The scale and size of this city could be overwhelming for the first timer, but after spending a week in China, Tokyo seems almost quiet in comparison. There is a serene side to this city, graceful gardens and quiet temples in contrast with the skyscraper jungle not far beyond, and life seems a bit more orderly and restrained in comparison to our previous stops.
In Tokyo, the Orchestra is very much looking forward to performing in Suntory Hall, considered by many the best sounding concert hall in Asia, and one of the top halls in the world. Mahler 5 was on the program tonight, and MTT and members of the Orchestra were ready to give this work, their calling card on this tour, one final and memorable performance.
|Beautiful Suntory Hall in Tokyo|
|The anticipatory crowd filters in|
|SFS Media products a hit in the lobby|
After an absolutely brilliant concert in what was indeed for most the best sounding hall on tour, the audience reaction to Mahler's Symphony No. 5 was something I haven’t seen before. Not so much by the volume but by the fact that they just wouldn’t stop applauding. Standing ovation after standing ovation, bow after bow, MTT finally took concertmaster Alexander Barantschik off the stage to signal to the crowd to go home. He and the strings walked offstage and house lights went up. Normally that does the trick. But not tonight. While MTT was beginning his meet and greet backstage and the congratulations flowing, we all noticed that the applause was not dying down. Most of the orchestra, aside from a few brass and winds, was off the stage long gone. But the crowd kept applauding. As if willing the Orchestra and its Maestro back for more. They certainly did not want to go home. After another few minutes, we realized that they were not going anywhere, MTT finally went on for another bow, the stage now mostly empty. He even gave the handful of brass still left a bow themselves. The audience still did not stop. As the final brass exited, they got their own ovation. But the clapping went on. Several musicians came back onstage, cases in hand to also recognize the crowd and Michael took a final solo bow. Many musicians felt this was the most profound ovation they have received as musicians and were humbled by the reaction. The Orchestra loved the hall and clearly the crowd loved them.
|Many fans, like this group traveling all the way from Hokkaido came backstage|
to congratulate MTT and the Orchestra
|MTT with SFS Violinist and Japan native Naomi Kazama Hull and her mom|
After a memorable night at Suntory, the Orchestra gets a well deserved morning off to recoup for the final concert. But for 12 hearty souls known affectionately as "the team of the Century" a morning off in Tokyo meant playing softball for global bragging rights, in a game agains the Tokyo Philharmonic. Having beaten the NY Phil and Philadelphia Orchestra in similar games last season, the SFS takes on another Orchestra also celebrating a century of music making, its Japanese counterparts from the capital city. Baseball is equally as popular here, and the Tokyo Giants, like its San Francisco counterparts, won the title this year. Game on! The team ventures out to beautiful Ueno Park amidst a perfect fall day for nine innings of fun on Masaoka Shiki Memorial Field, named after the great 19th century haiku poet and baseball fan. For those keeping tabs at home, final score: SF Symphony wins it 23-3.
|Team SFS cheered on by its No. 1 fan|
|A beautiful day for a game|
|SFS takes the lead for good in the top of the 2nd inning|
|Safe at home after an opposite field inside the park home run.|
|Softball without Borders|
|To the victor go the spoils. Tokyo Phil team captain presents |
a fine bottle of Sake to SFS captain Mark Inouye
|Softball makes one hungry. A quick bite and off to the hall|
|Yuja Wang rehearses for the final concert|
|Tokyo's Bunka Kaikan concert hall|
|A final bow|
|Tour Manager Joyce Wessling (R) with Emma Casey of Askonas Holt and|
our Presenter in Japan, Shohei Abe
|MTT greeted by Betty and Hiro Ogawa, sponsors of the Tokyo Concerts|
|The final note has been played.|
SFS musicians/Softball team members toast to a successful tour
Sunday, November 18, 2012
The San Francisco Symphony makes its long awaited debut in China’s historic capital, Beijing. It is a city of extremes, from the picturesque Forbidden City, harking back to Ming Dynasty emperors, to the giant portrait of Chairman Mao portrait overlooking Tiananmen square and its own and more recent ominous history. We arrive as the Communist Party Congress has just anointed a new leader, Xi Jinping. Aside from much international media coverage about the new regime, the timing has meant very high security measures and spotty internet connections for the usually well-connected Orchestra, with much access to our usual media blocked, with severe restrictions on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and anything Google. SFGate and NYTimes.com withdrawal for many. Television and phone calls home that mention the transfer of power mysteriously cut out.
But one thing censors and filters cannot block or, at least should not block, is great music. Chinese audiences and their enjoyment of western classical music is growing and a very visible example of this commitment is the very impressive National Centre for the Performing Arts in Beijing, or as it is affectionately called, “the Egg.” More on this incredible structure later. In Beijing, members of the Orchestra also give master classes at the local Conservatory, Beijing's Central Conservatory. This is an important part of the SF Symphony's touring plans, not just to perform in a city and leave, but where possible, engage with young musicians and students for a cultural exchange of ideas.
|Assistant Principal Cello Amos Yang (left) with a student|
|SFS Principal Bassoon Stephen Paulson (right) in his Master class|
MTT also works with the student orchestra and conducting students.
|SFS Dir. of Artistic Planning John Mangum|
at the Central Conservatory
After the morning of master classses, MTT and SFS musicians take part in the Asia Society's US-China Forum on the Arts and Culture, aimed at cultural exchange. The concert included members of the SFS, Beijing Central Conservatory, tour soloist Yuja Wang, Chinese artists performing on traditional instruments such as the guqin and sheng, the SFS Jazz ensemble, and friend of the SFS, writer Amy Tan.
|SFS percussion perform music by Steve Reich|
|Writer Amy Tan performs John Cage with members of the SFS|
|A little four hand piano with MTT and Yuja Wang|
|SFS Jazz Ensemble with the SFS' Scott Pingel on bass, Mark Inouye |
on trumpet and Ray Froehlich on drums
And now, to the Egg. The building is as impressive from the outside as the inside. With its gleaming curved shell, its wide open lobbies and warm and welcoming interior, the NCPA is a stunning structure.
|Arriving for the concert: SFS Board Member Ge Wang (left) |
and Amy Tan with Lou DeMattei (center)
|The wide open spaces of the NCPA lobby|
The concert itself was a triumph, with the Beijing audiences wildly appreciative of the Orchestra's debut performance in the capital. Anticipation for the concert had been building steadily, and the concert was sold out. In attendance were US Ambassador Gary Locke and his wife Mona, China Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Cui Tiankai, and San Francisco's First Lady, Anita Lee. For tour soloist and Beijing native Yuja Wang, it was a homecoming, her parents in attendance at the NCPA. After the concert, SFS President John Goldman hosted a dinner for the Orchestra and dignitaries in attendance near the Forbidden City.
|John Goldman, MTT and US Ambassador Gary Locke|
|L-R: Ambassador Locke, Yuja Wang, Amy Tan, Mona Locke|
|SFS Musicians enjoying the reception|
|John Goldman with Yuja Wang|
|More SFS musicians after the Beijing debut|
|Yuja Wang with her parents, who live in Beijing|
Saturday, November 17, 2012
SF Symphony percussionist Tom Hemphill reports in from backstage at the Shanghai Oriental Art Center, showing us a few of the Asian inspired instruments he'll be utilizing in the upcoming performance Lou Harrison's "Family of the Court" from Pacifika Rondo.
Friday, November 16, 2012
In Shanghai, several SF Symphony musicians took time out of their tour schedules to teach master classes at the Shanghai Conservatory of Music, engaging eager young musicians in some valuable one on one and group lessons. The students were enthusiastic and appreciative. SFS trombone player John Engelkes, an avid photographer, provided this brilliant photo essay on the day's events. Thank you John !