A week in Tokyo: Day 1

James JollyMon 15th February 2010
A week in JapanA week in Japan

Music in one of the world's great capitals

“So what are you going to hear on your first day? Domingo conducting Aida, the new Siegfried, or Otello? Or the Christopher Hogwood masterclass or the Akademie für Alte Musik, Berlin?” The fact that nothing seemed more appealing than a good sleep after 12 hours in a plane, didn’t detract from the riches on offer in Tokyo.

I’m here for a week to sample classical musical music in the Japanese capital – whether in concert, at the opera, in the incredibly richly stocked record stores or in conversation with many of the city’s administrators, agents and critics.

Tokyo – and this is the first and last gentle nod to Lost in Translation – doesn’t seem as disconcerting as I’d expected, but the fusion – at times, head on collision – of the ancient and modern is one of its most striking elements. Add to that the wonderfully courtly behaviour of these enormously polite and solicitous people, and this seems like a wonderful place to encounter classical music performed in some of the newest and most striking halls in the world.

So Day 1 did see my spurning those riches (though I’ll be catching up with Siegfried and Otello later in the week). I actually did make a slightly bleary-eyed visit to the Nezu Museum (Minami-Aoyama), a collection of ancient Asian art works set in a brand-new building with – amazingly, given its position slap bang in the middle of the city – a gem of a Japanese garden flowing down the little valley behind it. I stood for ages in front of an exquisite model of a buffalo from Tang Dynasty China (8th century) trying to imagine what the artisans back home were creating then. It made us seem such a new and unsubtle culture. Then as you walk back along Omote-sando you are confronted by the architectural wonder of Rei Kawakubo’s store for her Commes des Garçons collection – I can’t think of many other fashion designers having such an input into the creation of the building to house the store, and its curves seemed to animate her wonderfully unstructured and alluring clothes.

The music starts tomorrow with a visit to JT Art Hall for a recital of Beethoven sonatas for piano and violin.

(My iPod soundtrack for Day 1 has been music by Lou Harrison, that most humane of men, whose fascination with the East lead to such glorious pieces as Solstice, a ballet scored for an ensemble of lute, oboe, trumpet, celeste, tack piano, two cellos, and double bass – a line-up of such richness, and a perfect backdrop for looking at centuries-old bowls and screens…)

James Jolly

James Jolly is Gramophone's Editor-in-Chief. His blogs explore live and recorded music, as well as downloading and digital delivery.

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