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Remembering the earthquake and tsunami victims at Japan concerts

March 25, 2011 |  6:02 am

Music speaks to people in good times and in bad. Fliers in the Carnegie Hall programs this week stated the obvious: This year’s JapanNYC festival, starting just one week after the Thoku earthquake and tsunami is dedicated to its victims.  How could it not?

The world-class musicians gathered in New York for this festival (presented in tandem with the JapanOC festival taking place this year in Orange County) are paying tribute in different ways.  The drummers of Todo on Sunday night made no mention of recent events and simply let the power of their precision percussion speak volumes. On Monday night at Carnegie Hall, Japan’s NHK Symphony began its program with an added piece in dedication: the air from Bach’s Third Orchestral Suite, a piece often used to evoke the sea.  Last night, the Bach Collegium Japan offered a moment of silence before their deeply felt rendition of Bach’s Mass in B-minor.

On Saturday night at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa, performing in disaster's wake prompted an ensemble of Japanese musicians to make a program change at the outset of their concert of gagaku, or traditional Japanese court music. They substituted a somber funerary piece for the more lively one initially planned before the crisis. Afterward, the Philharmonic Society of Orange County, which is producing JapanOC in partnership with Carnegie Hall, collected donations for Red Cross disaster relief from audience members at the Samueli Theater, Philharmonic Society spokeswoman Chantel Chen said.

The New York festival was planned to be about conductor Seiji Ozawa and his legacy in both this country and in Japan.  His image graces the covers of the programs, his face looking optimistically to the sky, even though injuries forced him to cancel appearances months ago. 

The focus of the festival has certainly changed, but the perseverance of the artists kept the music alive and relevant. The Mass in B-minor, led by Masaaki Suzuki, was particularly moving.  With his small, period ensemble, the sound created was immense.  In its subtle, cumulative effect, the Bach Collegium matched the raw, visceral force of the Kodo drummers. 

-- James C. Taylor in New York and Mike Boehm in Costa Mesa

Photo: The Kodo Drummers. Credit: Jack Vartoogian for Carnegie Hall