Star-studded season with diverse program

The Yomiuri Nippon Symphony Orchestra performs at Suntory Hall in Tokyo last year.

By Kazumasa Ikeda / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff WriterThe Yomiuri Nippon Symphony Orchestra’s program for the 2018-2019 season, which began this month, is like an overview of the history of Western music, from baroque to contemporary. It encapsulates the orchestra’s artistic journey with Sylvain Cambreling, who is in his final season as the YNSO’s principal conductor after nine years, or three terms, in the post.

The orchestra is also presenting diverse, well-thought-out programs with guest conductors and soloists.

YNSO concerts are largely divided into three categories: Subscription Concerts, the Popular Series and the Matinee Series. Subscription Concerts include premieres and epic, technically demanding works from the 19th- to 20th-century repertoire. The other two series mainly feature popular classics. The concerts in all three categories take place alongside each other, enabling the audience to listen to the same conductor taking up the baton in two or three different categories at around the same time.

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  • © YNSO

    Cornelius Meister

  • © YNSO

    Kazuki Yamada

Cambreling has already made appearances this month and will conduct the orchestra again in September and next March. The French maestro’s Subscription Concert performances include a concert this month in which he conducts a much-awaited work: Mahler’s epic Symphony No. 9. In September, he will take on modern music, for which he is acclaimed, with works by Penderecki and G.F. Haas.

In the March 2019 concert, he will take on the challenge of the magnificent “Gurre-Lieder” by Schoenberg. This epic piece with a large orchestra and chorus, as well as solo vocalists, requires about two hours to perform. It will likely be a wrap-up performance by Cambreling, who has taken on many big works from modern times.

Cambreling always has interesting ideas behind his choices, which is also reflected in the programs for the Popular and Matinee series so that they are more than just a collection of popular classics. In this weekend’s Popular Series program, he will conduct ballet music from “The Nutcracker” and “Le sacre du printemps.” An element of dance was also found in the Matinee Series program earlier this month, in excerpts from the suite from Rameau’s opera “Dardanus” and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7.

In September, he will conduct an all-Tchaikovsky program, and in March 2019, he will take up a program of French music featuring works by Ibert and Debussy. In the same month, he will conduct Berlioz’s “Symphonie fantastique” in the last concert program of his tenure.

Among the guest conductors for the new season, Ilan Volkov who hails from Israel will be on the podium for a YNSO concert for the first time in May. He will conduct Bernstein’s Symphony No. 2 “Age of Anxiety” with pianist Hisako Kawamura as the soloist to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the U.S. composer-conductor’s birth.

In June, Cornelius Meister, the YNSO’s principal guest conductor for the second season, will conduct three programs. The accomplished German conductor’s program for the Subscription Concerts series is an all-Richard Strauss program: symphonic poem “Don Quixote” and orchestral works from his operas “Die Frau ohne Schatten” and “Capriccio.”

Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 “Resurrection,” which will be performed in his Popular Series concert, is a titanic work with a chorus, similar to the composer’s Symphony No. 3, which Meister conducted with the YNSO in December. The conductor said he would like to not just perform the symphony, but also express various things, from the natural world to emotions and human nature. The conductor described the YNSO as an orchestra that is able to approach the true quality of the music.

Ken-ichiro Kobayashi, a special guest conductor for the YNSO, will return in July. Known for his interpretations of Tchaikovsky, Kobayashi will take on Tchaikovsky’s “Manfred Symphony,” which is not performed very often.

October will bring two early music experts who pursue the performance styles of music at the time the music was written. Masaaki Suzuki, music director of Bach Collegium Japan, will be joined by RIAS Kammerchor of Germany in a program of religious music, including Mendelssohn’s oratorio “Christus,” as part of the Subscription Concerts series. In the Popular and Matinee series, Giovanni Antonini, who leads the early music scene in Italy, will conduct Vivaldi’s concertos as well as symphonies by Haydn and Beethoven. It will be thrilling to see Antonini, a brilliant recorder player himself, play the solo part in Vivaldi’s Recorder Concerto.

Kazuki Yamada, who has become the YNSO’s principal guest conductor from this new season, will appear with the orchestra in January. A much-touted talent at home and abroad, he is the permanent conductor of the Japan Philharmonic Orchestra and the principal conductor and artistic director of the Orchestre Philharmonique de Monte Carlo.

“I’d like to promote the potential of my compatriots to the world by introducing works by Japanese composers and readily using Japanese artists as the soloists,” he said.

For the Subscription Concert, he will conduct Scriabin’s Symphony No. 4 “Le poeme de l’extase” as well as Saburo Moroi’s “Symphonic Fragments” and the Japanese premiere of Dai Fujikura’s Piano Concerto No. 3 with Yu Kosuge as the soloist. In the Popular and Matinee series, he will take on Respighi’s “Feste Romane” and Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Scheherazade,” wielding his fantastic, dramatic baton.

■ For ticket information, call the Yomiuri Ticket Center at (0570) 00-4390 between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. daily (in Japanese) or visit the English-language page on the YNSO’s official website (

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