The Yomiuri ShimbunSince assuming the post of principal conductor of the Yomiuri Nippon Symphony Orchestra in April 2010, Sylvain Cambreling has brought a breath of fresh air to the group — which had previously placed German music at the heart of its repertoire — by also taking on French music, especially focusing on music such as Messiaen’s.
Now, it is the conductor’s last season with the YNSO, which he calls the orchestra he dearly loves.
As a conductor, Cambreling said he always cares about drawing out clarity and brilliance from an orchestra, for which, he added, it is important that musicians read the score thoroughly, including the minor details, and have an accurate sense of rhythm and tempo.
Cambreling is a master of precise handling of irregular beats and complicated rhythms, and finding the right balance in acoustics to bring out the color of each instrument. In November last year, he did a magnificent job of conducting Messiaen’s opera “Saint Francois d’Assise” in its entirety for the first time in Japan. Particularly fantastic was one part toward the end of the second act, which recreates the chirps of various birds.
Cambreling said the YNSO members are always well prepared and have no technical problems, and that is why he can concentrate on adding depth to their musicality during rehearsals such as in the tone and phrasing. The conductor also praises the orchestra for understanding very well what he is trying to deliver and for having grown more alert in following his baton. He thinks their performances have gained a certain lightness.
In the wake of the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake, many foreign artists canceled their scheduled performances in Japan. Yet Cambreling kept on coming, helping him earn the members’ absolute loyalty. The following year, he performed Mozart’s Requiem with choirs consisting of citizens in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Through these activities, he has been trying to explore the relationship between music and society.
Through the tragedies of these two atomic bomb-hit cities and the nuclear disaster in Fukushima following the quake, he has realized that the nuclear issue has special significance for Japanese people, lingering deeply in their minds, he said.
The program for the new season covers a history of music spanning more than 250 years, from Rameau to G.F. Haas. Cambreling said this clearly shows the relationship between the orchestra and himself. They will take up certain works again to look back on his tenure, such as “Symphonie fantastique” and “La mer,” while also performing complicated works such as “Gurre-Lieder,” because they have grown and matured together. There are still other works that the orchestra is more familiar with than he is, such as Tchaikovsky pieces. The audience will come to understand that the YNSO’s repertoire has grown even bigger over the past nine years, he said.
The program for the Subscription Concerts series in September will bear a strong flavor of Cambreling because it will pose the important question of what this modern age stands for. In Ravel’s graceful waltz “La valse,” there is a hint of the darkness of World War I, while the orchestra will address the first city hit by an atomic bomb in Penderecki’s “Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima.” “Natures Mortes” by Haas is a work that may foresee crises in the future, according to Cambreling.
He said this concert has a theme: “The end of a happy time.” However, he was emphatic about the potential that music possesses.
The conductor said his concerts in Hiroshima and Nagasaki helped him realize that music plays a role in taking people away from their everyday issues and encouraging them to meditate and feel calm. He added that he loves all kinds of music and believes in its power.
Illustrious soloists highlight upcoming schedule
One of the joys of orchestral concerts is listening to a concerto featuring a soloist who typically displays strong technical abilities. Various virtuoso players will look to put on memorable performances with the Yomiuri Nippon Symphony Orchestra as they join the ensemble for the 2018-19 season.
Akiko Suwanai, one of Japan’s leading violinists, will appear in a concert in September conducted by Sylvain Cambreling, and will play Szymanowski’s Violin Concerto No. 1.
“The sonorities and harmonies [of the concerto] are very much like those of Impressionist music,” Suwanai said. “It starts dreamily and is very colorful, with a hint of Slavic melancholy.”
It will be the violinist’s first performance with Cambreling.
“I’m very much looking forward to the opportunity as Cambreling’s known as the ‘magician of colors,’” she said with a smile.
The season will also feature world-renowned instrumentalists as guest performers. The violinists include Russian-born Viktoria Mullova who will appear in a Popular Series concert in October conducted by Giovanni Atonini, in which Beethoven’s Violin Concerto will be performed. The audience can expect strong chemistry between the pair as they have performed together many times in Europe.
In May, Albena Danailova, a concertmaster for the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, will play Glazunov’s Violin Concerto, known as a very technically challenging piece.
Among the pianists performing with the YNSO this season will be Elisso Virsaladze in July and Pierre-Laurent Aimard in March, playing Beethoven’s Piano Concertos Nos. 1 and 3, respectively. Virsaladze looks to be the new standard-bearer for traditional Russian piano playing, while Aimard is reputed for his interpretations of Messiaen and other contemporary music. Audiences can look forward to their takes on Beethoven’s more ambitious pieces composed in his youth.
Mozart’s concertos played by the world’s top wind players are also must-see performances. Paul Meyer will feature as the soloist for the Clarinet Concerto this month, while Emmanuel Pahud will pair with harpist Marie-Pierre Langlamet in the Flute and Harp Concerto in November for what is sure to be a delightful concert.
Makoto Ozone merits special attention among the Japanese performers, as the talented jazz pianist will fill in as the soloist for Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” in July. He has previously performed Mozart’s concertos and other classical pieces sprinkled with free improvisations. It will be interesting to see how he incorporates his own personal themes into the jazz-influenced Gershwin work.
In August, pianist Michie Koyama will perform her trademark Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 1.
The YNSO will also perform with up-and-coming musicians. In September, cellist Andrei Ionita, the winner of the 2015 International Tchaikovsky Competition, will feature as the soloist for Tchaikovsky’s “Variations on a Rococo Theme,” while popular pianist Tomoharu Ushida will play Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in February.Speech