By Yukiko Kishinami / Japan News Staff WriterAvid classical music fans know how special the BBC Proms is. Held every summer at the Royal Albert Hall in London, the music festival with a history of more than 120 years has a mission to bring classical music to the masses. Hence people can enter the venue’s vast, seatless ground-floor arena for just £6 (about ¥780) and enjoy listening to music performed by the world’s top artists while standing (when crowded) or sitting or lying down (when there is room).
“People are standing, getting even closer to each other, in the audience,” said Vadim Repin, one of the world’s most sought-after violinists, during an interview in Tokyo. “It’s something close to pop music concerts, and still the trick is not to make any compromises. The performances and programming are of the most classical, serious nature. It’s a really beautiful combination.”
The Russian violinist is one of the virtuoso artists performing at the BBC Proms Japan, the first Japanese edition of the festival, which will take place from Oct. 30 to Nov. 4 at Bunkamura Orchard Hall in Tokyo and The Symphony Hall in Osaka, both top venues for classical music concerts. Seats will not be removed from the parquet to create an arena like at the Royal Albert Hall, although a limited number of “promming seats” will be available for each performance at a discount price.
Repin, who has played at the BBC Proms six times, recognizes the difference from the original Proms but expects the Japan event to be an exciting one all the same.
“I think it will be different but no less special,” he said. “Bunkamura is also a very good concert hall, where you can practically make any kind of project, not only music, [but also] theater — such a versatile, beautiful concert hall.”
He said he is proud to be part of the BBC Proms Japan.
“I know there are many great festivals also taking place in Tokyo, like La Folle Journee, [and] the Trans-Siberian Art Festival, which I run in Russia. I think this typical Japanese attention to beauty, to detail, to taste is making it very special,” he said.
Born in Siberia in 1971, Repin began taking violin lessons at a local music school when he was 5, just by chance.
“[Violin] was the only available place to enter a music school, and my mother made the choice for me, and I’m very happy about that,” he said, smiling.
His talent blossomed quickly. He was 11 when he made his recital debut in Moscow and St. Petersburg after winning the gold medal in the Wieniawski Competition. He was the youngest-ever winner of the Queen Elisabeth Competition at 17.
Repin currently plays the “Rode” Stradivarius from 1733, which was named after French virtuoso violinist Pierre Rode, who used to own it.
“It was made in the so-called golden period of [Antonio] Stradivari where his best creation was made,” Repin said. “I have some violins for me, but this one is definitely the king.”
When playing, Repin weaves rich sonorities full of variety. Asked why he can create such warm sounds, he said: “I think every musician hears his own favorite sound and tries to get as close as possible. So I think that is my fantasy that you translate as warm, and for me [what is] important is intensity and logic between the sounds, between the notes.”
Of the six concerts at the BBC Proms Japan, Repin will appear in two of them. At Prom 4 on Nov. 2, he will play Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto. At Prom 6 on Nov. 4, he will play Ravel’s “Tzigane” and Waxman’s “Carmen” Fantasy. At both concerts, he will be joined by the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Thomas Dausgaard, with whom he will perform for the first time since he was very young.
Repin played with the orchestra at the BBC Proms in 2013.
“They are extremely flexible, versatile and they have fantastic, beautiful sounds. Every note they play is for the microphone, so they have to be always in their top form. This is because it’s a radio orchestra, so every concert is recorded, every concert is broadcast,” he said.
Other artists to grace the Japan event will include pianist Yulianna Avdeeva, violinist Taro Hakase, cellist Dai Miyata, saxophonist Jess Gillam and soprano Maki Mori, as well as jazz legends Lee Ritenour and Dave Grusin.
“It’s shaping [up] to be a beautiful program of the festival, its combination, very wide, of artists and music to be performed,” Repin said. “So this is very interesting, I think. Every person who likes classical music will find something attractive to listen to.”