Japan Philharmonic Orchestra performed at The Usher Hall Edinburgh as part of the “Sunday Classics” programme of music this afternoon as part of their “6th Europe Tour” schedule and, to add “icing to the cake”, eminent British pianist John Lill was also performing Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No 3 as solo pianist. “Sunday Classics” is an integral part of the performance programme at The Usher Hall, and its regular 3pm performances really do need to be far more widely known than they are for many reasons, as some of the finest musicians and orchestras from all over the world not only perform, but give us all a chance to hear music in the wonderful classical setting of this specially built for purpose concert hall, and it all happens on a normal Sunday afternoon far away from the spotlight of other major festivals for which Edinburgh is world-famous.
Conducting the JPO today over a very varied musical programme was their Chief Conductor, Finnish born Pietari Inkinen who, although still under 40 years old, already has a hugely respected international career as a conductor and violinist.
In running order, our programme for today was
Rautavaara - In the Beginning
When Finnish composer Einojuhani Rautavaara died in 2016, this work, his final completed one, had been written at the request of Pietari Inkinen, so it is more than appropriate that this wonderful 7 minute work be brought to glorious colour and life by JSO on an Edinburgh stage.
Beethoven - Piano Concerto No. 3
Beethoven, of all the classical composers, seems over the years to be the one that defies any particular standard definition of his work; just as you are getting comfortable and think you are secure in his music, something unexpected comes along and surprises you and defies your comfortable pre-conceptions. As one of the world’s leading interpreters of Beethoven’s work, John Lill knows the chameleon-like qualities of this composer better than most people and his performance of this work with all of its different moods, styles and musical surprises was simply a pleasure to watch and hear performed on stage.
Takemitsu - Requiem for Strings
Very appropriately for the JSO, we visit the music of one of the most important Japanese composers of the 20th century, Toru Takemitsu, and his work’s influence on the development of European Classical Music in Japanese as an integral culture cannot be under-estimated. This work from 1957 was heard almost by accident on the radio by Igor Stravinsky when he was visiting Japan in 1958, and arrangements for him to later meet Takemitsu were made.
Sibelius - Symphony No. 2 in D Major
We closed our afternoon’s programme with a return to a work by one of the major figures in European Classical music, Jean Sibelius and, as so often with his work, his music breaks with traditions of the time and remains in parts as much a puzzle to be solved by modern listeners as when it was first performed. Here, clearly identifiable separate movements somehow still retain a connectivity to the larger body of the work in a delicate balancing act that is in itself an elusive magical musical moment.
The JPO have a performance history spanning over 60 years (formed in 1956) and are as clear an example as you can get of just how important the Asian world’s contribution to European Classical Music has been since the end of WW2. In a very short period of time (compared to the history of European music), Japan, China, Taiwan and other countries have given us some of the major performance stars of the classical music world, and it is sometimes all too easy to forget that European Classical music traditions are very different from traditional Asian music cultures in so many ways. Today’s performance was simply another reminder that music crosses all social, economic and class structures on a global scale.
Japan Philharmonic Orchestra and John Lill have added another success story to the “Sunday Classics” series and reminded us all along the way that music belongs to no one country or one social class - it belongs to everyone.
Review by Tom King