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Beethoven visits Japan: On Tour with the Vienna Academy Orchestra (Part 1)

Fifty-four musicians (minus four stragglers but generously counting the violas), instruments in tow, gather at Vienna’s Schwechat airport. The historic, 300 year old timpani, safely packed in base drum cases, are checked. Counter-intuitively it’s the double basses who have the least to carry: The instruments are provided locally; all they bring are their bows and gut strings with which to string the loaners.

The cellos on their own seats stick their necks out over the headrests; their owners are rumored to insist on them getting a meal and then devour it themselves. Unlike my Twitter feed seems to suggest, instruments are not smashed or denied or scrutinized by the airline, but accommodated – even historic trombones which, frankly, didn’t look like regulation-size carry-on luggage. Perhaps it helps to board in Vienna, where traveling orchestras are just about the norm.

Via Frankfurt, the crew heads to Osaka, where the first concert will take place at Izumi Hall, a shoebox style concert hall with 820 seats loosely modelled after The Musikverein’s “Golden Hall”. The Tyrolian branch of the orchestra causes its usual ruckus of merriment (and if wasn’t them, it’s at least plausible that it was), until asked by the purser to kindly disperse from the kitchen.

Landing in Osaka is like landing in the sea; the Renzo Piano designed Kansai International Airport having been built on an artificial island just off the coast in the Osaka Bay. After a 90 minute bus-ride to the hotel right between Osaka-Jo Hall (Norah Jones performing that night) and the dainty, largely wooden Izumi Hall, it’s hard to believe Osaka’s Itami Airport, the international hub until “Kankū” opened, is still further from the city.

Osaka castle is right across the (Daini?) Neyagawa River – well, some river, in any case – and towers over its immediate surroundings. It’s an immediate draw and a light drizzle and some 16 hours of transportation behind them can’t keep the musicians from exploring its moats, walls, gardens, and the cherry blossoms which still – just – hang on to gorgeous effect. An afternoon nap and a good Japanese dinner prepare for the next day of rehearsals and the concert in the evening. More pictures below.

All photos © jfl


Philip Amos said...

Musicians who read this very, very much want to know what airline they were traveling on!! I have to suspect that violists also want to squeeze you warmly by the throat. (--:

jfl said...

Musicians may click on "Read more" and will readily find out which airline it was. :-) (Had a close encounter with a violist on the commuter train here in Tokyo, but survived.)