Ben on Tour

Japan Tour (RPhO) - 2000


Day 0 - Rotterdam
Friday 7 April
On Friday night, the Japan tour started with a lot of turbulence in the Rotterdam concerthall The Doelen, where the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra presented the program of their tour to a sold out hall. Conductor Valery Gergiev raised the orchestra to unprecedented heights in a scorching performance of Berlioz' Symphonie Fantastique. It was an unforgettable evening for more reasons. In Bruch's Violin Concerto, soloist Janine Jansen, Valery Gergiev and the orchestra found each other in a challenging competition.
Also memorable was the moment in which the chairman of The Friends of the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra, Paul van Beek, presented the horn section with six new Paxman horns. After the applause the tour actually started. The musicians handed in their instruments, and the transport of the 50m3 freight boxes could go on its way to Schiphol Airport.

Day 1 - Amsterdam Schiphol
Saturday 8 April
Tour of the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra to Japan, April 2000 - The Facts
Conductor: Valery Gergiev
Violin soloist: Janine Jansen (concert of 21 April)
Assistant conductors: Ernst van Tiel, Hans Leenders
Organisation: Japan Arts
Occasion: 400 years of Dutch Japanese relations
Amount of concerts: nine
Tour repertoire:
Fifth Symphony - Prokofjev
Fifth Symphony - Berlioz
Symphonie Fantastique - Debussy
La Mer - Debussy
Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune - Bruch
Violin Concerto
Web site:
Mark Vondenhoff, editor and correspondent from Japan
Janwillem Toebes, Simon Wierenga, Remko de Jager and Hans Leenders, photography Japan
On board:
112 musicians
9 staff members

A comfortable flight with some turbulence over St. Petersburg

Day 2 - Niigata
Sunday 9 April
In the afternoon the orchestra arrived at Tokio Narita Airport. Straightaway on the busses to Tokio Station, and with the Shinkansen (bullet train) in two hours to Niigata, of which they say that it is the Walhalla of the sake. In the hotel rooms of the Okura, we find a flashlight, in case of earthquakes.
Tired, eat, sleep.

The orchestra at Tokio Station

Day 3 - Niigata
Monday 10 April
The schedule says "Acclimatisation Day." Sleeping away the jet lag, and getting used to the Japanese rhythm of life made up a large part of the day. The Governor of Niigata invited the members of the orchestra to a sightseeing tour. Many musicians gratefully accepted. The trip went to the Northern Cultural Museum, just outside Niigata. The museum consists of several low buildings and gorgeous gardens. In the 19th century a large commune lived here on the estate of a feudal lord. Indoors of course the shoes had to be taken off. The highlight of the visit was an authentic Japanese tea ceremony. The bus drove past rice fields, orchards and, of course, the house of the Governor.

Governor Ikuo Hirayama welcomes the RPhO at the reception in the hotel.

Day 4 - Niigata
Tuesday 11 April
The first notes of the tour sounded Tuesday morning, during the rehearsal in the concerthall (Niigata Performing Arts Center). Many musicians had not jet overcome the 'feared' jetlag. After the rehearsal they could rest or relax.
Contrary to earlier days in Niigata, Tuesday was a rainy day with even some hail. The coast of the Japanese sea, (a 15-minute walk from the hotel) showed huge waves with beautiful frothy crests.
Most musicians arrived well rested at the concert hall, where the concert started at 19.00 p.m.. Rather early to Dutch standards. The way in which the musicians went on stage was also different. In Holland not everybody goes on stage simultaneously. In Japan the custom is that everybody goes together.

The Rotterdam Philharmonic during their first concert in Niigata
After having rehearsed in an empty hall, it took the orchestra a moment to get accustomed to the sold out hall. Beethoven's Fifth Symphony, and Prokofiev's Fifth Symphony were on the program. Prokofiev's Fifth Symphony is an unknown work to the Japanese audience, and was received very well. Before the break, there were already five curtain calls, after which Gergiev asked concertmaster Gerard Hettema to walk off the stage with him. The rest of the orchestra followed them. After the Prokofiev Symphony, the orchestra 'had' to play two encores, Ravel's Pavane and the Prelude to the Third Act from Wagner's Meistersinger.

Day 5 - Tokyo
Wednesday 12 April
Hype round Gergiev and Rotterdam Philharmonic in Tokyo
With some last slashes Gergiev concluded a truly sensational performance of Prokofiev's Fifth Symphony in Tokyo. After only two concerts in Japan, an unprecedented hype developed round the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra. In the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Space(1999 seats), the orchestra played the same works as yesterday in Niigata. The orchestra was in great form, and could not have played better. After the concert there was nothing but praise for the performance. After dozens of autographs in the conductor's room, Valery Gergiev was surprised by a 150 meters long queue of waiting fans. (Somebody counted more than 250 autograph collectors.)


Valery Gergiev gives his autographs after the first concert in Tokyo

The queue continues outside the hall of the building

The day had started so quietly. 08.00 a.m. suitcases outside the hotel room, check out, to the Niigata Station and with the luxurious Shinkansen in a breathtaking ride through one of Japans most impressive ski resorts.
In Tokyo there was not much time to unpack, or to enjoy the spectacular view over the city from our room on the 17th floor of the Metropolitan Hotel, because there had been a request from NHK TV to have a longer camera rehearsal. The biggest TV station in Asia has recorded tonight's concert, and will broadcast it on a later date. The perfect organization of the tour by Japan Arts Corporation, is making a big impression on the orchestra.
After (coming) general manager Rob Overman gave a live report to Radio Rijnmond, a very interesting day can be added to the chronicles of the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra.

After the concert the low Brass, Pierre Volders, Alex Verbeek, Remko de Jager and Ben van Dijk, was invited for a wonderful Japanes meal by Shigenari Arakawa, or also known by the name Sergei.

Hendrik Jan Renes, Tubaist of the Rotterdam Philharmonic eating Fish with chopsticks.
For those who know him something very unuseable.

Day 6 - Takasaki
Thursday 13 April
Today was a day of flourishing skirts, blossoms and a remarkable concert in Takasaki.
Spring has come to Tokyo.
The musicians had some time to explore the surroundings of Tokyo, because the busses only left at 2.30 in the afternoon. The Metropolitan Hotel seems to be situated in a rather quiet area, and not in one of the hectic centers in which the main roads are sometimes built in three layers on top of each other. It is amazing to see how spring can break through the smog. The blossom of the budding trees adorns many streets in the city. The musicians are swarming off.
Tokyo is expensive, extremely expensive. Breakfast costs about $ 20, a cup of coffee $ 6 and a glass of beer $ 9. For those who like Japanese food, Tokyo is paradise on earth. The neighborhood is powdered with small delis, some of which can only seat twenty customers. The musicians eat with relish.
As said before, in the afternoon we went to Takasaki, the city of the colossal concrete concert hall, the Gunma Music Center. The ride on the bus again is a feast to the eye. In contrast to yesterday's snowy landscape, blossoms and budding trees now surround us. We have to wait before the rehearsal starts, but this is a pleasure: The park around the Gunma Music Center is surrounded by the most beautiful Japanese cherry trees covered in pink flowers.

Enjoying the pleasant weather before the start of the rehearsal

Let's get to business. We came here to make music. It was a remarkable concert. While filled with people, the hall had incredibly dry acoustics. Valery Gergiev and the orchestra went to extremes to make the sound as full as possible. Tonight the orchestra played a new program. Debussy's Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune (with a luscious flute solo by Jo Hagen), La Mer and Berlioz' Symphonie Fantastique. The audience listened breathlessly, and rewarded the orchestra with thundering applause. On the ride back, many discussions arose about the performance. In this acoustic presenting the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra from its best side was not easy.
A somewhat jerky ride back (the bus driver seemed to be inspired by Valery Gergiev's sharp tempo contrasts), closed off this beautiful spring day.

Day 7 - Hamamatsu
Friday 14 April

Today and tomorrow we are in Hamamatsu, "a city blending Music and Art," two hours by train to the west of Tokyo. Will boredom still come? We are halfway the tour, and again it was a day full of excitement and musical sensation.
On paper the transport of the hotel to Tokyo Station looked fine. Everybody was right on time on the busses, but Tokyo is one big traffic disaster. The average speed was just more than 5 kilometers per hour. We had to catch the 11.31 train, but we did not get to the station until about 11.25 hours. It was a wonderful sight; 120 running musicians with swaying bags with bottles of water and other travel necessities, but it was mission impossible, it was simply too far. At the platform there were shouting (train) conductors with piercing whistles, and there was Alie Mink, our tour manager, with one leg on the train and the other leg on the platform; get on, get on. Fumi Waki-Arai, one of our first violinists, was the last one who could be squeezed through the closing doors. Then the train was gone, leaving eight people, including horn player Jos Buurman in a wheelchair (later more about his adventures with a wrapped up ankle), in astonishment behind. Afterwards we understood why this train really had to leave; two minutes later another train had to use this platform... from the opposite direction. In the Netherlands we grumble over delays, here we cause one. Fortunately Misako of Japan Arts was there, so five minutes later the stragglers were on an even faster train, and within an hour they could join the rest of the orchestra.
Hamamatsu is a middle large Japanese town with only one high-rise, our Okura Act City Hotel. It is the city of the great musical instrument makers Yamaha and Kawai. Everything in this city seems to be connected with music. The bars and restaurants in the hotel have names like Figaro, Don Giovanni and Paganini. The elevator doors are decorated with a Chopin Nocturne. The rooms have good speakers with bland muzak and lovely non stop classical music.
Valery Gergiev and the orchestra gave an enervating concert in Act City Hamamatsu, the local concert hall. The brass and wind sections visited the world famous Yamaha factory. Two small busses drove them to the plant, which is housed in a complex of buildings quite far outside the city. They were received with a series of slides. Later brass and woodwind went to their own section. Brass players saw the very efficient way in which they make trumpets, trombones and horns. Clarinettists were supposed to test a new type of instrument. They were asked very specific questions about it, so their experiences could be used to refine this new clarinet further. It was not only useful for the factory, but it was also very interesting for the musicians to see how their own instruments are made.

The Yamaha factory.

Trying out the new Vienna Style Bass trombone of Yamaha.
Good trombone but...

Day 9 - Osaka
Sunday 16 April
Grand concert at the 42nd Osaka International Festival 2000
Without being immodest, we can say that today's concert by the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra was a great success. After a convincing Prokofiev, they played an overwhelming Berlioz. The tension was steadily built up during the course of an hour, until it was discharged in the Finale in a way rarely heard before. Valery Gergiev was in great shape, and, especially in the Symphonie Fantastique, he theatrically shaped the music and brought forward many remarkable details. The initiator of the festival Mrs. Murayama, who attended this concert, was enraptured by the performance.
The applause went on for quite a while, even after the second encore (today the orchestra played the Hungarian March from 'La Damnation de Faust' by Berlioz and the polka 'Unter Donner und Blitz' by Johann Strauss Jr.). After the concert dozens of people were waiting again for Gergiev's autograph.
Today's concert was a matinee, and therefore we left Hamamatsu very early.
Today the brass players deserve a special compliment. After the journey, the rehearsal in the hall and the successful but demanding concert, they played two more pieces at a reception, which was attended by the mayor of Rotterdam, Mr. Opstelten. The mayor, and a large Rotterdam delegation also were present at the concert.

The brass section of the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra

Again the Brass was invited for a lovely meal, this time organised by mr. Nobuaki Nakamura (second from the left), principal of the Osaka Philahrmonic

Day 10 - Tokyo
Monday 17 April
How the Japanese organize
We are learning a lot in Japan. An example. Our orchestra assistants always unload the truck with the instruments, the extra chairs, the trunk with the scores etc. themselves. Then they build up the podium. Not so in Japan. Right away at the first concert in Niigata, it was clear that the Japanese take the word 'assistance' very seriously. Every time, when the doors of the truck open, at least ten extremely helpful carriers are waiting to unload the contents of the truck, and translate them in no time into a perfect stage. Our orchestra assistants Michel Pals and Frans van Gelder, suddenly have been promoted into stage managers who only have to point out where and how to put things. Obviously, our Japanese colleagues thought about every detail of this tour. Another example is the transportation of the luggage. Sometimes, the musicians have to put their suitcases outside their doors as early as 01.00 a.m.. Then invisible bellboys start sneaking over the floors, to gather the 120 suitcases, bring order into this baffling structure (see photograph), and load them on the truck to finish the upbeat to an imposing luggage transport. It is a world of its own. We start to realize that all these details have been worked out at the desks of our tour organization in Japan, Japan Arts, and of Alie Mink from the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra. Bravo!

Today, the Rotterdam television station TV Rijnmond has joined the orchestra. They will stay with us during the second half of our tour. We have gotten used to the hype around Valery Gergiev and the orchestra, but to TV Rijnmond it was news. They made great shots of the extremely enthusiastic audience in the Suntory Hall in Tokyo, of rows of waiting autograph collectors, and of Gergiev's taxi tearing away.
It was an important day. The mayor of Rotterdam Opstelten was present again, and the fashionable Suntory Hall was sold out to a frantic audience. Tomorrow we will fly to Nagasaki, where we will open the Holland Week that celebrates 400 years of Dutch Japanese relations. The crown princes of both countries will attend this concert.

Day 12 - Nagasaki
Wednesday 19 April
Two Crown Princes at Concert in Nagasaki
A concert of the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra in the presence of the crown princes Naruhito of Japan and Willem Alexander of the Netherlands opened the Holland Week today. It was an unforgettable event. The whole evening, starting an hour before the concert and ending with the reception at the New Nagasaki Hotel, followed a very strict protocol. Nothing was left to chance. In addition to both crown princes, a delegation of dignitaries from Holland attended the concert.
The pre-concert rehearsal started with a memorable moment for the orchestra. The Mayor of Rotterdam, Opstelten, gave an impressive speech in which he praised the orchestra for their achievements during the tour. He also said to be very happy about the prolongation of Gergiev's commitment, and the appointment of managing director Rob Overman. He said that he spoke for the whole Rotterdam community in being proud to have the orchestra as one of the city's most important calling cards. The mayor told the orchestra that the city council had given the orchestra a standing ovation at the beginning of their last session.

The Mayor of Rotterdam speaking to the orchestra
The new managing director of the orchestra received the special honor of being invited to sit beside his royal majesty prince Naruhito during the concert. The prince asked Rob Overman to inform him about the orchestra, the tour and the compositions. The prince told Rob Overman that he plays the viola. It is also a well-known fact that his mother, the empress Michiko, is a talented harpist and pianist. After the concert, the concertmasters Kees Hülsmann and Gerard Hettema, and principal conductor Valery Gergiev, had the opportunity to speak with both crown princes. Prince Willem Alexander was full of praise about the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra. After Rob Overman had thanked the crown princes for their presence, hundreds of Japanese (and some camera wielding musicians) waved the princes goodbye. It was a memorable day.

Another too good Japanese meal. I love it!

Day 13 - Nagoya
Thursday 20 April
While most musicians are still sound asleep, the staff of the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra already has its first meetings. Outsiders, and even some musicians, often have no idea what takes place behind the scenes during a tour. Evaluating and anticipating, the staff tries to organize an immaculate tour. Many decisions are taken during breakfast (which mostly starts at 7.00 A.M., after another short night): transport of suitcases, rehearsal schedule, delegation at receptions, musicians transportation, P.R., web site, tour schedule and so forth. Coffee helps.
It was an exhausting day. Early up, breakfast (skipped by most), a long bus ride to Fukuoka Airport, delay, one and a half hours on the plane to Nagoya, forty-five minutes on the bus, checking in to the hotel, one moment of relaxation and on to the Aichi Prefectural Art Theater. A really wonderful concert hall. An exhilarated audience, a full hall, we are getting used to it. Later that evening, the organizers of this tour were treated to a traditional Japanese meal with the staff of the orchestra. This was another way to confirm relations during the commemoration of 400 years Holland-Japan. It is no exaggeration to say that the cooperation between Japan Arts and the Rotterdam orchestra has become a friendship.
We are nearing the end of the tour. On one hand we would have liked to give at least five more concerts, because it is such a pleasure to be able to work with Valery Gergiev. On the other hand we are getting really tired. Many musicians are looking forward to being reunited
with family and friends. It was exceptionally quiet in the bar after the concert. The last free hours are used for sleeping or for buying a last souvenir.

Two new friends who invited the brass for an other exellent meal and some great beers. Thanks mr. Hiroshi!

The reviews have appeared in the newspapers. In Japan they usually publish the commentaries a week after the concerts.
After the tour the reviews will appear on this web site.

Waiting for the busses to bring us to Tokyo again.
Day 14 - Tokyo
Friday 21 April
The last day in Japan. Five hours of traveling, a little bit of rest, some last-minute shopping, a sushi lunch, the final concert in the Bunka Kaikan and the final reception in the Metropolitan Hotel.

Right before the concert, our Japan Arts colleagues are still ironing Valery Gergiev's tails.
The Bunka Kaikan, which they built in the early sixties, is the oldest concert hall in Tokyo. After the Metropolitan Art Space and the outstanding Suntory Hall, this was a new experience. For the first time we played for an audience of subscribers, a very select group of connoisseurs, and for the first time during the tour, we played a concerto. Thanks to the Akzo Nobel Young Talent Programme', the young Dutch violinist Janine Jansen could grace the final concert with a performance of Max Bruch's Violin Concerto. Just like two weeks ago, during the tour presentation concert in Rotterdam, Gergiev and Janine Jansen demonstrated the art of the solo concerto: a breathtaking contest between soloist and orchestra. Unique! The tour concluded with the fifth performance of the Symphonie Fantastique. Gergiev is a fascinating conductor. All five performances of the Fantasique were totally different. It is as if Gergiev rewrites the music for each performance. What a phenomenon. For the orchestra it was a monumental musical feast to give nine concerts with possibly the greatest conductor of our time.

Maestro Gergiev and Ben van Dijk on the last party of the tour.

After the concert, it was time for the last party. In the hotel, a hall was set up with food and drinks. All the people from the orchestra and Japan Arts were there, to celebrate and evaluate the successes of the tour. In his speech, Rob Overman, who started his new job as managing director with this tour, thanked the musicians for their dedication, Japan Arts for all their help, the staff of the orchestra for their part in making this such a successful tour, Janine Jansen for her wonderful performance and last but not least Valery Gergiev, who's inspiring artistic guidance provided this tour with so many memorable concerts.

Rob Overman thanks all the contributors to the Japan tour of the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra
The tour is over now. We gave wonderful concerts and there was a really great atmosphere in the orchestra. A tour never to forget!!

Published May 17 2000, 02:45 PM
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Bass trombonist of the Rotterdam Conservatory "Codarts" Ben is professor at the Rotterdam Conservatory "Codarts. He plays exclusively "Thein" tenor-bass and contrabass trombones.
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