Saturday, June 28, 2014

Tokyo (Day 3) - Symphony concert at Tokyo Opera City

Classical music is a big deal in Japan.  They take it very seriously here, both the performing of it and the building of halls in which to perform it.  In researching for this trip, we learned that not only was the concert hall at Tokyo Opera City reputed to be architecturally stunning, it was also acclaimed to be acoustically superb.  All this made us eager to see a performance while we were here.

We bought tickets ahead of time for the Yamagata Symphony Orchestra's performance of a program with works by Schubert, Devienne and Beethoven.  It was a fantastic evening, one of the best classical orchestral concert experiences I've had.  

The concert hall is in Shinjuku, on the other side of Tokyo from where we're staying, so we headed out early to give ourselves time to see Shinjuku (the largest train station in Tokyo and, with 3 million travelers each day, one of the busiest in the world) . . . 

View from the top floor of a department store that stands above the station
. . . have a bite to eat . . . 

French pastries probably aren't the most nutritious
dinner ever, but still -- it's Laduree!
Framboise macaron
. . . and find the concert hall in time to pick up our tickets from will-call.

The performing arts complex is large, new-feeling (I don't actually know how old it is), and impressive in a spare, quasi-corporate-headquarters way.

Principal arcade covering the public space between
performance spaces
Reflecting pools in front of one of the theatres
The interior of the concert hall, though, was exquisite:  warm, intimate, and stunningly beautiful.

I got yelled at for taking this photo during intermission.
Totally worth it.
Aesthetics aside, this room has the best acoustics I've ever heard in a concert hall.  The whole place was sheathed in wood, without any of the paneling or shells that other halls use to dampen, redirect or otherwise compensate for acoustic deficiencies.  And when the musicians played, the whole room came alive.  I could hear everything that was happening -- all the instruments and musical lines in perfect balance -- and the sound seemed to materialize around me, from everywhere at once, rather than a particular place on the stage.  Hearing the first note was one of those "aha!" moments when you realize that you've moved on to the next level and will never be quite the same again.

The program was good.  I liked the Schubert and wondered (as I always do when I listen to Schubert) why I'm not more familiar with his work.  This was my first time hearing of Devienne and his flute concerto, but it was a lovely piece and well performed by a petite woman in a flame-colored dress with dramatically droopy sleeves (prefect for a flautist!).  And of course Beethoven's Eroica Symphony is one of the beloved classics that never gets old.
I missed being able to read the program notes. At least they had the composers' names
and the title of the piece in English!
photo 5
Along with the program booklet, the ushers handed us a packet of
probably 50 advertisements for upcoming concerts.  I liked seeing
what was on deck for next season, but I can't believe that's an effective
way of advertising.
After the concert we walked out into the pouring rain to find a place to eat some real dinner.  We attempted to get into a nearby Michelin-starred restaurant (once again, located down a narrow side street in an unmarked basement), but they had closed their kitchens half an hour before we got there (fist shake to the universe!).  So we tried a tempura place nearby that was recommended by the guidebook.  Sadly, the food was not good by any standards -- terrible in comparison to the incredibly good sushi we'd had for lunch earlier in the day -- and since it all just looks like different shapes of fried batter, I'm not even going to honor it with photos.

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