Review: NHK Symphony Orchestra and Paavo Järvi @ Southbank Centre [London, 6th March 2017]

As part of the International Orchestra Series 2016/17, the leading Japanese NHK Symphony Orchestra performed at London’s Southbank Centre on Monday 6th March.

Conducted by Estonian talent Paavo Järvi, who became Chief Conductor of the Japanese orchestra only one season ago — and who also is at the helm of the Philarmonia Orchestra, one of the four Southbank Centre resident orchestras, the ensemble played two pieces in a 90-minute performance with no interval in between.

The concert opened with a 10 minute piece by Japanese Toru Takemitsu, a music pioneer and prolific composer for both orchestras and film soundtrack (composing for Akira Kurosawa among others), Toru ranks amongst the first composers to experiment with electronic instruments and was a notable writer on aesthetics and music theory, who was as much appreciated in the West as he was in the East.

Titled ‘Requiem for Strings’, dedicated to the memory of his mentor Fumio Hayasaka, and composed when he was only 27, the piece is mournful, severe, slow but rich — Stravinsky called it a masterpiece.

It was followed by Gustav Mahler’s ‘Symphony no. 6’, for which additional instruments, such as a number of percussions, a harp and more, came up on stage to accompany the string ensemble. Divided into four parts and defined by the composer himself as ‘Tragic’, the piece is desolate yet heroic. Whereas Takemitsu’s composition was melancholic, Mahler’s was rather epic, as if describing the fall of a hero.

The NHK Symphony Orchestra flawlessly performed the two pieces, instructed by the energetic Järvi who totally immersed himself in the music. It was a powerful and highly emotional concert. Classical music is still able to move you deeply.

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