By Pauline Adamek
On July 17, 2009, the Bridging USA and Japan Concert, culminating with Beethoven’s magnificent 9th Symphony, was staged at the Walt Disney Concert Hall in downtown Los Angeles to a vociferous standing ovation. The entire audience leaped to their feet at the conclusion of a superb program of classical music, exquisitely and flawlessly performed by the acclaimed Asia America Symphony, with at the conductor’s podium.
Backing the four solo singers, as well as the hard-working and well-practiced orchestra, was an almost 400-strong chorus of volunteer – mostly amateur – singers drawn from the Japan Business Association of Southern California. The power of their swelling voices during the rousing choral of Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” was something to behold.
The evening began with a lively and familiar piece from Mozart, the Overture from “The Marriage of Figaro.” Next came Gabriel Fauré’s haunting and elegant orchestral composition “Pavanne.” Here is where Sara Andon, the Asia America Symphony orchestra’s principal flautist, demonstrated her delicate finesse when filling the vast hall with the sweet melody. This gentle piece by Fauré is quite breathtaking in its simplicity.
Gershwin’s “Japanese” and Bernstein’s vivacious Overture from “Candide” concluded the first part of the evening’s compact program. Bernstein’s sparkling piece had Maestro Benoit jumping up and down on his toes as he whipped his orchestra into a controlled musical frenzy.
After intermission, we were treated to the four movements of Beethoven’s splendid “Symphony No. 9 in D-minor, Opus 125” in all its glory.
Soprano Keiko Takeshita, Mezzo-Soprano Silvia Vasquez, Tenor Katsumi Narita and Bass Jinyoung Jang – the four featured soloists – glided on stage to thunderous applause. Each singer was masterful in his or her rendition of Beethoven’s solo interludes.
The choir waited patiently for their moment to shine, leaping to their feet as one for their choral contribution during the final movement. Maestro Benoit harnessed the chorus and the four soloists as the Symphony reached its exultant climax, including a rare opportunity to hear the concert hall’s organ, played by U-Jung Jung.
Beethoven’s 9th Symphony, with its symbolic history of frequent performances in Japan, was chosen to celebrate the enduring U.S.-Japan friendship here in Southern California. Finding international joy and harmony through music, this summer concert was an opportunity for Japanese and Japanese-American communities to unite with Americans in sharing a glorious and truly memorable musical experience.
[Pauline Adamek is a Hollywood-based film, theatre and food critic who files for “FilmInk Australia,” the “LA Daily News,” “Sun Community Newspapers” as well as various websites under the “nom du ’net” Max Million.]