Tokyo, Japan


Dear Readers,

Here I am, unexpectedly, in Japan, at the end of a week of touring with the Deutsche Kammerorchester Bremen and conductor Paavo Järvi. It’s not being here today that’s unexpected, so much as having just completed a Japanese tour which, a month ago, could not have been foreseen. In short, about three weeks ago, I received a request to substitute for an ailing soloist, and everything fell into place so well that I could not turn it down. The repertoire had to be the Beethoven Violin Concerto; I’d spent two weeks of the past month performing that, so it was in my fingers. I had to be in Asia anyway during this time, to rehearse with my new pianist Hyo-Sun Lim for our upcoming recitals in Macau, Korea, and Japan – so, to make both the tour and rehearsing work, we moved the rehearsals to Yokohama; they plopped tidily into a convenient 4-day break in the orchestra schedule, and the orchestra being based in Yokohama for those days, we got a good room rate in a very nice hotel, with rehearsal space in the same complex.

Other reasons to take the substitution tour: I’ve always enjoyed working with Paavo. This orchestra has a great reputation. The concerts were smack in the middle of the second week of my May vacation time, so I could come over here and work after still having had a week of down-time between trips. And finally, I love stepping into a cancellation: everyone is happy and relieved that a substitute was found, the atmosphere is positive, and to me, giving major concerts on a couple weeks’ or a few days’ notice inevitably feels like an adventure.

Everything worked out beautifully, except that now I’m stuck at the airport in Tokyo because, for the first time in my life, I left my passport at the hotel – and no one can get it to me in time for me to catch my flights to Macau (site of the first concert of the Asian recital tour) today. So I’m faced with either flying to Taipei and staying there overnight, or staying here for one more day. Either is slightly inconvenient, but at least I won’t be missing anything but precious rehearsal time, which I’m loath to skip out on, but without a passport, what else can I do? I feel stupid.

Oops, I was wrong. I just checked the schedule. Tomorrow, Hyo-Sun and I have a press conference – which begins an hour before the time I’d arrive, were I to take the same flights as I was booked on today. So it looks like I’ll be flying through Taipei, spending the night, then taking an early flight out, to arrive mid-morning with time to spare or use for rehearsal before meeting the press. Of all the places to leave my passport, it had to be at a hotel 1.5 hours from the airport, on a complicated travel day.

There are two things I’ve safeguarded with particular care. One, which dates back to my pre-teens, was my retainer, which I never lost even when all of my friends were misplacing theirs; I once threw it in the garbage in the school cafeteria, but realized my mistake immediately and fished it out. (I rinsed it off before putting it back in my mouth!) The other is my passport. I have been so vigilant with it; I can’t live this lifestyle or do my job without it. I should have checked my bag in the car, or searched my room before I left. But I didn’t, so here I am, cross-legged on the floor of Narita airport, typing as my Japanese managers scramble to book replacement flights and a hotel room for me for this evening in Taipei. How embarrassing.

Looking on the bright side, though, it could be fun to be stuck in Taipei overnight, by myself. (I sent Hyo-Sun and my assistant on ahead to Macau; no need to contort their plans as well.) I can get a nice hotel room, do some work, watch some Taiwanese TV, walk around in a country I hadn’t been scheduled to return to for a while, and get some delicious Chinese food and bubble tea (favorite flavors: red bean, lychee, and honeydew), before heading into my recital tour. Sounds like a good time to me! I like being by myself, and I could celebrate the end of a fantastic week by hanging out alone, doing whatever I feel like, before the grind of the next tour sets in.

The orchestra’s concerts – the ones in which I participated – took place on the 19th, 20th, 21st, 22nd, and 27th (yesterday afternoon). I arrived on the 17th, rehearsed on the 18th and 19th, and then we were off and running. It was a busy schedule: each concert was in a different place, so we traveled on every concert day and then did a soundcheck rehearsal in each venue. The orchestra had a heavier itinerary than I did, though; as I write, they are rehearsing for the last concert of the tour, in which they’ll perform the last two of a complete Beethoven-symphony cycle, performed in Yokohama over the course of four concerts in the span of 48 hours (yesterday’s matinee was #2 in the lineup). Throughout the tour, they used every second of rehearsal time to prepare those nine symphonies; Paavo’s suitcase was backbreakingly heavy from the number of scores he carried with him to study. But the group sounds terrific.

This orchestra is so full of life and enthusiasm for the music; they play with guts and sensitivity and without fear, attacking or “singing out” where appropriate and holding back with admirable control where a lighter touch is required. This Beethoven concerto interpretation must have shaved a good two minutes off of my previous tempi, but it felt comfortable because the orchestra’s and Paavo’s rhythm is so good and they were flexible enough to go along with any ideas I had on the spur of the moment. If I wanted to hold something back or linger on a note, they suspended with me. When I wanted to move on ahead, they spurred themselves on as well. The same held for their mastery of dynamics. It was wonderful, concert after concert, and each concert was very different from the next.

They even supported my slight practical joke of adding a bluegrass tune (tastefully, mind you!) to the middle of the second-movement cadenza (the solo, improvisatory-style section at the end of the movement), as a surprise for them. That was a response to Paavo having called me chicken backstage the evening before – it’s a convoluted story – so, granted, the “hoedown” as they nicknamed it, didn’t come entirely out of the blue. But they were so excited about it afterwards that I was encouraged to invent another new second-movement cadenza for yesterday’s performance, which I did, working out the structure a few hours before the concert and improvising the rest onstage. Onstage, before and during both of those new cadenzas, my heart was racing a million miles an hour – but it was a blast! That orchestra has a great sense of humor; they travel with a “mascot”, a Beethoven action figure (yes, that’s right) with movable limbs, which shows up onstage for rehearsals and performances, in all sorts of poses. Yesterday morning he was lying face down, purportedly tired from the previous night’s exertions. He was awake for the concert, maintaining a pushup position next to the conductor’s music stand till the end of the program. It cracked me up to look down in front of the podium during orchestral tuttis and see Beethoven there, but that’s just how the orchestra is: they work hard and throw themselves into the music, but they balance the intensity with levity.

Uh-oh. Now it looks like my staying overnight in Taipei would void my tickets to Macau, Korea, and Japan. What a mess. Now I have to decide whether I’m willing to pay $3000 for the replacement tickets so that I can make my press conference, but first I have to find out whether the press conference can be moved – both of which options pretty much stink. I try to be professional, but sometimes things backfire and I’m left looking like a fool. I can’t contact anyone at the moment about moving the press conference, because the itinerary sent to me by email isn’t opening on my computer, and Hyo-Sun and my assistant have made off with the only printed copies.

For some strange reason, I’ve been taking a lot of self-portraits with my camera but very few pictures of my surroundings. I’ll try to remedy that. But for now, I don’t have any pictures to post with this entry. I’ve been trying to finish work on my album, and that’s kept me in my hotel room, hence the lack of excursion photos.

I have to go. This situation is getting more complicated and frustrating by the moment, and it’s quite unhelpful for me to be sitting on the floor while everyone else is working chaotically to try to fix my mistakes.

Yours from the road,

Hilary

P.S. An update: I wound up getting to Macau that night, without having to pay anything extra, though I had a scare in the layover when I was shuttled mysteriously from one airline counter to another. It all worked out fine, so, thank you managers! Thank you airlines! Hooray!