“Do you believe in miracles?” was the phrase used when the US Hockey team won the most improbable victory during the 1980 Winter Olympics. That members of the New York City Opera Orchestra just completed a week-long tour in Japan brings to mind the same sense of astonishment and accomplishment.
Thirteen months ago NYCO filed for bankruptcy and was left for dead. But the orchestra, though depleted in nearly every sense except the musical one, has tried to remain together as a unit.
On November 7 we boarded a plane at JFK taking us to Japan to perform two concerts, one in Nagoya and one in Natori, a small town near Sendai. Natori is in Tohoku, the region that was devastated by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami.
Our trip was short and intense. In eight days we managed 27 hours of flights, five hours of bullet trains, five and a half hours of bus rides, four rehearsals, two performances, many hours waiting for said planes, trains and buses, checking in and out of three hotels, and two 14-hour time changes.
This brief tour was an opportunity to play with our dear friend, Maestro Atsushi Yamada, in support of Project Hand in Hand, an organization devoted to organizing “international performances to call for the continued and extensive support of Japan’s long-term recovery efforts and to express gratitude for the warm support that has already been given from all around the world.”
Through Project Hand in Hand, Maestro Yamada has for the past three years brought children’s choruses from Tohoku to New York, where they performed with the NYCO Orchestra. This time we were going to perform with them in their home.
The repertoire was Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony, a work we all knew, but had certainly never performed as a group, and Orff’s Carmina Burana, which we had played with Maestro Yamada and the Japanese children’s choruses at Lincoln Center’s Rose Hall in March of 2014.
When NYCO toured Japan in 2005, we performed in Nagoya in the Theater of the excellent Aichi Performing Arts Center. This time we played in the Concert Hall of the same Center―a large, bright, open space.
The concert hall in Natori was smaller with warm, excellent acoustics. But of much more importance and significance, we were told that after the tsunami it was home to 400 families for six months. We knew that our concert there was going to be the emotional center of this short tour. Learning of the vital role this hall played in so many lives raised our own already heightened emotional commitment.
As one might imagine, under the very best of circumstances, organizing and executing an orchestra tour is a mammoth task. Attempting to arrange one with no staff is beyond monumental and our thanks and appreciation must first and foremost go to David Titcomb, our personnel manager, without whose patience, trust and experience nothing would have happened. That the same appreciation must go to Maestro Yamada and the tiny volunteer staff of Project Hand in Hand is without question.
Our opera company is still bankrupt and out of business, and as an orchestra we are together only rarely. But we were doubly rewarded on this trip―playing together again as an orchestra, and bringing comfort through music-making to an area that has experienced so much sorrow as well as to ourselves.