Japan Project

Oxford University Orchestra Japan Charity Tour March 2019
Music to Inspire, Regenerate & Connect

Our objective was to undertake a meaningful cultural exchange and outreach tour between musicians based in Oxford and in Tokyo and Fukushima. Though our partnerships with both orchestras were brief, we were extremely touched by the welcome we received from all our partners in Japan, the level of musicality across all orchestras we played with, and how warmly our performances were received.

Clockwise from top left: OUO and Orchestra MOTIF with conductor Cayenna Ponchione-Bailey in Fujiyama Memorial Hall, Keio University; OUO members with calligraphy gift; OUO Tour Committee with Director of the British Council in Japan Matt Burney; OUO Tour Committee with OU Chancellor Lord Patten, OU Vice-Chancellor Louise Richardson, the British Ambassador to Japan Paul Madden, and Director of the British Council in Japan Matt Burney; OUO quartet playing at the Embassy; Vice-President of Keio University and OUO Manager Poppy Miller

Our partnership with Orchestra MOTIF allowed our musicians to come together with Tokyo-based student and professional musicians, and to get to know them as both fellow musicians and friends. We spent many enjoyable hours perfecting our repertoire and performed a sold-out concert in Keio University’s beautiful concert hall, which was met with a standing ovation from our generous audience.

One of the most poignant international responses to the Fukushima disaster 8 years ago was the performance of ‘Song for Japan’ by brass groups across the world, to show solidarity for those in Japan at the time. Alex East’s (OUO trombone) arrangement for brass nonet was a stunning encore and the performance brought many audience members to tears, moved by our gesture. The committee’s time in Tokyo was topped off with an invitation to dinner at the British Embassy by the Ambassador and the University of Oxford Japan Office – it was a privilege to meet and perform for Chancellor Lord Patten, Vice-Chancellor Louise Richardson as well as the Ambassador himself.
For the outreach part of our tour we were invited to take part in El Sistema Japan’s annual Children’s Music Festival Weekend in Soma City, in Fukushima. We spent a fantastic day rehearsing with the Soma Children’s Orchestra and Chorus – there were over 200 performers on the stage – before performing together for a packed concert hall. We came away feeling inspired by the determination and drive of the children who we shared the stage with, and the enthusiasm of the audience. It was a delight to celebrate our respective cultures through our mixed repertoire of Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance No. 1 and Soma Bon-Uta, a local folk song, which our Japanese desk partners taught us the words to!
Our partnership with the Soma Children’s Orchestra and Chorus was picked up by Japanese National TV, and can be watched in Japanese here.

Some of the translated quotes from the audience and children in Soma:

“It was so powerful!”
“I am so impressed. I think it is the first time that Soma city is filled with such an enthusiasm.”
“It was so much fun and I really enjoyed it. I really want to perform with them again next year.”
“Even though we cannot fully communicate in the same language, music transcends the border and we can communicate together. It was amazing.”
“It is without doubt that OUO has high music excellency, but not only that, they are really kind and friendly. I learned a lot from them.”

At the Soma Children’s Music Festival, concert and reception.

On our final day we visited the tsunami monument in Soma, learning about the tragic effects of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami. We then went to the Minamisoma Solar Agripark, where we met children involved in the ‘Asubito Fukushima’ programme. This organisation was set up in the wake of the disaster, encouraging young people in environmental, educational and community initiatives, including promoting new technologies, as a way of getting young people involved in the recovery of the district. We were left amazed by the level of passion and innovation of the teenagers we met. We introduced the local schoolchildren to the instruments of the orchestra, gave them the chance to conduct us, and played together with the Minamisoma Junior Chorus Ensemble. It was amazing how much our visit meant to them and we felt extremely grateful to bear witness to the regeneration Fukushima has managed to achieve in 8 years. It was a fitting ending to our tour which perfectly captured the values we aimed to promote in our cultural exchange and outreach work: music to inspire, regenerate and connect.

Thank you to everyone who supported this tour; it could not have happened without you.

Bottom left to right: “Be a conductor” experience; with the schoolchildren at the Minamisoma Solar Agripark; playing alongside the Minamisoma Junior Chorus Ensemble.

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