JUSFC40 Meet Our Grantees Series: Orpheus Chamber Orchestra

May 23, 2016 

In celebration of its 40th anniversary, the Japan-U.S. Friendship Commission is having conversations with a number of grantees.

Orpheus performs in Sendai in 2014

Orpheus performs in Sendai in 2014.

The Japan-U.S. Friendship Commission is proud to support the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra and its project, Orpheus with Nobuyuki Tsujii:  a Cross-Cultural Partnership. This unique conductor-less orchestra will collaborate with 27 year-old Japanese pianist and composer Nobuyuki Tsujii in summer 2016 to rehearse and perform two Beethoven symphonies in the United States and Japan.

Blind since birth, Mr. Tsujii has enjoyed a rising career since winning the Gold Medal at the Van Cliburn Piano Competition in 2009. The Orpheus Orchestra has a long history of touring to Japan. “This is almost our 30th year of touring to Japan and we are celebrating our one hundredth concert. We like to say our home base is Carnegie hall but after that it’s Suntory Hall,” said Shruti Adhar, Director of Development and Engagement for the orchestra.

The project will include a dozen performances in Japan and the United States, including engagement programs in both countries for students and visually impaired individuals.

The program begins today in New York City with rehearsals through June 4, 2016. Public school children have been invited to the rehearsals and will be guided through the process of creating music in an orchestra without a conductor. Orpheus has also invited students from the Filomen M. D’Agostino Greenberg Music School at Lighthouse International, which is the world’s leading service organization for blind and visually impaired individuals.

The two-week tour of Japan will begin during the first week of June. Performing in Japan is special for the orchestra, which premises its work on a revolutionary principle. The Orpheus Chamber Orchestra has no conductor. The orchestra has a very democratic structure, with musicians listening to each other and rotating leadership among themselves. By performing without a conductor, Orpheus’ collaborative music-making uncovers rich musical layers infused with the individual vision and energy of each musician. “Sharing that with Japanese communities is very moving,” remarks Adhar.

For the third consecutive time, the city of Sendai in the Tohoku region will be featured on the tour. The orchestra’s first visit to this region was in May 2012, just one year after the devastating Great East Japan Earthquake. The musicians were moved to offer emotional respite to the residents, and they also visited Sendai’s Shukoh Middle School to perform, coach, and speak with the orchestra students. Orchestra members returned to the school in 2014 and will do so again in 2016.

In Tokyo, the orchestra hopes to engage young people. Adhar says that they plan to invite young peopleto their daily rehearsals. “They can see more of the democratic process at the rehearsals,” she says. “That’s where you see teamwork in action and the conversations among the musicians. We give them an introduction to the Orpheus process, they watch an hour of the rehearsal, and then students break out and talk one on one with the musicians.”

Following the Japan Tour, Orpheus and Tsujii will present thee concerts for American audiences. On July 5th, they will perform at a free outdoor concert in New York City’s Central Park as part of the renowned Naumburg Orchestral Series. They will then travel to Winona, Minnesota, on July 11th to anchor the Minnesota Beethoven Festival.

The program is forging ties between the United States and Japan. “It is helping to deepen this cross cultural partnership with the Japanese artists in Japan and the United States,” stresses Adhar. “We feel like it’s a powerful statement about the relationship between the United States and Japan because we are collaborating and creating art together.”