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Sylff Chamber Music Seminar Concert in Vienna

April 23, 2013

Sylff Chamber Music Seminar Concert in Vienna (April 17, 2013)

Sylff Chamber Music Seminar Concert in Vienna (April 17, 2013)

The Tokyo Foundation has supported three Sylff musical institutions—the Paris Conservatoire, the Juilliard School and the University of Music and Performing Arts Vienna—in their collaborative organization of a Sylff Chamber Music Seminar and Concert since 2006.

Carefully selected Sylff fellow musicians from the respective institutions meet at a host institution, and after intensive practice with coaches for a week, they perform at a finale concert. This April, the event was hosted by the University of Music and Performing Arts Vienna.

The following link takes you to the final concert that took place on April 17, 2013, at the Joseph Haydn Hall in the University of Music and Performing Arts. http://www.mdw.ac.at/mdwMediathek/thesylfffellows2013/

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Lessons That Will Last a Lifetime

March 18, 2013
By 19649

I learned about the Michinoku Wind Orchestra project in spring 2012. I had a wonderful time on an earlier visit to Japan, so I was eager to travel there again. I also wanted to do something for the areas decimated by the March 2011 disaster. There was a limit to what I could do on my own, but I felt I could be of some help by participating in this project.

Damage from the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami was truly shocking. I couldn’t sit still while watching the images of the destruction broadcast on television in the days following the disaster. While preparing to travel to Japan for the workshops in Tohoku and the concert at Suntory Hall in mid-August 2012, I was at once excited about being able to perform with other outstanding musicians who had volunteered to participate in the project and apprehensive about how I should communicate with the students who had gone through such a tragedy.

I arrived at Sendai Airport on August 12. This was the same airport that I had seen being engulfed by the tsunami, with its runway being strewn with planes, cars, and even homes. As far as I could tell, though, the airport seemed fully recovered from that horrifying event a year and a half ago.

Workshop at Tohoku High School

Workshop at Tohoku High School

The next morning, the other Sylff fellows and I departed for Tohoku High School by bus, and there I met the Tohoku students I would be teaching. My first impression was that they were very shy and nervous. Other Sylff fellows felt the same way. We wondered that perhaps the traumatic events of March 2011 had caused them to become withdrawn.

I later learned, though, that the students were so reserved because they didn’t know each other either. They had come from various schools throughout Miyagi Prefecture, and many were meeting fellow members for the first time. As we practiced our parts, they grew more relaxed and cheerful, and I realized that my initial concerns about emotional wounds were ungrounded. Despite their youthful innocence, they also displayed the kind of maturity and inner strength that no doubt were an outgrowth of the hardship they had gone through.

Their resilience also melted away any apprehensions I had harbored prior to my visit. The workshops with the students, held over three days in Sendai, were a wonderful opportunity to make many young friends through the medium of music.

No Borders to Natural Disasters

Before moving to Tokyo for the concert at Suntory Hall, I and the other Sylff fellows visited Ishinomaki, which suffered heavy tsunami damage, and performed a mini-concert. I was appalled to see the destruction firsthand on the tour of the city. We visited a music store whose owner was repairing the pianos the tsunami washed away. While they can probably never be fully restored, the pianos were being painstakingly repaired, the owner said, so they could be used in concerts as a tribute to all those who lost their lives in the disaster.

Concert at Ishinomaki

The Ishinomaki Concert

The Ishinomaki concert was organized as an event to offer hope and encouragement to local residents, but we wound up being on the receiving end, moved and uplifted by their indomitable spirit and their will to live. I have only the highest respect for them.

It was a very hectic week, and I was quite tired by the time we reached Suntory Hall, but I thoroughly enjoyed all the rehearsals and the concert itself. At the reception following the performance, all the performers overcame the language barrier and our very different backgrounds and shared a strong sense of accomplishment and fulfillment.

There, I met a local student musician who introduced herself as a Zainichi—an ethnic Korean born and raised in Japan. While I was happy to meet a fellow Korean in Japan, at the same time I realized that natural disasters have no borders and that anyone can become a victim.

The students in Tohoku had not lost their dreams and aspirations despite the difficult circumstances and seemed to truly enjoy the chance to perform. Seeing how dedicated they were, I couldn’t help but feel that music was a factor behind their bright outlook on life.

It hit upon me, then, that music can be very effective way of helping people maintain a healthy frame of mind. I also realized that music is not just something that is performed to be heard. The week I spent with the students working toward the goal of a Suntory Hall concert taught me that it is also a medium of communication. These are insights that will stay with me throughout my musical career. I also resolved to actively participate in any similar projects in the future.

The Michinoku workshops and concerts turned out to be a very valuable experience for me. I am very grateful to the Tokyo Foundation for giving me this opportunity, and I would also like to thank the teachers at the Tohoku middle and high schools, the other musicians who donated their time and energy for this project, the students at the Senzoku Gakuen College of Music, and most of all the student performers from the Tohoku area who traveled all the way to Tokyo and performed so admirably at Suntory Hall.

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A Real Conversation through Music

December 10, 2012
By 19639

Our expedition began at the Charles de Gaulle airport, where Dylan, Carl-Emmanuel and I had agreed to meet. Excited and impatient, we journeyed in a superb Airbus 380: the flight went perfectly. Upon our arrival in Japan, there were 12 more hours of travel, and jet lag set in… I never adjusted completely to the time change: my body was tired but my spirits alert!

A very full program awaited us—perhaps too much for just seven days—the principal aim of which was for us to meet and exchange with Japanese students between the ages of 12 and 15, and to prepare them for our joint final concert in Tokyo. The experience was a fascinating one: I discovered an entirely different educational system! The students were very shy, making communication almost impossible the first day.

A typical day involved our departing together by bus from the hotel in Sendai at about 8:15, arriving at Tohoku High School 30 minutes later. Classes began at 9 am, and I would work on a rotating basis with groups of five to six students, according to their instrumental level. We worked on warm up techniques—these vary considerably between countries.

It was thus that I was able to work with three horn players at the highest study level—without translators—and to have a real conversation about our instrument. They asked me all sorts of questions related to the horn, to the music, and even about me! And I discovered that they were curious, eager to know more!

As a result of this exchange, they in turn confided in me, speaking of the impact the tsunami on their lives. Virtually all of the students had lost a member of their entourage during the catastrophe. I was very surprised and honored that they had chosen to confide in me, for this felt unusual. I shared a truly special moment with these young people, and the final concert in Tokyo’s Suntory Hall was very moving indeed.

Throughout our stay, we were extremely well cared for—the Japanese team was most attentive to all our needs.

Our group gave a concert in Ishinomaki, a town situated on the eastern coast, north of Sendai. Around 90% of the town had been destroyed. We visited an old residential neighborhood that had been totally devastated and in which we saw only the remains of houses. I found this extremely upsetting and moving—almost embarrassing. While I’d thought I could imagine the horror of the catastrophe, in fact its reality came home to me for the first time in Ishinomaki. I felt the extraordinary Japanese determination to reclaim their lives, without giving in to despair. It was amazing.

I was thrilled to meet other Sylff fellows from New York and Vienna. I already knew the oboist Merideth Hite, as well as Bärli Nugent, who had coordinated the Sylff Chamber Ensemble project at the Juilliard School in January 2011. I performed Poulenc’s brass trio with two Viennese musicians, Dietmar Nigsch and Panju Kim. Our encounter was a warm one, though the very tight schedule and lack of time made it hard to manage everything.

Performing together again is something we’d all like to do—though perhaps difficult to realize! For the moment, we are staying in touch and beginning to think about a new project…

Read more Together in Tohoku articles here.

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Music as an Essential Part of People’s Lives

November 28, 2012
By null

In times of financial crises, statements like “music is not a luxury, it is a need” are thrown around as a means to justify why the arts should be promoted. I hope that the following account will give such empty clichés new meaning and substance.

Marimba soloists: Keiko Abe and David C. Panzl

Marimba soloists: Keiko Abe and David C. Panzl

A year and a half ago it seemed that life in Japan was about to collapse. A string of terrible events led to a catastrophe of unprecedented proportions in which many people lost their lives and which caused great suffering and damage. I could never have imagined then that I would be traveling to that devastated region to teach young musicians. But so it was: in August 2012 the Tokyo Foundation gave me the opportunity to travel to Japan.

Once in Sendai and after meeting my students for the first time, I knew that there would be some obstacles to overcome. Not only was there very little time before the concert in Tokyo at the end of the week, the reserved nature of the students also presented me with a very big challenge. Fortunately I had brought along enough chocolate with me from Austria, which proved to be an ideal icebreaker during the first minutes of our acquaintance.

In order to get an idea of the level of my new 20 students, I got them in a circle for a round of practice drumming. Once in position I asked each of them to play three simple exercises that drummers need to learn and which would give me an understanding of their proficiency. The results left me somewhat perplexed, as there were only two students who were capable of playing the exercises! I couldn’t imagine how we would be able to play the difficult program assigned.

Orchestra rehearsal in SendaiMy worries turned out to be unfounded, though, when we met an hour later for the first tutti rehearsal with the full orchestra. I was very surprised to hear how well each one of the students had prepared their part and with what delight they merged into the orchestra. It seemed that the group dynamic motivated them to achieve a level of playing that was not possible at our first meeting.

This led me to change my teaching strategy, shifting the classroom lessons into orchestra rehearsals. The students seemed intimidated during the individual lessons, but now, in a group rehearsal context, they were relaxed and open. This change made it possible for me to work on what I considered most important and achieve good results within the short time frame.

The lessons took place anywhere—even in the hallways if the situation required it. It was precisely this casual teaching approach, something that Japanese students were not familiar with, that yielded the best results. When Keiko Abe, in Sendai for her double marimba concert of “Prism Rhapsody II,” attended our general rehearsal, the happiness of the students seemed complete.

On the day before the Suntory Hall concert, I and other Sylff fellows went to the region where many of the children were from to perform a mini-concert. It was quite shocking to still see the devastation, 18 months after the March 2011 disaster, and to feel the desolation that pervaded the coastal city. It was there that I realized the contrast between the laughter of my students on the previous days and the terrible images of the recent past that must have been anchored deeply in their minds.

That is exactly why music—and the arts in general—is not a luxury but an essential part of the everyday lives of people. It gives us hope, strength, courage, and joy and possesses undeniable healing powers. This is proof enough for me that the arts have infinitely more value than mere entertainment.

Our final concert at the prestigious Suntory Hall in Tokyo was not only a great success but will definitely be an event that will stay with those children throughout their lives and hopefully be an important source of motivation in their future.

This article was originally carried (in German) in the November 2012 issue of the monthly newsletter of the University of Music and Performing Arts in Vienna. Read more Together in Tohoku articles here.

David Christopher Panzl
Born to a family of musicians in Austria and started playing drums at the age of three. Attended the Konservatorium Wien (KWU), from where he received his bachelor’s degree in music (percussion). Recently received his master’s degree from the University of Music and Performing Arts, Vienna (MDW), where he learned about the Michinoku project and volunteered to participate as a member of the Sylff Chamber Ensemble. Has studied with world-renowned marimba artist Keiko Abe, who graciously accepted an invitation to participate in the project as well. Performed the solo of Abe's "Prism Rhapsody II" at the Suntory Hall concert with the composer/musician, along with a high school student from Tohoku. Now has an assistant teaching position at MDW.

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A “Re-oxygenating” Experience

November 8, 2012
By 19612

This week constituted a profoundly human experience, bringing together as it did musicians of different nationalities in a very particular context.

The encounter with these Japanese students was, for me, absolutely remarkable. In their way of listening, I felt and appreciated a profound respect both for us and for each other. Each musician was absolutely present, ready to give his very best and to work with determination. I was also struck by their remarkable and unusual sense of discipline. In France, we are used to orchestral rehearsals during which it is not infrequent to hear whisperings while the conductor speaks. Here, there was a wonderful silence and a capacity to respond immediately.

I loved the sincerity, the passion, the smiles, and the energy each of these young people brought to the project—despite the incredibly difficult context in which they have found themselves since March 2011. This week gave me valuable new perspectives on what now appear to be our “small problems” in France and our permanent state of dissatisfaction. It also warmed my heart to see young people who respect one another so deeply!

"sound painting"

"sound painting"

I really enjoyed playing with all these musicians in the orchestra, and especially being able to work together on “sound painting.”1 A beautiful exchange…

It’s hard to describe the depth of the impression of being “re-oxygenated” from within—simply by sitting next to a person, without necessarily speaking, but just feeling how he is living and breathing fully this present moment!

Read more Together in Tohoku articles here.

1 In between orchestral rehearsals, “sound painting” workshops were held that called on musicians to improvise on the spot in response to sign language instructions from the conductor. This is a technique used in contemporary music that gives performers greater freedom of emotional expression and stimulates their imagination. Exposure to such experimental techniques was probably one of the highlights of the Michinoku project. A total of approximately 40 curious middle and high school students participated in two fun-filled and engaging workshops.

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Sylff Winds Workshops and Concerts: An Exemplary Collaboration between Cultures

October 23, 2012
By 19673

Last April, when I first heard about the Tokyo Foundation’s project, Together in Tohoku Workshops and Concert, I was immediately interested. I had never been to Japan, and the simple thought of making the trip was most exciting. When I learned of the project’s scale, I was even more eager to participate, for such a combined artistic and humanitarian initiative resonates profoundly with my own vision of the artist’s role in society as a citizen-musician.

A year and a half ago, when I saw the tragic events experienced by the inhabitants of the Tohoku region, I felt extremely sad and helpless by the enormity of it all. I was frustrated not to be able to help and could only observe the horror unfold on my television screen. I saw a nation deploy all its energy and courage to try to save its citizens. The Sylff project in Tohoku, in which I was lucky enough to participate, provided me with an opportunity to act and contribute—at my own level—in playing a small part in rebuilding the devastated region.

From what I observed, working with 18 saxophonists within an overall group of a hundred musicians aged 13 to 22, I felt that the orientation of the Japanese students was significantly different from that of the French. The Japanese have very good ensemble techniques and excellent orchestral practice habits. My contribution was needed in the area of individual technique. The reverse would have been true in France. This can probably be explained by the difference between the two music education systems. The students had a wonderful spirit, and showed a great thirst to learn.

At the beginning of the week, I found my group very reserved and shy. But this didn’t last long! In the end, each one showed himself to be extremely open-minded and determined. At first, we “coaches” felt hindered by our ignorance of Japanese and by the paucity of translators and interpreters, but this soon gave way, and the magic of music’s universality allowed us to give several private lessons. Personally, I found the challenge of questioning my own teaching methods and ways of communing particularly rewarding. On the last day, to my great surprise, during the small reception given after the special concert in Suntory Hall, I realized that many of the students actually spoke a little English but had not dared say a word!

The experience of working with these young people, victims of the tragedy, was a profoundly moving and exciting one for me. Behind their apparent timidity, I met sensitive, generous, and thoughtful human beings. In fact, I discovered an entire culture during my week in Japan.

Visiting Ishinomaki was a highlight. Seeing this devastated city was a real shock. So many empty spaces in the middle of the city, formerly occupied by houses and buildings, in which grass was growing back; the numerous houses whose ground floors had been destroyed; the school whose blackened walls were destroyed by fire after being covered by the sea; and the incongruous everyday objects still dotting the landscape: They all bore testimony to the ravages of the tragedy.

The concert we performed in this city was both sad and inspiring, coming as it did following our tour of the city by bus. We saw members of the public, often with tears in their eyes, listening to us perform in a community center which had doubtless been used as a shelter. I hope we were able to transmit our sense of hope and caring.

The week in Japan also allowed me to meet Sylff fellows from Paris, New York, and Vienna and to share an experience of living in communion with people I did not know but with whom I shared common interests. I loved meeting the Sylff coordinators—such caring people—and all the extraordinary volunteers involved, including the translators and musicians. I really hope to stay in touch with the people involved in the project.

Following our Suntory Hall concert, David Panzl and I started developing a joint chamber project which should lead to further concerts in Europe. Thanks to Facebook, we have also been able to share pictures and to stay in touch with many of the students.

In the end, I believe I learned at least as much as the students we were there to coach. This experience has made a profound impact on me, and I think how lucky I was to be a part of it. I’d be delighted to participate in similar projects in the future! As students, we often travel—sometimes long distances—to reach teachers in academies or music courses. Here, it was the opposite, with “coaches” from different countries coming together to work with a group of students, to share know-how, and make music together. The presence of outstanding musical personalities, such as Keiko Abe, was also important. The precious moments we shared, in which the concept of distance become relative, struck me as being truly original. This collaboration between cultures will be, I hope, a precursor of future ones.

I would like to express my profound gratitude to the Sylff program, the Tokyo Foundation, the Paris Conservatoire, Juilliard, and Vienna, as well as all the many project partners.

Read more Together in Tohoku articles here.

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Music and Hope for Tohoku: My Week with the Michinoku Wind Orchestra

October 11, 2012
By 19661


There's no temple as great as Matsushima's Suigan Temple.
In front of it is the sea, and behind it a mountain called Komatsubara.
In Ishinomaki is the famous Mount Hiyori.

”Tairyo Utaikomi” (Fisherman's Song)
Folk Song of Miyagi Prefecture

Asked about the value of the arts, it can be hard to come up with an immediate or concrete answer. We cite studies that show that students engaged in art demonstrate improved linguistic or math skills or that it improves creativity, but these points only define the value of art as it influences other fields. Is there a value to art other than more commercial success in the future?

I think most people would say “yes,” but perhaps the difficulty of verbalizing art’s intrinsic benefits stems from its tendency to speak to the intangible or nonverbal elements of the human experience. The arts offer us a means of expression beyond words, and they can allow us to share ideas that transcend the limits of linguistic communication. As a composer and scholar, I am personally fascinated by the potential of art to communicate and explore these elements of life and humanity, and from 2011-2012 I received a Sylff (Sasakawa Young Leader's Fellowship Fund) Fellowship—a program administered by the Tokyo Foundation—in order to pursue my research in cross-cultural communication through music.

Music is uniquely situated as one of the most fundamentally abstract of the arts. There is no reason that a series of vibrations in the air at different rates and magnitudes should hold any meaning. Yet, humans have used music throughout recorded history to convey ideas for which words were insufficient, from the earliest songs praising our heroes and deities to symphonies glorifying individual triumph and Japanese folk songs expressing the beauty of a local area and the pride of the people.

It is no wonder, then, that Steven Verhelst’s “Song for Japan” has become so popular as a means for people all over the world to express their condolences to the victims of the Tohoku earthquake. This piece allows musicians a chance to share their overwhelming emotions where the words, “I’m so sorry for your loss,” seem to fall short. The piece expresses the sadness of loss and hope for the future that those of us living abroad wished to share with the people of Japan.

“Together in Tohoku” Project

Similarly, when I saw a notification in the Sylff Newsletter about the “Together in Tohoku” program, a series of music workshops for students who were victims of the disaster, I e-mailed the Tokyo Foundation to see if there was any way that I could be of assistance. The program involved outstanding young musicians from three Sylff music schools spending a week in Japan, coaching students in Miyagi (aged 12 to 18) and joining them onstage in Tokyo's Suntory Hall as the Michinoku Wind Orchestra. I was thrilled when I heard that I could lend my skills to these events as an amateur interpreter, helping in the communication between the students and the Sylff Chamber Ensemble.

Sylff Chamber Ensemble in Ishinomaki city, Miyagi prefecture

Sylff Chamber Ensemble in Ishinomaki city, Miyagi prefecture

The musicians in this Sylff Chamber Ensemble included Merideth Hite (oboe), Moran Katz (clarinet), and Dean Bärli Nugent (flute) from the Julliard School in New York; Carl-Emmanuel Fisbach (saxophone), Dylan Corlay (bassoon), and Marie Collemare (horn) from the Conservatoire de Paris; and Panju Kim (trumpet), Dietmar Nigsch (trombone), and David Panzel (percussion) from the University of Music and Performing Arts in Vienna. Perhaps the tangible benefits of the Sylff Chamber Ensemble's visit might seem insignificant compared to the needs of people who lost friends and family members or all of their material possessions, but this international musical collaboration will hopefully provide lessons, models, and memories that will support these students as they continue into adulthood.

How Do You Get to Suntory Hall? Practice!

Before the concert at Suntory Hall, the Sylff fellows worked closely with some 130 students from schools all over Miyagi Prefecture, offering private and group lessons and rehearsing together with them at the Izumi campus of Tohoku High School. For many students, these lessons were the first private instruction that they had ever received and were a unique opportunity for them to engage directly with masters of their instruments. These workshops ran from 9:30 am to 4 pm (with only a short break for lunch) for three consecutive days from August 13 to 15. These students, despite the demands of this rigorous schedule, their commute, and oppressive heat rose to the occasion through the kindness and support of the Sylff Fellows and Japanese faculty.

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Private lesson -Bärli Nugent (flute)
Group lesson -Moran Katz (clarinet)-
Rehearsal -David Christopher Panzl (percussion)-
Group Lesson -Marie Collemare (horn)
Group lesson -Dylan Corlay (bassoon)


As with any international exchange, there were cultural and linguistic miscommunications, but they were easily navigated as everyone shared the same fundamental goal of providing these students with the best possible experience. The Sylff Chamber Ensemble’s clear dedication to the students quickly broke down the barriers of language and shyness. Several of the fellows too, commented on how impressed they were by the students' efforts and willingness to perfect their performance.

By Wednesday, August 15, many of the students seemed genuinely heartbroken that their grueling rehearsal schedule had already come to an end, and I was inundated with students asking how to say, “I will never forget you” in English.

Performing in Ishinomaki

On Thursday, the Sylff Chamber Ensemble traveled to the coastal city of Ishinomaki to perform a mini-concert at a community salon. Ishinomaki has one of the most tragic stories of last year’s tsunami, with thousands of lives lost and several entire neighborhoods leveled. Now, a year and a half after the disaster, the town is rebuilding slowly but surely.

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Concert at Ishinomaki -Sylff Chamber Ensemble
Ishinomaki Concert -Dietmar Nigsch (trombone)
Concert at Ishinomaki -Merideth Hite (oboe)
Concert at Ishinomaki -Panju Kim (trumpet)
Concert at Ishinomaki -Carl-Emmanuel Fisbach (saxophone)


Thursday afternoon’s mini-concert was an intimate affair, attended by between 50 and 70 local residents, many of whom were senior members of the Ishinomaki community, and the Sylff Chamber Ensemble’s performance of “Song for Japan” drew tears from many members of the crowd.

Before their performance, the Sylff fellows visited Sarukoya, a musical instrument shop in downtown Ishinomaki. Teruo Inoue, the owner, didn't have enough time to close the shutters before he fled on the day of the earthquake, and all 30 pianos on display were submerged in the tsunami. Inoue decided to keep the pianos, though, and works to restore them to concert-ready condition.

Teruo Inoue -the owner of musical instrument shop in Ishinomaki- and Sylff Chamber Ensemble members

Teruo Inoue -the owner of musical instrument shop in Ishinomaki- and Sylff Chamber Ensemble members

Through a variety of ingenious techniques, he has already finished repairing one grand piano, which now travels across Japan for professional performances. The piano has become so popular that there were several bouquets of flowers in the store sent by various patrons. Inoue is currently restoring a second piano for a new middle school being built in Ishinomaki. He admitted that it would actually be much cheaper to buy a new piano than to repair those that were damaged, but he is working to restore them as symbols of renewal in ways that will be meaningful to the community.

Collaborative and Unified Expression

On Friday, the Sylff Chamber Ensemble joined the rest of the Michinoku Wind Orchestra in Tokyo for the concert that was the culmination of the week’s program. The audience consisted of over 1,300 people, many of whom had assisted with the success of this project by donating instruments to replace those that were lost in the tsunami or working behind the scenes for the international exchange. This crowd made the concert a tremendously meaningful event not just for the performers but for everyone in attendance.

Sylff Chamber Ensemble joined Michinoku Wind Orchestra at Suntory Hall, Tokyo

Sylff Chamber Ensemble joined the rest of the Michinoku Wind Orchestra at Suntory Hall, Tokyo

One significant aspect of this concert was the integration of the Sylff fellows into the Michinoku Wind Orchestra, creating an ensemble of Miyagi students and young musicians from the world’s top conservatories. One of music’s most powerful aspects lies in its potential for bringing individuals together in collaborative and unified expression, with groups ranging from duos to hundred-person orchestras. In the case of the Tohoku project, the combination of students from different schools with members of the international musical community clearly demonstrated the ongoing international support for those affected by the tsunami.
The concert at Suntory Hall on August 17 contained many significant and meaningful works, including “Song for Japan” and Philip Sparke’s “The Sun Will Rise Again,” from which all royalties are donated to the Japanese Red Cross. Personally, I was especially interested in the piece “Elegy for Tohoku” by Dutch composer Alexander Comitas. In composing this work, Comitas took folk songs from three of the prefectures worst hit by the tsunami, arranging the melodies of Iwate’s “Nanbu Ushi Oi Uta” (Nanbu Cow-Herding Song), Fukushima’s “Aizubandaisan” (Mount Aizubandai), and Miyagi’s “Tairyo Utaikomi” (Fisherman’s Song) into a requiem for the people of Tohoku.

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"Song for Japan"
Prism Rhapsody II
Three Moravian Dances
Sonata for Brass
Histoire du Tango


One of the other wonderful things about great art is that it lends itself to multiple interpretations. Heard from a Western musical perspective, these folk melodies have a decidedly “minor” flavor, and this feel, combined with their relaxed tempo, could lead one to hear these songs as a dirge. Perhaps this is what Comitas intended in his recomposition of these melodies. Knowing these songs, though, and their original lyrics of local pride and seeing the Sylff Chamber Ensemble onstage with the children of Miyagi Prefecture, I heard the “Elegy for Tohoku” as a triumphant declaration of local pride, joined together with the voices of people from all over the world.

Hope for the Future

For me, sitting in the audience, one of the most moving things about the concert—and one of the most important lessons—was that, through their efforts in practicing and rehearsing, these students shared the stage with master performers as equals. Working together and performing in solidarity with top performers from around the globe, it is my wish that the students feel the rewards of their own hard work and realize that, regardless of the past, the efforts that they and their communities are making now will build their future.

I hope that this week of rehearsals and the concert at Suntory Hall were an experience that the students will look back on and remember fondly; I hope that the Sylff Chamber Ensemble was able to express their grief and support to the students; and I hope that, as an artistic project, even if they did not understand every aspect of the experience, the students felt the meaningfulness of the week’s events.

I would deem this project a success if any one of these hopes was met, and, from my observation of the joy on the students and Sylff fellows' faces at the party after the concert, I believe that “Together in Tohoku” succeeded in all of these dimensions.

Bravo to all, on the stage and off, who worked together to make this concert a success.

Read more Together in Tohoku articles here.

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Colors of the Filipino Christmas -An Art Competition

July 15, 2010
By 19658

On November 22, 2006, SYLFF at ADMU (Association of SYLFF Fellows at the Ateneo de Manila University) fellows sponsored an art competition at the Pinyahan Elementary School in Quezon City. Forty public school students from grades 4 to 6 participated in the competition with the theme of ‘Paskong Pinoy’ (A Filipino Christmas).

What makes the Filipino style of Christmas so special? We have a notoriously long celebration beginning in September (the only logic being that September is the first of the months that end in ‘ber’!), when radio stations already start to play Christmas songs, the shops put their Christmas decorations up, and the Christmas countdown begins! But surely, there must be more to the Filipino Christmas than just this prolonged excitement. With anthropological curiosity, we at SYLFF at ADMU set out to capture the spirit of the Filipino Christmas as children see it, through art.


Life in Filipino Public Schools

We wanted to hold an on-the-spot art competition for public school children on the theme of “Paskong Pinoy” (A Filipino Christmas). The state of public school education in the Philippines is poor – education is allotted an exceedingly small portion of the national budget. The result is a lack of classrooms, chairs and tables (with some schools holding classes on staircases and outside under mango trees), the classrooms that are available are often in rundown condition, and the salaries of the overworked teachers are inadequate. To maximize the resources a school has, they usually group classes together to accommodate more students; with the morning set of students starting classes as early as 5:45 a.m. and the second set of students starting from 12 noon.

Many of our society’s underprivileged children study in such public schools and we wanted to give them a unique opportunity to let their talents shine. And so, on a bright Wednesday morning (November 22nd, 2006), members of SYLFF at ADMU visited Pinyahan Elementary School with art materials. The choice of public school for this activity was not accidental. SYLFF at ADMU’s Karen Lacson is a proud graduate of Pinyahan. Going back to the school where she spent her happy elementary years lent a richer meaning to the phrase “giving back.” We witnessed an emotional reunion between Karen and her former teachers, who were excited to see her again after many years. It was also an inspiring moment for the students of Pinyahan to see a very successful alumna.


Creating Masterpieces

For the next two hours, forty of Pinyahan’s students from grades 4 to 6 diligently worked on their masterpieces. We were amazed with their work. These students are indeed very talented. SYLFF at ADMU’s members had a difficult time judging and deciding the winners. Several themes emerged from their drawings. The Filipino Christmas is about reunion with family and friends and so most of the drawings featured gatherings of people. Singing and going to church are also at the heart of the celebration. GJ Ouano, also a SYLFF fellow, shared how she was moved by one particular drawing that featured people gathered around two pieces of fish. We usually have rich foods during Christmas but for these children; having a simple meal does not diminish the joy and the color of the season.

I was struck by another drawing which featured a large orange house. Inside the house is a lone woman standing between a Christmas tree and a table laden with food. The solitude reaches out to you from the drawing and tugs at your heart. The work was entitled “Pasko Na, Sana’y Kapiling Ka” (It’s Christmastime, Wishing we’re Together). This work captured the harsh reality of labor migration in the Philippines. Many Filipino families are separated as one or both parents go abroad to earn a living. The pain of separation cannot be assuaged by the size of the house or the amount of food on the table. I was amazed by the perceptiveness of these young students.

On December 4th, 2006, we had a simple award ceremony, where we gave cash prizes to the winners. It was a one-of-a-kind early Christmas celebration for SYLFF at ADMU fellows and for the students of Pinyahan. The art works offered a visual impression of the Filipino spirit of Christmas – a true feast for the eyes!

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Immersed in Harmony – Sylff Chamber Music Seminar Report

March 24, 2010
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The Tokyo Foundation has supported three Sylff musical institutions—the Paris Conservatoire, the Juilliard School and the University of Music and Performing Arts Vienna—in their collaborative organization of a Sylff Chamber Music Seminar and Concert since 2006. Selected Sylff fellow musicians from the respective institutions meet at a host institution, and after intensive practice with coaches for a week, they perform at a finale concert. This winter, the event was hosted by the Paris Conservatoire.

The following is a report by Ms. Gretchen Amussen, an administrator of the Sylff Program at the Conservatoire, the host of the Seminar.

From January 24th to February 1st 2010, Paris became the theater for a unique three-country chamber music project involving some 21 musicians… The Paris Conservatoire, the fifth institution to be awarded Sylff status in 1988, was hosting its second Sylff chamber music seminar, thanks to generous support from the Tokyo Foundation.


Collaboration of Three Music Institutions

The project had evolved through lengthy conversations between the three arts institutions in the Sylff network, the Juilliard School, the University of Music and Performing Arts Vienna, and the Paris Conservatoire for Music and Dance. Each of the three institutions is renowned world-wide for training musicians at the highest professional level, and our “stock in trade” is performance. Thus, we agreed, the most natural way to engage in a three-way conversation involving musicians would be through chamber music. In this unique blend, each actor has a distinct and essential voice, each must listen to the other, and the end result can only be successful if there is agreement amongst all performers as to the overall artistic vision to be conveyed. The existence of repertoires from different cultures allow us to know each other better whilst also being attentive to the specificities of the musical cultures represent and which we wish to share with our public.

We chose to integrate the Sylff project to a major chamber music project held each year entitled “Quinte et Plus”, or “Five and more” – the idea being that at least five musicians come together to perform, and that within each group at least one professor performs as well.

Wide Range of Participants and Coaches

This year, we had some of the Conservatoire’s most well-known professors sharing center stage with the French, Viennese, and American musicians. Philippe Bernold, flute, had chosen an arrangement of Claude Debussy’s beautiful orchestral work Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune for 9 instrumentalists ; Claude Delangle, the world-renowned saxophonist, had chosen the Mystic Sextet by the Brazilian Heitor Villa-Lobos; and the cellists Marc Coppey and Diana Ligeti were coaching and performing the version for sextet of Arnold Schoenberg’s Transfigured Night. The performance, scheduled for February 1st, was to be held in the magnificent “Grand Salon” of the Army Museum at the Invalides, whose cathedral is home to Napoleon’s Tomb. Each of the participating professors has wide experience performing throughout the world, and each had responded with enormous enthusiasm to the invitation to perform with musicians from Vienna and Juilliard. The cellist Diana Ligeti, who had previously participated in a Sylff Forum project held in Bochum, spoke all the languages represented by the participants (except for Mandarin and Hebrew!), as she speaks fluent Hungarian, Rumanian, German, English and French…. Although to paraphrase Claude Delangle, we say in music that which we cannot say with words!

Activities and Voices of Participating Fellows

Every day lunch was served at the cafeteria — allowing us to meet and make sure that our guests had everything they needed. The flutist Jessica Han, the oboist Gernot Jöbstl, the harpist Veronika Villányi and Sylff scholars Moran Katz, clarinet, and Sally (Yen) Hsin-Chieh, piano were eager to hear classes in their respective disciplines ; Sylff scholar Emily Daggett Smith, violists Megan Griffin and Paul Rabeck had less free time due to a heavier rehearsal schedule. Most of us joined up to attend a concert at the famed impressionist Orsay Museum on Tuesday night; Thursday we had a joint dinner. And in between there was the tour of Paris, and connections each musician made with fellow students at the Conservatoire — including informal outings. Some had dreamed so long of visiting Versailles or the Louvre that simply being able to do so was heaven.

As for the music-making, Jessica Han recounts “Everyone was very friendly during the first rehearsal. Even though there was a language barrier, I was thrilled and relieved to see that everyone, although shy, was curious and interested in getting to know one another. Smiles and jokes were exchanged and laughter was shared. We briefly talked about our respective cities and established relationships as people and as friends before we started to work…
“The rehearsals themselves were as interesting as they were productive. Coming from New York, rehearsals are often intense and pressure filled. In Paris, there was an easiness in the rehearsals that allowed for an easiness in myself as a person and musician. It was eye opening to me to see that this easiness allowed for much of the music to happen on its own. The elements that did not take care of themselves were easily remedied with a bit of extra time and attention.

“When I was not in rehearsal, I had the unique opportunity to visit some classes. As a flutist, I was astounded by the differences in sound and approach to the flute. It was distinctly French to me and reminded me of my Jean-Pierre Rampal recordings. I felt that a huge amount of attention was paid to sound and sound production. Everyone I heard play had a beautiful silvery sound with fantastic clarity that seemed to float and flow effortlessly.”

A Medley of Musicalities Create Perfect Harmony

For the cello coach Diana Ligeti, the theme of the Schoenberg — referring back to the literary text which accompanies the piece — summed up the goal she had set herself for the week: “to go beyond oneself and sublimate difficulties in order to reach perfect harmony. We had with not students, but true artists. Each brought their musicality, their experience, their conception of the work. At times we disagreed, but we always sought to understand each other’s point of view. At the end of the week, we felt we’d known each other for a long time! In a world where discord [often] wreaks havoc, we, musicians are indomitable: concert after concert, we build bridges over and beyond the chasms that separate us.” Enthusiastic, fascinating personalities emerged as the week went on: Megan, the violist who’d created an extraordinary outreach project in Tanzania; Moran, the Israeli clarinetist who’d dreamed of coming to study in Paris but had ended up in New York — she already knew the city well and went to concerts every night!; the Hungarian harpist Veronika, who was so happy to meet the harp teachers at the Conservatoire; Gernot, who had already joined the Viennese Radio Orchestra, sought out fellow oboists…

Akiko Matsunobu and Ayako Hoshino from the Tokyo Foundation, Dorothea Riedel and Gregor Widholm from Vienna, Bärli Nugent from Juilliard — all had made the trip to Paris to share in the joy of the final concert. The Grand Salon is an exquisite 17th century room with marble floors and elegant royal portraits — the large windows look out onto the Esplanade leading to the Invalides, a royal way if ever there was one. The hall, seating some 200 guests, was packed — and in fact the organizers had to even turn some away... The quality of the silence once the musicians started playing was remarkable: everyone was absolutely present to the moment that was to be ours. From the mood-setting Debussy to the intense and extraordinary Schoenberg, each performer and each performance was extraordinary. The applause was warm and long, and when all the musicians stood up to bow together, you could feel the joy of the shared music-making, of everyone coming together.

At the reception following the concert, I heard musicians saying “we’ll stay in touch now on Facebook” and exchanging addresses. Musicians from one country who’d dreamed of studying in one of the partner countries sought out those who could answer their questions, but mostly people were simply happy to savor the moment and the success of the concert. The last word comes from Jessica Han: “How often does anyone, regardless of who you are, perform in a gorgeous private room in a respected museum with huge windows where one can look out over Paris, with crystal chandeliers everywhere, under an original portrait of King Louis XIV? The concert was excellent and the experience, remarkable. I could not have dreamed up a more beautiful conclusion to such an amazing adventure in Paris.”

Gretchen Amussen Deputy Director for External Affairs & Communication Conservatoire de Paris

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Young Musicians Challenged to Perform in Collaboration — A Joint Project of 3 World-Renowned Music Schools

July 15, 2008
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(The following is an excerpt from the SYLFF Newsletter No.21, Aug 2008)

Dorothea Riedel and Wolfgang Klos


How the Joint Project was Initiated

Among the 68 SYLFF institutions are 3 music universities representing the world’s top training schools for professional performing artists: the Juilliard School in New York, the Conservatoire national supérieur de musique et de danse de Paris, and the University of Music and Performing Arts Vienna.

These institutions, which for many years have received generous SYLFF endowments via the Tokyo Foundation, have also been able to benefit from the SYLFF Fellows Mobility Program (FMP), which the foundation launched to promote SYLFF fellow exchanges. The 3 schools jointly proposed, as an FMP project, a challenging exchange program in the field of chamber music. This full-of-spirit project, known as the SYLFF Chamber Music Seminar, has produced outstanding collaborations between highly educated people in an international language, namely that of music. Each of the 3 schools organized 10-day-long coaching programs, the first of which was held at Juilliard in New York (2006), the second at the Conservatoire in Paris (2007), and the third in Vienna (2008). The highlight and outcome of each coaching program was a joint concert held at each of these cities in turn at the end of its respective 10-day program.


Why Chamber Music?

It seemed particularly meaningful for the 3 institutions to cooperate in this field, because many musically knowledgeable individuals regard chamber music as a dialog on the highest spiritual and mental levels. Moreover, one of the advantages of combining the outstanding musical and technical skills of a small number of the most highly developed students is that wonderful results can be obtained from a minimum of resources.

For many decades, chamber music — with its intimate atmosphere and the challenges it offers to not only musicians but also to audiences — stood in the shadow of the more spectacular performances of symphonies and operas. This position of chamber music has changed dramatically within the last few years, mainly due to sociological and financial reasons. Music universities reacted to this change by offering their graduate students a realistic professional perspective; for example, the University of Music and Performing Arts Vienna launched a Chamber Music Institute and a chamber music curriculum on the master’s and doctoral levels that perfectly match actual professional demands. As a result, chamber music was the logical choice for the collaboration between the 3 music universities in the SYLFF network.

Our intention in Vienna was to offer to the audience a concert program that reflects significant works from each of the three cultural areas where the schools are located: Paris, Vienna, and New York. We also wanted to present to our fellow musicians from Juilliard and Paris both the major musical areas for which our university is well-known and the methods that our teachers use, thereby offering the visiting musicians the resources, possibilities, and contacts of our university.


The Seminar in Vienna: Its Process and Fruits

The students participating in the seminar were expected to be well-prepared prior to their arrival in Vienna. Their schedule during the program was so full that they had to start working the very next day after arrival. The frequency and intensity of the coaching, and the necessity of the musicians having to work with colleagues they had not previously met, was a kind of training very similar to the actual situations that professional musicians face, and is 1 of the factors that make this program so valuable for the students.

In addition, the SYLFF Chamber Music Seminar is unique in that it gives each student rare opportunities to compare the learning conditions of one’s mother institution with those of another university, to meet new teachers, compare teaching methods, and to compare one’s own artistic level with that of others.

The end of the coaching program in Vienna was a public concert in one of the halls (Gläserner Saal) of the world-famous Musikverein. The performance included masterpieces by Mozart, Debussy, and Gershwin, and lasted almost 3 hours — a very challenging concert, because so many different formations were presented — from a classical wind octet (to collaborate with Viennese horns and oboes was an amazing experience for our friends from New York and Paris) to mixed ensembles (strings, including a harp; wind; and keyboard), and 2 pianos. Thanks to the rigorous professionalism of the intensive practice sessions, rehearsals, and coaching, this concert was an outstanding event.

To attract public attention to our concert was a challenging adventure for the university’s staff because, as one can imagine, in Vienna every night is filled with concerts featuring famous artists. Moreover, Viennese audiences are spoiled and choosy. Therefore, we were all very happy to see that many people came and nearly filled the hall. The concert was a great success. The success was also expressed in the audience’s applause: a well-earned reward for the many days of hard work put in by musicians, teachers, and organizers. The aims of the program — to widen and deepen the professional and cultural perspectives of all concerned, to make new friends, and to develop close relationships among the participating SYLFF fellows from 3 different music schools — were achieved in a wonderful way.

In addition to this ambitious coaching program, the city of Vienna itself, a center of music for hundreds of years, also left a strong impression on our guests. On the very first day, the students of the three music universities who had gathered in Vienna for the SYLFF Chamber Music Seminar were taken on a tour to the city’s major sightseeing spots by a professional tourist guide. Also, with the university being situated close to Vienna’s old city center, the students were able to move around by public transport to explore the city on their own.

On Sunday, which was the only day without rehearsals and training sessions, Professor Wolfgang Klos, former vice-rector and one of the initiators of the project, took students on a special tour to visit very special sites of Vienna’s past: the homes of Mozart and Beethoven, the house where George Gershwin composed his famous work “An American in Paris” (which was part of the final concert’s program), and other places of cultural and historical interest of which Vienna has many. The latter include the cemeteries where Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Brahms, and other prominent composers are buried, places from which it is easy to access museums, libraries, and private collections that display autographs and other memorabilia of the respective composers. I am sure that the students felt the special atmosphere of artistic creativity that makes Vienna the world capital of music. That Sunday started with a solemn Catholic service with music performed by our university’s Church Music Department in the baroque-style Church of St. Ursula, one of our university’s buildings. This was a very special service featuring a choir, orchestra, and organ music, which is still thriving in Vienna. The day ended with a typical Viennese dinner in the "heuriger" where Beethoven wrote his famous “Heiligenstadt Testimony.” Everyone could feel the atmosphere of the world famous composer’s spirit that led to the masterpieces that were to be performed as the final concert of this intensive rehearsal period.


The Importance of This Kind of Project

This kind of project is important, for many reasons, including the following:

    • New professional challenges need new instructional approaches.
    • To bring together high-level musicians from different cultures is a challenge for all participants (students, staff, administrators), and also represents the reality of a professional musician’s life in the increasingly globalized world of musical arts (though for most of these students, being rather young in age, this was a first grand adventure in that world).
    • Cultural interaction of this intensity among such different training institutions offers a unique opportunity to collaborate at the highest level on an extremely challenging program: a world premiere.

The final concert represented the climax of everyone’s efforts, and it was highly appreciated and enthusiastically applauded by the musically spoiled-for-choice and difficult-to-please audience of the Vienna Musikverein; the concert turned out to be a very rare happening. This kind of joint undertaking actively demonstrates that music is an international language and that the sphere of action of high-level musicians is the world in its entirety. For advanced students of these world-leading music schools in different parts of the world that are connected through the SYLFF network, the opportunity to interact with students, staff, and administrators of the highest artistic level from other countries and cultures was an important step in their professional development.


The Significance of Chamber Music Education and Training

The current year’s project has revealed that the SYLFF Chamber Music Seminars are significant in at least the following 2 ways.

1. For society

a. When the students complete their highly professional music education, they will be specialists, perfectly trained to entertain the most demanding audience at the highest level. As musicians they will be able to elevate people from everyday life to an artistic sphere, presenting human feelings and a humanistic and dignified approach to human life.

b. Musically educated individuals reach higher levels in all fields of human education (even in mathematics, as internationally validated studies have indicated for decades) and enrich human society by their very intense lives, broad visions, and wide tolerance.

2. For individual musicians

For the reasons already mentioned above, music education at advanced level leads to personal development that offers to the musician both a more fulfilled life through his or her highly developed craftsmanship (as well as through the difficulties experienced along the way) and an artistic insight into human life that makes him or her more mature and richer in personality.

The ability to create and appreciate the fine arts, especially music as a perfect means of international communication, are major factors that define us as human beings.


The SYLFF Chamber Music Seminar 2009

In 2009 Austria will celebrate the bicentennial of Haydn’s death, and therefore the 3 music universities have decided to start the second cycle of the 3-year seminar in Vienna. The SYLFF Chamber Music Seminar 2009 and its final concert will take place at Eszterhazy Castle, where the famous composer and “father” of classical chamber music, Josef Haydn, created his masterpieces over several decades. This will be a new challenge for outstanding young artists from the Juilliard School in New York, the Conservatoire de Paris, and the University of Music and Performing Arts Vienna.