City seeks compensation after quake

Muza Kawasaki marks grand return

by Chiho Iuchi

Staff Writer

Tokyo Symphony Orchestra has returned to its home at Muza Kawasaki Symphony Hall.

The orchestra was homeless for two years after the hall in Kawasaki, Kanagawa Prefecture, was severely damaged by the Great East Japan Earthquake of March 11, 2011.

On the afternoon of April 7, a capacity audience at Muza held their breath as the overwhelming sound of fanfare filled the 1,997-seat hall. The orchestra launched into a performance of Josef Anton Bruckner’s Symphony No. 9 under the baton of Dutch music director Hubert Soudant, who chose the 19th-century Austrian composer’s unfinished swan song to celebrate the special day.

“This hall is a monument,” Soudant told The Japan Times prior to the performance.

Muza hall was one of the few buildings in the region affected by the magnitude-9 earthquake, whose epicenter was located off the coast of Miyagi Prefecture more than 300 km from Kawasaki. While most of the buildings in the area survived the quake undamaged, the hall couldn’t withstand the seismic intensity, which measured an upper 5, and its ceiling panels, acoustics-enhancing materials, lighting and air conditioning came crashing to the floor. Reconstruction work was completed Dec. 25.

“When we came back to the hall for the acoustic test on Dec. 13, I was surprised that the inside looked exactly the same as before,” said Junji Ohno, TSO’s managing director. “As if nothing had happened.”

The city of Kawasaki, which owns the hall after commissioning it in 2004, executed the reconstruction project. There were two crucial goals: Firstly, to reconstruct a ceiling that could safely withstand a 7 on the Japanese seismic scale; and also to restore the hall’s acoustics, which had earned a reputation for high quality around the world.

According to the final report released by the city on March 12, 2012, the Japan Building Disaster Prevention Association could not identify the exact starting point of the damage, but concluded the hook cracks that connected the ceiling components couldn’t withstand the force of the quake causing them to become deformed and thus caving in the ceilings.

The hook connections have now been completely replaced with a new structure that is composed of an impregnable steel-framed base, square pipes and diagonal bracings, to support the “heavy, intricately-shaped ceiling panels, which were put back in place, in order to restore the high-quality acoustics,” according to city official Shigeo Kameoka, who was in charge of the reconstruction.

As soon as reconstruction was completed, the city of Kawasaki on Dec. 25 filed a claim for ¥1.8 billion in compensation for damages from the firms involved in the building’s original construction. No payment was made by the claim’s deadline of March 25, so the city served a demand for payment upon the firms on March 29. A new deadline has been set for April 12, and Kameoka says the city will decide if further action is necessary after that date.

Meanwhile, the city has pledged to continue its commitment to music. Soon after the March 11 disasters, Kawasaki Mayor Takao Abe declared that, “Music is software. Let’s keep the music alive.” His comments were encouraging at the time, when many venues — not just Muza — had to cancel or postpone performances. Muza’s staff quickly found alternative venues to perform scheduled concerts.

At a press conference held at Muza two weeks ago, Abe looked back on the situation at the time.

“I didn’t think that we could not make music anymore because of the damage to the building,” Abe said, explaining the quote in terms of the destruction of the city’s “hardware.” “Although we were not able to use Muza for two years, thanks to alternative venues such as the Teatro Giglio Showa and Senzoku Gakuen Maeda Hall, we have expanded our musical activities and reached new audiences living further out in Kawasaki.

“I hope we can continue to reach out with these performances and I hope new audiences will be encouraged to attend concerts at Muza.”

The main purpose of the press conference was to introduce Muza’s schedule to the media. Coming events include Festa Summer Muza, from July 28 to Aug. 11, which will bring together nine professional Japanese orchestras; and a special week in November that will welcome top-rate orchestras from overseas, such as the Vienna Philharmonic from Austria (Nov. 16), Concertgebouw from the Netherlands (Nov. 17) and the Berlin Philharmonic from Germany (Nov. 20).

Supported by Kawasaki City, TSO has also made great efforts to continue performing. Jun Tajiri, assistant concertmaster of the orchestra, said he was moved when he returned to Muza hall last December after an almost two-year absence.

“I was touched by the signboard prepared by Muza’s staff that read, ‘Welcome home!’ ” Tajiri said. “And as soon as we started playing, I remembered how our music sounded in this hall.”

Tajiri pointed out the sound in particular because it is one of the venue’s main features and he said it helps the members hear each other more carefully. He believes TSO’s sound has become more refined since they began rehearsing at Muza in 2004.

“We could develop closer as an ensemble by rehearsing in the hall we hold the concerts in,” he said. “Even when we performed at Suntory Hall, all we had to do was make adjustments.”

After the earthquake, however, TSO members were forced to use smaller venues, such as their former small rehearsal space in Tokyo’s Shinjuku Ward.

“It is a room without acoustics and we had a hard time trying to maintain the quality of our sound,” Tajiri said.

Following Bruckner’s solemn symphony at the opening concert, which quietly ended with the third movement, the 94-member orchestra was joined on stage by soprano Sabina von Walther, mezzo soprano Mitsuko Shirai, tenor Charles Kim, bass Patrick Simper and the 140-member Tokyo Symphony Chorus, who performed Bruckner’s hymn “Te Deum” together.

The magnificent sound of prayer created by the mass of vocals and accompanied by the string, woodwind and brass sections, as well as the timpani and organ, demonstrated how humans can collaborate toward an absolute ideal and recover from anything.

As the final C tone resonated throughout the audience, Muza filled with heartfelt applause. The hall had justified its raison d’etre, perhaps even more than it had prior to the quake.

“We have recorded almost everything in every possible way,” Soudant said, “but you can never download the atmosphere present during these concerts.”

Tokyo Symphony Orchestra performs the Mozart Matinee concert at Muza Kawasaki Symphony Hall on April 14 at 11 a.m. Tickets cost ¥3,500. For more information, call Muza (044) 520-0200 or visit www.kawasaki-sym-hall.jp. The Kawasaki Subscription Concert takes place at Muza on April 21 at 2 p.m. Tickets cost ¥2,000-7,000. For more information, call the Tokyo Symphony Orchestra at (044) 520-1511 or visit tokyosymphony.jp.