Composer scandal a blow to classical industry parched of hits

Kyodo

The revelation that composer Mamoru Samuragochi hired someone else to pen his most popular pieces has led to the withdrawal of his CDs from sale and cancelation of his concert tours, but this may be just the first of wider consequences for the classical-music industry.

The popular 50-year-old composer, who is deaf, had been feted in Japan as a modern Beethoven, and many of those in the media who had sung his praises scrambled to apologize for being misled after the scandal broke Wednesday.

Music business officials, meanwhile, expressed concern about the scandal’s potential impact on the classical-music market as it struggles with a dearth of major contemporary hits.

Samuragochi, the son of Hiroshima atomic bombing survivors, often appeared in newspapers and on TV programs. Kyodo News featured him, as did public broadcaster NHK, which introduced him to the public on one of its widely respected “NHK Special” feature programs.

A Tokyo woman in her 30s who had been to one of Samuragochi’s concerts said she had felt that she was hearing in the music his struggles in life — struggles that she had learned about in the TV shows and books about him.

“It brought tears to my eyes,” she said, recalling that the audience gave him a standing ovation.

The classical-music industry has long been in a tough situation. Sales of CDs have gone down, prompting record labels to search desperately for ways to promote musicians.

“With classical-music fans aging, the name of the game is how we can attract the interest of people other than loyal fans,” an industry business official said. “We tend to seek an easy-to-understand story” that quickly generates attention.

Junya Nakano, head of the Osaka-based baroque music group Telemann Institute Japan, said the classical-music industry in recent years has been focused on generating stories about musicians rather than making music.

Samuragochi achieved major success with his Symphony No. 1 “Hiroshima,” which was made into a CD in 2011 and sold 147,000 copies, according to music research company Oricon Inc. Any CD that sells 10,000 copies is deemed a hit in Japan’s classical-music market.

Industry sources believe the success of the music, which was billed as expressing the composer’s thoughts about atomic-bomb victims, was due in part to all the narratives in the media about Samuragochi’s background.

“It’s a problem. (Musicians are) swallowed up by commercialism. They should work harder to make music that will enrich lives,” Nakano said.

Samuragochi’s lawyer said he gave another individual his ideas and images for the work he wanted. His ghost composer has been identified as Takashi Niigaki, a part-time lecturer at Toho Gakuen College’s music department in Chofu, Tokyo.

Composer Shinichiro Ikebe said, “Collaboration is not uncommon in the industry. Mr. Samuragochi should clarify to what extent he has been involved in composing.”

Ikebe said he is concerned that the fallout of the scandal may go too far and that the work itself is still good.

“We shouldn’t degrade the music itself or those who want to play it or listen to it” because of the scandal, he said. “Whoever composed it, blame should not fall on the piece itself.”