NEW YORK – In the chance of a lifetime, a group of 16- and 17-year-old music students from Fukushima arranged and performed a traditional Japanese song with members of the world-renowned New York Philharmonic at the Lincoln Center in Manhattan on Saturday.
The performance was the culmination of a six-day cultural exchange program. The eight, who come from areas that were devastated by the massive 2011 earthquake and tsunami, traveled to the U.S. to participate in the Very Young Composers program.
They chose the song “Furusato” (Hometown) for their piece.
The students also joined the philharmonic in performing a separate version of the song “Furusato” as interpreted by Takehito Shimazu, a professor emeritus at Fukushima University who mentors the students at home and accompanied them on the trip.
Before their performance, the students spoke about their experiences in Fukushima and the importance of music in sharing those experiences. They expressed the hope that, through their arrangement, people would be able to understand the sorrow of the people in Japan who are unable to return to their hometowns.
Another student said though many things were lost in the disaster, it also led them to new encounters and adventures.
“I strongly believe that this experience of trying hard to convey the reality of Fukushima to others will benefit children in the future,” Shimazu said.
Issei Endo, 16, who was forced to evacuate from his home in the town of Tomioka in Fukushima Prefecture due to radioactive contamination, praised the program. “It’s been a valuable opportunity for me to play with such distinguished players,” he said.
In addition to Endo, the other participants in the Very Young Composers program from Fukushima were Hiromu Akimoto, Miho Haranaka, Masataka Ishizaki, Erino Nagahashi, Mika Naito, Erika Oura and Katsumi Tadano.
In addition to playing with the New York Philharmonic, they also explored the city, where they studied with six American students who participated in the program, aged 12-16. That group arranged a piece that was inspired by the Jay-Z produced hit, “Empire State of Mind.”
The Very Young Composers program, established by the philharmonic in 1995, was created to give students in grades four through eight a chance to arrange music and hear it by professional musicians.
Starting in the 2014-15 season, it has partnered with the Japan-U.S. public-private “Tomodachi” (Friends) initiative, which supports and tries to inspire young composers and musicians from areas in the Tohoku region that were devastated by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami.