World-famous cellist Mstislav Rostropovich will conduct a concert for 1,000 cellos during a weeklong international cello convention in May in Kobe, which is currently commemorating the 10th anniversary of the devastating Great Hanshin Earthquake.

With music by Charles Davidoff, Shigeaki Saegusa and a specially commissioned new piece by Rodin Shchedrin, titled “Hamlet Ballad,” the International Cello Congress in Kobe 2005 will also feature pieces by Beethoven, Bach, Elgar and others in a wide variety of concerts and chamber-music recitals as well as performances, lectures and masterclasses by cello virtuosos Bernard Greenhouse, Janos Starker and a galaxy of other top-class musicians.

The highlight of the event is a concert for 1,000 cellos — both professional and amateur — on May 22, the last day of the convention, at the World Hall arena.

Tsuyoshi Tsutsumi, one of Japan’s leading cellists, and president of the Japan Cello Society, is the artistic director of the event, which also runs at the International Conference Center Kobe and the city’s Portopia Hall.

Another of the organizers, Takumi Matsumoto, who is a devoted amateur cellist and chairman of the International Cello Ensemble Society (a Kobe-based nonprofit organization) — as well as the chef/owner of a kushikatsu barbecue restaurant in Kobe (he also has a branch in Berlin) — talked with The Japan Times about the aims of the “glorious” cello week and calls on cello enthusiasts throughout Japan to take part.

How did you conceive of this concert for such a huge number of cellos in Kobe?

I met Rudolf Weinsheimer, [a former cellist with the Berlin Philharmonic and honorary vice president of this International Cello Congress in Kobe] for the first time in 1996, when he came to Kobe for a charity concert after the earthquake. I already knew his mother-in-law because I had met her in 1992 when I played in a lunchtime trio with a pianist and a clarinetist at an event in Bonn.

Weinsheimer heard about me from his mother-in-law, and one night he came to my restaurant with some other musicians. He stayed till late, and we had a very good time playing the cello and chatting together. He talked to me about his dream of holding a concert with a huge number of cellists in Tokyo; he had already performed with 341 cellists in 1992 in Potsdam. It was a great idea, and I wondered if we could hold the concert in Kobe, because I thought it would help attract more people to the city, because it was seeing a decline in visitor numbers after the earthquake.

My restaurant building, which is in Sannomiya, Chuo Ward, was severely hit by the quake and I couldn’t do business for a whole year after the disaster. I broke my rib in the quake. As a citizen of Kobe and a victim of the disaster, I wanted to have the concert there to attract more people to the city and to restore some of the city’s vitality.

The organizing committee made a great effort to get the message out to both professional and amateur cellists through various channels and media such as music magazines. At first, we planned to have a concert for 500 cellists, but in the end we held the first successful charity concert of 1,013 cellists in November 1998, involving players ranging in age from 4 to 88.

We held a similar concert in 2001, when we started masterclasses run by visiting maestros.

This is the third 1,000-cellists concert. What is the main feature this time?

We’ve expanded the 1,000-cellists concert to a weeklong event called the “International Cello Congress,” in which cello fans get many opportunities to enjoy cello music, both in solo concerts, concertos and the 1,000-cellists concert.

There are many aspects to this event, but chief among them is the fact that three of the world’s leading cello maestros will take part — namely, Rostropovich, Greenhouse and Starker. Other stars, including Philippe Muller, will hold open lessons and participate in the various concerts.

We were able to invite these big names through various contacts. For example, Rostropovich heard about the first 1,000-cellists concert through Tsutsumi and listened to the CD, so he already had a great interest in participating in this event himself. Starker, meanwhile, has long wished to hold a big cello congress in the Far East, and so he wanted to come to join this event.

In this event, participants can take lessons from maestros and play with them. Also, they can meet and talk with the leading cellists in person during breaks and parties. For cello lovers, this is such a treat.

What do 1,000 cellos all playing at the same time sound like?

A thousand cellos create a solemn and beautiful sound, and some people at the first concert in 1998 said that they’d never heard anything like it. The deep and soulful music resonates throughout the hall and really touches listeners.

There are both good things and bad things about 1,000 cellos all performing together as an ensemble. A good point is that the sound is very stable. Even if one performer goes off, that mistake won’t affect the music so much. On the down side, we can’t play fast passages because they can create a time lag of sound between one end of the ensemble and the other, due to the 100 meters or so distance between them.

What kind of music will the 1,000 cellists play, and how do you find suitable original works?

Rostropovich has a strong desire for the 1,000 cellists to play original music composed for a 1,000-cello ensemble. This time, we will be able to play several original pieces, such as “Hamlet Ballad” composed by Rodin Shchedrin.

What is the most difficult aspect of such an event?

One of the most important things that we pay attention to is the quality of music. Having 1,000 cellists playing together is unique in itself, but we are not satisfied with just the spectacle of it. We have to play music of high quality, and we require participating cellists to prepare for that.

My philosophy as a chef is the same. I try to give customers food and service that stay in their memories and, hopefully, that impress them. We aim at performing real music that reaches the soul of audience.

Will you play in the 1,000-cellists concert this time?

Yes, of course. I am very busy organizing the event and running my restaurant at the same time, and I haven’t had enough time to play the cello recently. But since I first started playing the instrument for my high-school orchestra, the cello has always been a part of my life.

In line with COVID-19 guidelines, the government is strongly requesting that residents and visitors exercise caution if they choose to visit bars, restaurants, music venues and other public spaces.

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.