At the start of this month, Yoshikazu Fukumura took up the post of music director for the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra, whose sound he describes as unique in Asia.

The 69-year-old native of Tokyo, considered something of a maverick in the classical music scene in Japan, moves to the new post after four years as the orchestra’s regular conductor.

Filipinos love music and the orchestra makes “warm and bright music, which can never be emulated by other Asian orchestras,” Fukumura said in a recent interview. “The performers have a sharpened sense of music and I feel great when conducting it.”

Although the technical level of the orchestra is not at the top level, “it is important to help them understand their music is improving,” he added.

Fukumura learned conducting at a high school attached to Toho Gakuen in Tokyo, one of Japan’s most prestigious music schools. While there, however, he wondered why conductors needed to move their batons in the same way.

He then became an apprentice to eminent conductor Hiroyuki Iwaki, practicing outside of the school.

After graduating from high school, he made his debut as a conductor with the Kyoto Symphony Orchestra.

In his early 20s, Fukumura appeared on TV programs and commercials. He became known for his long hair and jeans — both of which were rare for classical music conductors at the time — and garnered some criticism as a result.

He then left Japan to study in Italy because he got tired of the “jealousy and insidious attitudes” of other musicians in his native country. He felt as if he would never fit in in Japan after returning from Europe.

A major turning point for Fukumura came during the 1980s when he got the chance to conduct a Hong Kong orchestra comprising Asian performers of diverse backgrounds.

“It was quite a jolt and I found it very interesting,” he said.

Fukumura, who sees the classical music industry as placing too much emphasis on European and American performers, chose to continue his career as a conductor in many parts of Asia and Latin America, including Cuba.

In 2010, he formed the ASEAN Symphony Orchestra consisting of musicians from member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and performed at the East Asia Summit that took place in Hanoi in October that year.

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.

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