Music

The classical vision of Masahide Kajimoto, the 'eccentric' president

by Chiho Iuchi

Contributing Writer

Born to a forward-thinking father who founded Kajimoto Concert Management in 1951, Masahide Kajimoto calls himself “the eccentric second (president).”

Full of curiosity, Kajimoto enjoys art and music, and has also tried motor racing, motorcycling and paragliding.

“If you fly in the air, you can experience the feelings of birds,” Kajimoto says, adding that humans only see one facet of life on the ground.

The 68-year-old is as fearless when it comes to music.

From the time he was born in Hyogo Prefecture, classical music was always present. For as long as he can remember, he has been surrounded by first-class, Japanese musicians such as violinist Hisako Tsuji and the late conductor Takashi Asahina, who often visited his father. However, young Kajimoto didn’t always appreciate his situation. “I wanted to run away from classical music,” he says.

As a junior high school student, Kajimoto enjoyed rock and pop music, played the guitar and even traveled from his home in Hyogo Prefecture to Tokyo to attend one of the iconic concerts by The Beatles at the Budokan in 1966 on their only visit to Japan.

“Succeeding the family business was a kind of destiny for me as the eldest son,” says Kajimoto, who “reluctantly” joined his father’s company after starting his career in pop music. “So it was only after I took over the presidency of the company in 1992 that I came to seriously think of classical music and my own approach to it.”

And that approach didn’t shy away from being critical.

“Tickets are expensive. The stiff atmosphere of concerts is an exclusive barrier for those who may lack knowledge of classical music,” Kajimoto says. “In addition, I was fed up with the programs repeating the same repertoire.”

One of the turning points for Kajimoto came when he worked on the 1995 Pierre Boulez Festival in Tokyo, one of his first big projects as company president.

It was a landmark festival, focusing on music created in the 20th century, including that of French contemporary composer and conductor Pierre Boulez (1925-2016). While the festival was fruitful, Boulez warned Kajimoto that classical music was dying. The industry was too stylized and entrenched and there was no innovation. He also said that the ways of presenting music should be more diverse. Without opening up its potential, classical music would become a thing of the past, Boulez said.

The words of the then-70-year-old maestro reached the heart of the young president, and led him to open the company’s first overseas office in Paris in 2001 in search of new opportunities. This new office in France paved the way for Kajimoto’s encounter with French music producer Rene Martin and his innovative music festival La Folle Journee in Nantes, northwest France in 2002.

Created by Martin, La Folle Journee aims to remove barriers to classical music by offering a program of short concerts, simultaneously taking place at several venues from morning till night, performed by first-rate musicians from around the world with affordable ticket prices. Kajimoto witnessed a new way of musical presentation in the excitement of the audience. Many of them enjoyed their first time attending a classical music concert.

“Rene was different from typical Western managers I had met,” Kajimoto says of his first impression of Martin. “Of course, making money is important as a professional, but Rene puts more priority on creating something new. I like his flexible way of thinking.”

On the other hand, Martin describes Kajimoto as a modest, yet determined person.

“I understood him from the moment we met,” Martin says. “Masa (Kajimoto) is my true friend, more than a business partner.”

Despite being from different backgrounds and different countries, the two shared values and goals. Before long, they started thinking about holding La Folle Journee in Japan.

However, it was not easy to make the festival a reality in Japan. Kajimoto had to work hard to get people to understand its concept, find a suitable venue and convince as many sponsors and supporters as possible to get involved. After many twists and turns, the first La Folle Journee in Japan took place at Tokyo International Forum in 2005.

Although there have also been ups and downs in the following 14 years, Kajimoto believes that the spirit of trial and error is part of the festival’s nature. One thing is for sure, La Folle Journee has taken root in Tokyo and has transformed the Marunouchi district from business streets into a “music island” for men and women for all ages during the Golden Week holidays.

“I hear that two families with small children that met at the concert for babies under the age of 1 more than 10 years ago became friends, and have seen each other at La Folle Journee every year since. Now the children are high school students,” Kajimoto says. “Such stories motivate me a lot.”

Kajimoto Concert Management’s first office in China opened in Shanghai in 2005, which was followed by the establishment of a Beijing office in 2011.

According to Kajimoto, his Chinese counterpart first wondered why a Japanese person dared to open an office in China.

“I understand that we cannot change the unfortunate history between the two countries,” Kajimoto says. “So I just wanted to work with Chinese people so that we could understand each other better.”

Then, the Chinese counterpart agreed to let Kajimoto use the National Centre for the Performing Arts and co-organized concerts in 2009, including Italian pianist Maurizio Pollini’s first tour of China, which saw the venue almost fill its 2,000 seats.

The offices in Paris and China have enabled the company to organize events such as traditional Beijing opera performances in Paris and bring the Paris Opera Ballet to Shanghai.

“In our three offices in Tokyo, Paris and Beijing, we have staff members from 11 countries such as China, France, South Korea, Russia, the U.K., the U.S. and Japan,” Kajimoto says proudly. “What I’m aiming to do with our overseas offices is general management for our artists beyond borders,” he says, adding that, for example, it was impossible in his father’s day to manage conductor Seiji Ozawa when he moved to the U.S.

“While cherishing our past achievements in the classical music industry, we want to develop a new art form for the future involving various genres and visual arts,” Kajimoto says.

With this in mind, the company changed its name from Kajimoto Concert Management to simply Kajimoto in 2009.

“Beyond genres and borders, I would like to offer whatever I can that will move people in a positive way,” says Kajimoto, who often reflects on what art could do for the world. “I believe that sharing the experience of a live performance together may reduce hostility among the participants.”

Kajimoto cites an example of a Jewish pianist performing Frederic Chopin’s Ballade No. 1 in G minor for a Nazi officer, as depicted in Roman Polanski’s 2002 film “The Pianist,” and refers to a quote, “Beauty will save the world,” by Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoyevsky.

Kajimoto was awarded Commander of the National Order of Merit by the French government last summer and attended the ceremony in Paris on Feb. 7.

“I find it funny that a manager like me could receive such an award,” Kajimoto says. “But I hope it will encourage those backseat players, like managers, in successive generations.”

Kajimoto is involved in approximately 3,000 classical concerts each year. For more information on Kajimoto and La Folle Journee, visit www.kajimotomusic.com/en/concert and www.lfj.jp/lfj_2019e.