Music

Summer music festival adapts classical music program with stage and livestream performances

by Chiho Iuchi

Contributing writer

Muza Kawasaki made it through an earthquake, and it is hoping to make it through a global pandemic as well.

The music hall in Kawasaki saw substantial damage nearly a decade ago when the Great East Japan Earthquake left its mark on the country. Repairs were made and the venue returned triumphantly to form two years later, which may explain the institution’s can-do attitude in regards to this year’s edition of its Festa Summer Muza Kawasaki event.

The classical music festival, which launched in 2005, takes place this year from July 23 to Aug. 10 with 17 concerts that will be held in front of smaller audiences in order to abide by social distancing measures. For those who can’t get tickets (or don’t feel comfortable heading out), however, the performances will also be livestreamed in what is a first for the festival.

“We had no intention of canceling the festival, but the question was how to make it possible,” says press officer Akiko Maeda. When a nationwide state of emergency was lifted in May, organizers went to work on a plan that would satisfy music fans, musicians and those worried about the novel coronavirus.

Livestreaming concerts in Japan is becoming the norm recently as closed environments such as packed music halls and theaters have been shunned due to the high risk they pose in spreading COVID-19. Muza Kawasaki will limit the number of those physically able to attend performances by 30 percent — that’s 600 people spread out over a 2,000-seat venue.

This may help out the participating musicians, who have been eager to get back to work. The festival is bringing together nine of Japan’s top orchestras, including the Tokyo Philharmonic, which resumed in-person performances on June 21, and the NHK Symphony Orchestra, whose return to the stage with a live audience on July 25 comes after a nearly five-month hiatus.

Things kick off with a performance by the Tokyo Symphony Orchestra, Muza Kawasaki’s resident orchestra. It will be led by music director Jonathan Nott, who will conduct from Britain via prerecorded video. The TSO will perform again on July 30, and close out the festival on Aug. 10 under the batons of Kazuyoshi Akiyama and Keitaro Harada, respectively.

This year’s event includes a number of pieces by Beethoven, who was born 250 years ago this December. One work of the composer’s that will be missing, however, will be his Symphony No. 9 — known in Japan as “Daiku” — as it requires a large-scale choir that wouldn’t work under social distancing practices. In fact, the orchestras themselves are developing the guidelines under which their musicians will perform which means you might spot string players and percussionists wearing masks or some acrylic partitions near the wind sections.

Additionally, the festival has made livestreaming options available nationwide and recordings of the concerts will be accessible until the end of August. Tickets to join a livestreamed performance will cost ¥1,000 each or ¥9,000 for all 17 concerts.

“While classical music at concert halls may become a more privileged experience for a limited audience (in the future),” according to Maeda, “it should be available for purchase for a wider range of people online.”

After the rock band Southern All Stars held a concert at Yokohama Arena without a live audience and sold roughly 180,000 tickets to viewers who paid ¥3,600 to watch it online, the livestream route is one that will hopefully work out in Muza Kawasaki’s favor.

Festa Summer Muza Kawasaki takes place at Muza Kawasaki Symphony Hall in Kanagawa from July 23 to Aug. 10. For more information on tickets and livestreaming options, visit www.kawasaki-sym-hall.jp/festa (Japanese only).

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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