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Japan Tour 2016

Monday September 18th, 2017

In the summer of 2016 I undertook one of the most demanding and inspiring challenges of my life: a prize in one of the competitions that I had won included a long tournee all across Japan, including the principal cities. It lasted almost a month and a half, from mid June to the end of July: always on the road, with very heavy luggage (luckily sometimes sent on by post), new food (but always tasty), never staying put in one place (the longest “stay” was 5 days) and thirteen concerts to give. It was a real feat, certainly satisfying, but also a lot of hard work. It all began in Nagoya, where I gave two performances of Mozart’s last concerto, K595, accompanied by the Nagoya Philharmonic under Ken Takaseki. I had played the final evening of the competition with him and it was a joy to meet him again in a different situation! It was the first time I’d played a Mozart concerto in public and it was a very moving experience, at times a bit unsettling (it’s always more difficult to play fewer notes...), but in the end it gave great happiness, and the very large audience was delighted! Two encores.

Yay! time to move on to the next destination, Tsu, the capital of the Mie prefecture. There I was playing solo, and I had been asked to give an “easier” programme: a Mozart sonata, some preludes by Debussy, some Satie, some of Kinderszenen, and finally the Bach-Busoni Chaconne. Again the audience was very warm and polite, less used to classical music perhaps, nevertheless not less able to perceive its beauty. At times the emotional and aesthetic message is so strong it cannot but be passed on.

And now I’m passing on, continuing my journey.
Before reaching Sapporo, at the other end of Japan, in the north (almost two hours by plane) I stopped to pray at the Ise Shin Taoist temple, not far from Tsu. I hoped to earn the graces of the Japanese gods so that they would escort me on my long, exhausting journey.

The journey continued to Sapporo, where I had my first full recital: two hours of music (what they had asked of me, alas!) at the end of which we were we all worn out, both the audience and I. Never having played such a long concert, and having another ten ahead of me, it was time to get used to it.

The tournée continued with various concerts, in Kyoto, Akita, Beppu, and so on, the programme changed slightly each time; my performances continued to improve, despite the fact that I was on the move.
Perhaps one of the most successful concerts was the one at Niigata, in the beautiful RYUTOPIA hall, which was clearly inspired by the Berlin Philharmonic Hall.

One feature of Japanese concert halls is that they always have an excellent acoustic; the materials used, the shape of every corner, and the skill with which they are built, gives a sound that is always full and rich, but neither too dry nor “church” like with too much reverberation where you cannot understand anything. In other words, as performers we always feel at ease moving within the infinite world of sound, we can truly concentrate on finding the most daring subtleties, the longest pedal points, almost infinite colours: it’s a real joy.

The tournée continued, naturally I didn’t just play, I tried to get to see some of each city I visited – even though it was very difficult sometimes. Finally, I reached Tokyo, I tried to get to know it a little better.

For someone who grew up in a small town of less than 40,000 inhabitants, Tokyo is an impossible city: the pace is overwhelming, the number of people doesn’t bear thinking. There is an overload of stimuli and there is never a moment of peace. On top of it all, I got a crick in my neck from looking up, the city truly expands upwards.
However, I did manage to find an area that I really liked, indeed after some time I came to love it deeply: it is Ueno, an area full of parks and museums, where anyone can lose themselves in the sweet fragrance of the plants and the trees reflected in the pond which is home to gracious marine creatures that are always ready to interact delicately with passersby. It was in Ueno that I saw an excellent exhibition on Van Gogh and Gauguin which explored the relationship between dreams and reality. After all, wasn’t this really a dream? A twenty-one-year-old wandering carefree around Japan, getting lost between flights and the Shinkansen network (the legendary bullet train), eating sushi and ramen, learning how to say “thank you” and “bon appetit” in Japanese, giving concerts and strolling along poorly lit roads in the Japanese countryside, thinking about how westernization has occurred over the past seventy years, and how that has not managed to cloud the vision of an elegant and uncompromising culture that has lasted millennia… yes, it certainly was a dream; a beautiful dream taking shape, continuing to be fed at every moment by each new person I met, each new concert I listened to (yes, I didn’t just play!), the new cities I visited and the new food I tried. It was a flowing river of completely new sensations and impressions that will be forever impressed on my memory.

The journey continued and reached its apex with the two most important concerts: Osaka e Tokyo. The audience was enchanted by the impressive programme and each concert concluded with four encores that exhausted my last reserves of energy. Here you can listen to the recording of the Tokyo concert, at the beautiful Kioi Hall. It was a wonderful experience, all the more intense because two friends had come all the way from Italy to be there; a sign of affection I will not forget!

And then it was time for the final, and most intense effort: Brahms’ First Piano Concerto, in Hamamatsu, by now practically a “second home”. I met the conductor, who was also young and very well intentioned; it was going to be a first for both of us. As so we dived headlong into Brahms and discovered an immense world. Immense from every point of view, in sheer quantity (it lasts over 50 minutes) emotionally, intellectually, pianistically and so on….

There are two moments in particular that touch me so deeply: the first, at the end of the orchestral introduction to the first movement, that final phrase, so dramatic and solemn, just before the piano’s entry. It always leaves me disconcerted, in a single moment the whole tragedy of existence is unveiled.
And then, naturally, like any good playwright, Brahms gives the resolution, in what for me is the most beloved second movement: at the beginning of that movement he wrote “Benedictus qui venit in nomine Domini” on the manuscript, and it is exactly the impression we have, it’s like witnessing an entry to Paradise.

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