“Do you believe in miracles?” was the phrase used when the U.S. hockey team won its most improbable victory during the 1980 winter Olympics. That members of the New York City Opera Orchestra recently completed a week-long tour in Japan brings to mind the same sense of astonishment and accomplishment.
Thirteen months ago NYCO filed for bankruptcy and was left for dead. But the orchestra, though depleted in nearly every sense except the musical one, has remained together as a unit.
On Nov. 7, we boarded a plane at JFK for Japan, to perform two concerts – one in Nagoya and one in Natori, a small town 200 miles north of Tokyo, near Sendai. (Natori is in Tohoku, the region that was devastated by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami.)
Our trip was short and intense. In eight days, we managed 27 hours of flights, five hours of bullet trains, five and a half hours of bus rides, four rehearsals, three hotels, two performances and many hours of waiting – all while dealing with a 14-hour time change.
This brief tour – which was covered under a union contract – was an opportunity to play with our dear friend, Maestro Atsushi Yamada, in support of Project Hand in Hand, an organization whose mission is to organize “international performances to call for the continued and extensive support of Japan’s long-term recovery efforts and to express gratitude for the warm support that has already been given from all around the world.”
Through Project Hand in Hand, Maestro Yamada has – for the past three years – brought children’s choruses from Tohoku to New York, where they performed with the NYCO Orchestra. This time we were going to perform with them in their home.
The repertoire was Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony, a work we all knew but had certainly never performed as a group, and Orff’s “Carmina Burana,”which we had played with Maestro Yamada and the Japanese children’s choruses at Lincoln Center’s Rose Hall in March 2014.
When NYCO toured Japan in 2005, we performed in Nagoya in the theatre of the excellent Aichi Performing Arts Center. This time we played in the center’s concert hall – a large, bright, open space.
The concert hall in Natori was smaller, with warm, excellent acoustics. But of much more importance and significance, we were told that after the tsunami, it was home to 400 families for six months. We knew that our concert there was going to be the emotional center of this short tour. Learning of the vital role this hall played in so many lives raised our own already heightened emotional commitment.
As one might imagine, under the very best of circumstances, organizing and executing an orchestra tour is a mammoth task. Attempting to arrange one with no staff is beyond monumental and our thanks and appreciation must first and foremost go to David Titcomb, our personnel manager. Without his patience, trust and experience, nothing would have happened. The same appreciation must go, without question, to Maestro Yamada and the tiny volunteer staff of Project Hand in Hand.
Our opera company is still bankrupt and out of business, and as an orchestra we are together only rarely. But we were doubly rewarded on this trip: playing together again as an orchestra and bringing comfort to an area that has experienced so much sorrow – as well as bringing comfort to ourselves.
Cellist Mark Shuman plays in the New York City Opera orchestra and has been a member of Local 802 since 1971.
Photos: Mark Shuman.