Opinion: Hiroshima Symphony Orchestra
Sep. 24, 2012
40 years as a professional organization
by Naoki Tahara, Editorial Writer
Let the sound of peace resound
The Hiroshima Symphony Orchestra (HSO), which began as a civic group, recently marked the 40th anniversary of its reorganization as a professional orchestra. It is the only such orchestra in the Chugoku-Shikoku Region. In addition to offering high-quality concerts, it also conducts activities designed to convey the pleasures of music to children and is now an integral part of the community.
Although smaller than orchestras in Tokyo, the orchestra has been acclaimed for the high quality of its performances. At last week’s regular concert, the orchestra performed a major work by Charles Messiaen, a leading composer of the 20th century. The full program revealed the strides the orchestra has made and the study it has put in over the past 40 years.
The HSO is one of the three major professional groups based in the area, along with the Hiroshima Toyo Carp baseball team and the Sanfrecce Hiroshima soccer team. About five years ago the orchestra began visiting schools with members of the two teams, which were better known and more popular, as well as conducting special events, thus broadening its fan base.
Nevertheless the situation for orchestras throughout Japan is difficult. Operations must be subsidized by local governments and corporations, but these subsidies are being cut because of financial difficulties and the recession.
The presence of an orchestra is regarded as one indicator of a city’s cultural level. Next year the orchestra will celebrate the 50th anniversary of its establishment. The community must take pride in the orchestra and continue to support and nurture it.
The HSO should also consider unique efforts not undertaken by other orchestras. One would be to conduct activities that demonstrate a greater awareness of the fact that the orchestra is based in Hiroshima.
Of the three major professional groups in Hiroshima, the HSO is best able to directly express the catastrophe of the atomic bombing and the city’s desire for peace.
The slogan of the HSO is “Music for Peace,” and it has performed works lauding love for mankind. In the summer the orchestra gives a “peace concert.” How about also giving a series of concerts of works on the subject of the atomic bombing and releasing them on CD?
Composers both in Japan and around the world have written works mourning the victims of the atomic bombing and calling for peace. According to a survey by the Hiroshima and Music Committee, which is made up of people involved in the field of music, there are more than 600 classical pieces alone on this theme.
The 1949 symphony “Hiroshima” composed by Erkki Aaltonen of Finland was the first instrumental work on the subject. It was performed in Hiroshima in 1955, but few people are aware of the work today.
Leading Japanese composers such as Yasushi Akutagawa and Ikuma Dan have also written works on the subject of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. Hiroshima natives such as Tomiko Kojiba and Toshio Hosokawa have also composed such works, some of which have been performed by the HSO.
Krzysztof Penderecki’s “Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima” is sometimes performed, but most of the other works are not and have largely been forgotten. It would be meaningful for the HSO to seek out the best of these works and perform them.
If they were recorded on CD or DVD, they could also inspire many people who are unable to go to concerts and could be heard for years to come. These would not only be a record of the local orchestra’s efforts but also an asset to the community.
There would certainly be major obstacles, such as cost and copyright issues. But performances of the music of Hiroshima by the HSO would have a powerful appeal.
In fact, the orchestra receives requests from composers both in Japan and abroad who would like the HSO to perform their works on the theme of peace.
Contributing to peace and becoming a world-class orchestra that is at the same time rooted in the community can only be done by an orchestra based in Hiroshima. By advancing efforts such as these, the HSO may be able to achieve the three-point vision that it set out when it became a public interest incorporated association.
This, in turn, might make it easier for the city, prefecture and others to offer more financial support to the orchestra. Businesses and private citizens might also be more inclined to provide support.
Conveying Hiroshima’s prayer for a world without nuclear weapons or war to the next generation and to the world is also a way of passing on the story of the atomic bombing. The important mission of Hiroshima’s orchestra is nothing less than that.
(Originally published on September 20, 2012)