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‘Heiwa’ : Finding Harmony through a Japanese lens

Konnichiwa from Julian!

Tomorrow, we will be streaming the second concert in our #DigitalTour series, this time from Yamaha’s beautiful, wood-panelled piano hall in the heart of London’s Soho. On a personal note, I’m absolutely thrilled that we chose to present a Japan-specific programme for this concert, including world-premieres by two Japanese composers, and I’ve answered some questions on our relationship with Japan below.

Please join us for the stream (available until New Year’s Eve), and let us know what you think on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter (@kingssingers).

What’s the history of TKS and Japan?

The King’s Singers have enjoyed a special relationship with Japan over the decades. I remember David Hurley talking fondly of the legendary Rolex tour in the 90’s with Carlo Curley, where they got the full celebrity treatment – and yes, they did get to keep their Rolexes! I also recently saw from the group’s VHS archive (which we’re in the process of digitalising) a highly entertaining group appearance from a few years earlier on a stereotypical Japanese TV show featuring six colourful bowties, much laughter, a plug from Simon Carrington for that evening’s concert in Osaka Symphony Hall, an extremely attentive Japanese translator and an all-too familiar rendition of Bob Chilcott’s arrangement of Greensleeves with Bruce (and Al) singing the solo.

As David recounted to me, there has always been such wonderful support for the group in Japan, with amazing and large audiences, who love in particular the lighter rep, including Beatles and folksongs. The same certainly seems true today from our most recent visits in 2016, 2018 and 2019.

 

A special 1986 Japan release of Beatles’ Connection

Why Japan for this stream?

One of the exciting things about The King’s Singers is that, because we are a partnership, the six of us encourage each other to bring onboard our personal, musical and cultural passions and interests which we as a group can then develop and positively integrate into our concerts, recordings and touring schedule. As is the case with Chris and his Kiwi heritage when we tour New Zealand, or Johnny and his Austrian heritage when we tour German-speaking countries, I have a family link to Japan since I am half-Japanese, so my colleagues and I have worked very hard since I joined the group in 2014 to grow and cultivate TKS’ special relationship with Japan through everything we do.

Our Japan tour this October had been a real highlight of the 2020/2021 season, and so we were truly gutted when we found out that the tour had to be cancelled due to Covid-19. Our first thought was that we should somehow honour the original tour by streaming a performance from London, similar in content and style to the performances we were due to give around this very time in Hiroshima, Osaka, Tokyo, Fukushima and other great Japanese cities. So, luckily, with the help of Idagio (our online streaming platform), Sankei Shimbun (PR/promoter), Yamaha Music London (performance venue) and our amazing film crew, we’ve managed to put this exciting streamed concert together which is available to everyone around the world.

 

What’s the ‘Heiwa’ programme concept?

Our latest headline project, called ‘Finding Harmony’, is all about the power that music has to bring people together, particularly through singing together in difficult times. ‘Finding Harmony’ focuses on various episodes of this happening across the world and throughout time, and of course Japan is no exception with its ongoing natural disasters and scarily recent history of atomic bombs. We therefore decided to adapt our ‘Finding Harmony’ concept for this Japan tour and tailor it to the Japanese-friendly title of ‘Heiwa’ (meaning ‘Peace and Harmony’), which for us resonates so nicely both with Japanese culture, and also with ‘Reiwa’, the name of the new Imperial Era, which we celebrated by way of a special concert in Tokyo last year.

In this ‘Heiwa’ programme, we chose pieces from some of our international ‘Finding Harmony’ episodes, as well as a range of works by renaissance English composers, Henry Purcell and William Byrd; contemporary Japanese composer, Toru Takemitsu; some well-known Japanese songs such as ‘Furusato’ (‘Homeland’) and ‘Kimigayo’ (the national anthem); and of course, no KS concert would be complete without some close-harmony classics to finish! In addition, we decided to commission and include two brand new works by Japanese composers, Makiko Kinoshita and Eisuke Tsuchida, as part of our ongoing mission to create new music each year. It’s really nice to see included in the set list songs by four King’s Singers, past and present, including Bob Chilcott, Phil Lawson, Chris Bruerton, and my first ever arrangement for the group, ‘Nemunoki Lullaby’, which sets to music words by Empress Emerita Michiko, written when she was a student.

 

How do you connect with a Japanese audience?
One of the things we try to do wherever in the world we are touring is to offer music and spoken introductions in the local language, which we feel gets things off on the right foot and creates an immediate connection between the six of us on stage and the members of the audience, allowing for a mutually elevated musical experience. The same is true for our Japanese concerts, and the six of us do all of our announcements in Japanese, with language help from my mother!
It is rare for us to commission music specifically for a one-off tour, like we are doing with these two pieces for our ‘Heiwa’ programme, but this undoubtedly helps to deepen the connection with the audience too. The work by Kinoshita is called ‘Ashita no uta’ (‘Tomorrow’s song’) and has a wonderful message of hope for a better tomorrow which is beautifully realised through her undulating, harmonic writing; the work by Tsuchida is called ‘Shinda onna no ko’ (literally ‘Dead Girl’, but which we’ve entitled ‘The Girl from Hiroshima’) and vividly recounts the Hiroshima atomic bomb incident 75 years ago from the perspective of a little girl who was killed in the explosion, ending with an imploring anti-nuclear message for the world today.
We hope that these two works will be appreciated by our audiences around the world, but might perhaps strike a particular chord with our Japanese audience.
 
 
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