Conductor who has maintained cultural exchange with Russia for more than 30 years reveals the struggles of the music world | FRIDAY DIGITAL

Conductor who has maintained cultural exchange with Russia for more than 30 years reveals the struggles of the music world

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There is one person who is terribly distressed that Russia, a world leader in ballet, music, art, and other artistic fields, has trampled on human dignity.

Koetsu Oikawa, 72, a conductor from Hokkaido who has been engaged in cultural exchange with Russia for more than 30 years.

Russia is an artistic powerhouse that has produced many great musicians, including Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff, and Stravinsky. For me, Russia has always been a country that I admired, so I am shocked in many ways by the recent invasion of Ukraine.

For more than 30 years, Mr. Oikawa has held concerts with a focus on international and social contributions. He has invited young musicians from Russia and Eastern Europe to give concerts, and has invited people with disabilities who rarely have a chance to go out to listen to classical music.

Russia and Ukraine have historically been on bad terms.

Mr. Oikawa, who has also conducted abroad since the 1980s, first took the stage in Russia in 1990 during the Soviet era. Since then, he has also wielded the baton with such prestigious orchestras as the Moscow Radio Symphony Orchestra (now the Tchaikovsky Symphony Orchestra) and the Russian National Orchestra.

In 1990, he also conducted the Ukrainian National Philharmonic Orchestra in Kiev, Ukraine. It was just a year before the collapse of the Soviet Union, and Ukraine was still one of the constituent republics of the Soviet Union.

Many great musicians have come out of Ukraine. Among pianists, Horowitz, Richter, and Girelis. Violinists Oistrakh and Milstein.

1990 When I performed in Russia in 1990, I asked a great person in the Russian government if I could conduct in Kiev as well. But he was vehemently opposed. He said, “The level of orchestras in Ukraine is low. There is no need to go all the way to Kiev. Still, I managed to persuade him and gave one performance with a Ukrainian orchestra in Kiev.

The level of the orchestra is not a problem for me. The Ukrainian musicians were all very dedicated, and we had a good impression of each other.

In 1997, when he conducted the prestigious Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra, he had an unexpected experience between Russia and Ukraine.

I invited a talented young Ukrainian violinist to be the soloist for a performance with the Moscow Philharmonic. Some Russian officials objected, saying, ‘Why would you invite a Ukrainian violinist to a concert in Moscow?

But when the curtain opened, there were no Russian audiences. The Russians did not invite any dignitaries, and they did not let in the general public. The only people who came were the Japanese embassy staff and the Japanese press.

Russia and Ukraine have always been on bad terms. I don’t know what is the reason. I don’t know what the reason is. There must be some historical background.

When you look at an orchestra, you can see the national character of the country. Russians are very proud. There is a kind of condescension they have toward the Ukrainian people. I could easily imagine that Ukrainians would not have good feelings toward Russians.”

In 2001, he performed with the St. Petersburg Symphony Orchestra (formerly the Leningrad Symphony Orchestra) to great acclaim.
In 1997, he conducted the prestigious Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra with a young Ukrainian violinist as soloist.

Russian musicians faced a difficult situation because of the war started by Putin.

Even after this event, he says, his admiration for Russia remained unchanged. Because he had such strong feelings for Russia, he was greatly shocked by President Putin’s violent invasion of Ukraine.

Mr. Putin wants the world to recognize that Russia is a great country. Ukraine’s anger at him for not listening to them, even though they are a small country, reached a peak, and he finally started a war in the name of a great cause.

Because of this, musicians of Russian origin are no longer able to work in Western countries. Valery Gergiev, a close friend of Putin, was dismissed from his position as chief conductor of the Munich Philharmonic Orchestra. Russian artists have worked very hard to establish themselves in the world, and now they are being excluded because of Putin. That saddens me the most.”

For more than 30 years, he has invited talented but economically disadvantaged young musicians from Russia and Eastern Europe to Japan and provided them with opportunities to perform. The number of such musicians has already exceeded 120. However, such international friendship activities have been hampered by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

I have invited excellent young Russian musicians to Japan to give concerts because you helped me when I was young,” he said. I provided travel and hotel expenses, and paid some guarantees. In addition to Russia, we have also invited musicians from Poland, Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Serbia, and other Eastern European countries.

Unfortunately, under the current circumstances, we cannot invite either Russian or Ukrainian musicians to Japan. Even if I wanted to go over there, I can’t, and most of the activities I have been doing for more than 30 years are hampered. Everything is because of the stupid war that Putin started.”

Conducting the Russian National Orchestra in 1993 with master Russian pianist Nikolai Petrov

Just doing what I can do” – Organizing humanitarian aid concerts in Ukraine

However, the concert itself, which has continued as a social contribution, will be held again this year.

Each time Mr. Oikawa invites young musicians from Russia and Eastern Europe to perform, he invites children with disabilities, single mothers, and children in foster homes and schools who have little exposure to classical music. The total number of people she has invited free of charge to date is said to be more than 370,000.

This year, under the title of “Charity Concert for Emergency Humanitarian Assistance to Ukraine and Evacuees in Poland,” piano concerts will be held in four cities in Hokkaido in June.

Since we couldn’t invite anyone from Russia or Eastern Europe, we decided to introduce young Japanese musicians,” he said. We will hold a concert by a young pianist named Takaki Murata, who is based in Kitami City, Hokkaido, and invite people with disabilities.

The purpose of the event is to provide humanitarian aid to Ukraine and support Ukrainian people who have taken refuge in Poland, so we put a donation box at the venue. We ask everyone who comes to the concert to help us, and we will donate the collected aid to the Japanese Red Cross.”

On the 25th of last month, Ukraine’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs posted a video on Twitter thanking countries for their support, naming 31 countries, including the United States and the United Kingdom. Since the name of Japan was not among them, LDP lawmakers and others said, “This is no good. We are making a request to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine,” and “Very inappropriate Twitter,” they tweeted. One wonders how Mr. Oikawa, who has devoted himself to social and international contributions for many years, would feel about this statement, which he sees as a problem that Ukraine does not show gratitude to Japan.

I think it’s not right to offer support to a country that has suffered a great number of casualties and is desperately resisting. It’s shameful. You have a low level of awareness.

Even with the acceptance of Ukrainians into Japan, I feel that the government does not understand how to deal with refugees. I would like politicians to think carefully about what kind of support peaceful countries should provide.

I just have to look at the reality and do what I can.”

The people of Ukraine need all the aid they can get now. There must be “something I can do” to help.

Mitsuyoshi Oikawa, conductor, was born in Hokkaido in 1949. After studying at the Tokyo College of Music and Toho Gakuen Conducting School, he studied under Seiji Ozawa in 1978. Since 1983, he has conducted the Tokyo Symphony Orchestra, the Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra, the Sapporo Symphony Orchestra, the Gunma Symphony Orchestra, the Kanagawa Philharmonic Orchestra, the Kyoto Symphony Orchestra, and others.” From 1988, he served as the Permanent Guest Conductor of the China Film Orchestra and the Shanghai Film Orchestra for six years.” Since 1990, he has toured in the Czech Republic, Poland, Russia, Hungary, etc. From 2004, he was the Permanent Guest Conductor of the Bulgarian National Sofia Symphony Orchestra for six years.” He received the Honorary Award from the Bulgarian Ministry of Culture in 2009, the Order of Cultural Merit from the Romanian government in ’14, the Order of Honorary Commendation from the Bulgarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs in ’19, and the Order of Cultural Merit from the Polish government.

Charity Concerts “Takaki Murata Piano Masterpieces Concert” for Ukraine Emergency Humanitarian Assistance and Displaced Persons Assistance in Poland: 6/15 in Obihiro, 6/17 in Asahikawa, 6/20 in Sapporo, 6/22 in Hakodate; also scheduled for October in Tokyo and Yokohama.
  • Interview and text by Sayuri Saito

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