After the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s second and final concert in Tokyo at the famed Bunka Kaikan on its Asia Tour 2016, hundreds of patrons stood in line eagerly waiting to meet music director Riccardo Muti and collect his autograph.
One young Japanese fan even greeted the maestro with a few lines of well-prepared Italian. In addition to Muti’s enthusiastic young supporter, thousands more concertgoers warmly welcomed him and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra across Taiwan, Japan, China and Korea during their recently concluded tour. While this is the orchestra’s 59th international tour and eighth journey to Asia, this is the first time Muti and the CSO have performed in Asia together. The conductor and orchestra are beloved across the globe, as evidenced that all concerts sold out well in advance and each concert venue was filled to capacity. When the Chicago Symphony Orchestra goes on tour, the world takes notice.
Maestro Muti selected an eclectic and dramatic repertoire for the tour, alternating among Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5, Mahler’s Symphony No. 1, Prokofiev’s Symphony No. 1 (Classical), Hindemith’s Concert Music for String Orchestra and Brass, and Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4. This wide scope of repertoire showcased the ensemble’s distinctive sound that Muti has described as “the most European of the American orchestras. It has the precision and the strong attack of sound that is typical of the American orchestras, but also a flexibility that makes this orchestra very versatile.”
For many CSO members, the Asia tour provided the opportunity to return home and visit with family, friends, colleagues and former music teachers. As Assistant Principal Viola Li-Kuo Chang explained, “Come to the end, what’s the most rewarding thing? To come back to your hometown with this world-class orchestra. Nothing can beat that experience.”
While the CSO’s mission includes performing the world’s pre-eminent classical repertoire internationally, it also is dedicated to reaching out to educate and enrich the lives of communities, musicians and fans around the world. In addition to performing in Taipei, Tokyo, Shanghai, Beijing and Seoul’s most majestic concert halls, several CSO members also ventured out into these communities to teach, perform and forge musical connections in more intimate settings. Concertmaster Robert Chen and Assistant Principal Clarinet John Bruce Yeh visited Taipei’s National Taiwan Normal University for master classes, and a CSO string quartet performed at the city’s Sun Yat-sen Cancer Center for patients, their families and staff. In Tokyo, violinists Alison Dalton, Baird Dodge and Mihaela Ionescu took solo turns at Meguro Honcho, a care facility for adults with physical or mental disabilities. John Bruce Yeh and Principal Tuba Gene Pokorny gave master classes in Beijing.
In Seoul, on the tour’s final day, CSO members visited the U.S. Embassy American Center. There, Sylvia Kim Kilcullen, assistant principal second violin, taught a master class, and a string quartet performed for an audience of youth orchestra students and North Korean refugees. That same day, Principal Clarinet Stephen Williamson taught a master class at Seoul’s Clarinet Academy. For all orchestra members and staff, the tour was a trip filled with expressive performances, meaningful educational experiences and opportunities to bring music to as many people as possible.
At the tour’s end, after months of rigorous, detailed planning by CSO staff, careful repertoire preparation and meticulously handled travel and transport, the CSO returned home to Chicago after giving 10 concerts in five cities over just 15 days. For Maestro Muti, bringing transformative musical experiences to the world is what music is all about: “I know that music has the ability to bring people together, people who don’t speak the same language and otherwise would not understand each other. Music speaks to the heart of people.”
Thousands of concertgoers in Taiwan, Japan, China and Korea agree.
Laura Sauer is a CSO marketing associate.