8 February 2013

Friday lunchtime saw the launch in Japanese of the Philharmonia's awesome app, the Orchestra. I met Nate in the lobby and we took the red Marunouchi line to Ginza, an enormous shopping district in central Tokyo, walked about half a mile to exit A12 and popped out, blinking, into the sunny street. Across the road was a shiny cuboid building with a rotating, once-bitten apple on the roof. I knew instinctively that it sold Apples. I went in and a blue t-shirted employee gleefully pointed us in the right direction.

While Nate browsed the fresh, nicely packaged produce on offer, the lift took me upwards and opened onto a good-sized lecture room. The twenty or so rows of seats were almost completely occupied, so rather than causing a disturbance, I took up a position by the left wall, which gave me a lovely view of the stage. On it were seated Maestro Salonen and Richard Slaney, the Philharmonia's Head of Digital and the brains behind all of the brilliant interactive projects we've created over the past few years; Re-Rite, Universe of Sound, and now, the Orchestra. He played the viola as a child, and that rigorous mental training is clearly paying off now. A translator sat behind them, and a large screen was displaying the app in all its glory.

Basically, it totally rocks. Stephen Fry was raving about it on Twitter, and it got voted as one of the best apps in the world in 2012. All this despite the fact yours truly was away in New Zealand for the Rugby World Cup when we recorded it - imagine how good it could have been!

Our principal bassoon Amy then came on and showed how you can play along to any of the eight pieces by reading off the clever moving score, and Esa-Pekka and Richard spoke about the musical and technical elements of the project. The lady translating did a sterling job of keeping a running commentary going (having said that, she might have been relaying the latest football results for all I knew), and at the end the dignitaries answered questions from reporters and members of the public. If you'd like to buy it in English click here or in Japanese click here.

Our concert that evening was at one of my favourite modern halls. Suntory make beer, whiskey and concert halls; no wonder musicians like the company! It is aesthetically and aurally magnificent. I feel as if the orchestra is being gently cradled in the wide, welcoming arms of a mothership, which listens attentively and supportively to our every sound. It glorifies our fortissimi and nurtures our pianissimi. I love it.

We knocked off a stonking King Stephen Overture, and then Leif Ove Andsnes again played the Beethoven concerto beautifully. And then Mahler 1. This time, fully fresh and more aligned to GMT+9, we luxuriated, caressed and swept our way through this masterpiece. The heart-breaking duet between violins and cellos in the finale can never have sounded more beautiful. And when the horns stood to declare their fanfare of fourths at the end it was goose-bump time. Epic.

As an encore we played Sibelius' Valse Triste. I've talked in previous blogs about how softly we play this with Esa-Pekka, and again, it was electrifying. It's concerts like this that make me feel so lucky to be part of this collection of people, making music of the very highest order.

Then, Viola Night! We had a little difficulty finding the Shabu-zen restaurant in Roppongi, but once we did, we feasted on amazing beef and pork which you cooked yourself in a broth of vegetables. Then some of us met up with the basses for karaoke, and afterwards, at 4am, the last people standing headed to the Tsukiji Fish Market to see thousands upon thousands of fish, sea urchins, tuna, octopi and goodness knows what else be unloaded, packaged and whizzed off to Tokyo's myriad shops and restaurants. About 10% of the entire planet's daily fish catch comes through this place. A taxi back to the hotel and sleep. Tomorrow, Yokohama and rugby!