Published by
WQXR Features

Classical Musicians Open Pockets, but Cancel Performances, for Japan

Email a Friend

As relief efforts for Japan continue, the classical music world has rallied to organize concerts and events in support of the disaster-rattled country. With individual artists and symphony orchestras alike adjusting programs and channeling profits, funds for disaster relief and recovery are beginning to roll in. American donors to date have raised more than $161 million, according to The Chronicle of Philanthropy.

But the assistance has also come with cancellations in the Asian region. On Saturday, Korea's Tongyeong International Music Festival scrambled to piece together an opening performance when the Salzburg Mozarteum Orchestra backed out of the festival, citing radiation fears. The opening night of the festival, which runs through April 1, instead featured a performance by soprano Yeree Suh and works by composer Unsuk Chin, led by Alexander Liebreich. A percentage of ticket sales will go to Japanese relief efforts.

Tokyo's New National Theatre, a main classical music venue in the country, has canceled all performances through March 31. "The circumstances caused by aftershock sequence following the earthquake on March 11 make it very difficult for us to present the performances," the Theatre states on its website.

New York efforts to raise money and keep up awareness of the disaster continue. Carnegie Hall's current JapanNYC festival is dedicated to disaster relief for Japan. Festival-goers are encouraged to donate to both national and international relief organizations. Two based here in New York include Bloomberg's Mayor's Fund to Advance New York City, and the Japanese Chamber of Commerce and Industry of New York

"I'm sure it's helped," said Jon Schwab, JCCI manager of public relations. "I don't think we have any measurable way to look at it, but we certainly do appreciate Carnegie Hall's gesture and we do hope that it is helping."

On March 24, the New York Philharmonic made a recording of Toru Takemitsu’s Requiem available for download at a price of $8.99 each. The Philharmonic was unable to say how many downloads have been sold in the first day or speculate on the projected downloads.

But for the Japan Society, which quickly established its Japan Earthquake Relief Fund, there is no small amount in the face of such a large disaster.

"Kids down on Union Square have collected dollars and pennies and have given that to us," commented Japan Society's Shannon Jowett. "A group of Japanese mothers also came and gave us the money they had collected." Jowett said the Japan Society has shored up $2.1 million dollars to date. "There are a couple of gifts of over $100,000 dollars," Jowett said. "And over 8,000 donations have been made. But a lot of them are small gifts."

Japan continues to manage a disaster that has left more than 10,000 people dead and 17,500 missing to date. A series of safety issues have also been raised by damage caused to reactors at the Fukushima nuclear complex. On Friday, Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan described the situation as "nowhere near" resolution.

Amid the destruction and chaos, members of the classical music community worldwide have responded with commemorative, and contributing, events. Jung-Suk Ryu, music director of the Ottawa Symphonic Ensemble, donated half of the proceeds to Japan from the orchestra’s recent fundraising concert. The Berlin Philharmonie is gearing up for a major benefit concert. The Dallas Symphony is preparing for proceeds from upcoming concerts to be donated to the city of Sendai, the city closest to the epicenter of the earthquake. Violinist Hilary Hahn has announced four benefit concerts she will perform for Japan across the U.S. including one at Galapagos in Brooklyn on Monday night.

"Whether it's contemporary, classical or traditional, the cultural aspects are probably the most important things people can be taking part in right now," Jowett said.

"In times of crisis, when it feels like there's nothing to do, it's just as important to go see a show that connects you to that culture as it is to sit and watch the news," Jowett said. "Because life is still going on."