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Guide to the NHK Symphony Orchestra, Tokyo

Paavo Järvi leads his final NHK SO season
There are few things more reassuring than the sight of Paavo Järvi taking to the podium, baton in hand, wearing a wry smile. Among jargon such as the “new normal”, it’s reassuring to see the NHK Symphony Orchestra, Tokyo announcing its usual roster of international conductors and soloists for its 2021-22 series of subscription concerts.
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“Järvi led a passionate, ebullient reading. The NHK strings have a wonderfully dark, mahogany sound, evident from the sonorous cellos and double basses and the honeyed violins, split antiphonally, caressing phrases with the utmost care. Järvi’s conducting is totally non-flashy, never drawing attention to himself. [...] One of the finest accounts of the Second I’ve heard in concert. ”

Mark Pullinger, London, February 2020


The history of the NHK Symphony Orchestra dates back to October 5th, 1926 when a professional orchestra called the New Symphony Orchestra was formed. After being briefly called the Japan Symphony Orchestra, it was renamed the NHK Symphony Orchestra when it began to receive full financial support from Nippon Hoso Kyokai (Japan Broadcasting Corporation) in 1951. During those years, the orchestra invited German conductor Joseph Rosenstock as its Chief Conductor, under whose baton the orchestra established the foundation to become Japan’s leading orchestra. Thereafter, the orchestra continually invited many of the world’s most renowned conductors of the time, including Herbert von Karajan, Ernest Ansermet, Joseph Keilberth and Lovro von Matačić, to name but a few, and worked with some of the world’s most celebrated soloists to offer the public innumerable outstanding performances which have become entrenched as part of Japan’s history of classical music. The subscription concerts series, which is the core of its activities, started on February 20th, 1927, and has continued without interruption ever since, even during the Second World War.

In recent years, the orchestra has presented approximately 120 concerts nationwide annually, including 54 subscription concerts which have been relayed to every corner of the country on NHK television and through FM radio broadcasts. The concerts can also be heard in Europe, the United States and Asia through its international broadcast service. It has also won world-wide acclaim for its overseas tours, including its first appearance in the Salzburg Festival in August 2013 and its European tour of major cities including Berlin and Vienna in 2017 and 2020.

Conductors who are closely associated with the NHK Symphony Orchestra include Paavo Järvi (Chief Conductor), Charles Dutoit (Music Director Emeritus), Herbert Blomstedt (Honorary Conductor Laureate), Vladimir Ashkenazy (Conductor Laureate), Yuzo Toyama (Permanent Conductor) and Tadaaki Otaka (Permanent Conductor).