If you live in Tokyo area and haven’t been to one of the events of the Chamber Music Garden at the Suntory Hall in this early summer, it is the perfect time to take a stroll to the heart of Tokyo and visit the venue as it has just launched the annual Chamber Music Garden, the only exhaustive chamber music festival in the metropolis in the summer. Welcoming its ninth year, the event has been adding more meat and charming points each year, while the core programmes celebrate Beethoven string quartets and highlight young artists. Tonight’s opening concert consisted of Baroque and Romantic repertoire delivered by the Chamber Music Academy Ensemble members and Mr Tsuyoshi Tsutsumi. The Academy members are first-rate students from local conservatories or young artists, and Mr Tsutsumi is Japan’s pre-eminent cellist and the producer of the event, who is also the acting president of the Suntory Hall.

Tsuyoshi Tsutsumi, Anri Tsukiji and the Chamber Music Academy Ensemble
© Suntory Hall

Concert took off with Vivaldi’s Concerto for two cellos in G minor, RV531. The two cellists were Mr Tsutsumi himself and Anri Tsukiji, a member of the Chamber Music Academy. The two were backed by the Chamber Music Academy Ensemble, filling the entire stage of the venue’s Blue Rose Hall, which is dedicated solely to chamber music. Vivaldi’s cello concertos opened with just two soloists laying out the notes above minimal baseline, followed by the ensemble’s accompaniment a few bars later. Chamber orchestral pieces are sometimes conducted but tonight’s works were performed without a conductor, which added to the togetherness of the entire ensemble. From the first movement, each player on stage seemed to enjoy each other’s company while delivering the music to the audience in close proximity, the intrinsic nature of chamber music. The Largo was also knit together with precision and beauty while the third movement brought back even more of the first movement’s excitement. It was quite a beautiful scene to see a living legend collaborating with young musicians, yet showing no inconsistency in sound balance or style. Mr Tsutsumi had wisdom and depth in his sound and expression, relaxed in his musical gestures while the young were eager and energetic. All this helped create the music in their unique style, proving once again that good music transcends age and generations.

The second piece was Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings. Some of the members are already in the professional field and some still in conservatories, but regardless, the ensemble executed a stunning performance, paying meticulous attention to details, not leaving any expressive marking behind. The famous first movement – and a favourite to many strings genre fans – was a quick switch from the Baroque colour from the Vivaldi to lush romantic contours, bringing forth somewhat the rustic coldness in tone. Again, the overall togetherness and ensemble skills were fantastic. The transition from second movement Waltz to the slow elegy of the third movement was delicate and tasteful, vibrant and lively within the slowness of the melodic and harmonic lines. In the exciting finale, everything was once again vivid and energetic, the coda bringing back the first movement’s opening theme, while ending the picturesque journey.

The main dish was saved until last. Yet another famous and standard early classical repertoire, the ensemble and Mr Tsutsumi played Haydn’s Cello Concerto no. 1 in C major. As it is a widely known piece, it is often easy to overdo or force the nuances, but not for this group. Mr Tsutsumi’s warm but penetrating tone was matched by the ensemble’s meticulously calculated support. The ensemble’s strict Baroque interpretation could have seemed contrasting to the soloist’s more warm and romantic sound, but altogether it was still in beautiful harmony, recreating the music in their own, appropriate style. The solo part was well executed and expressive, nuances present but not overdone, purely a master’s skill.

Orchestral repertoire is, in essence, large chamber music. Without much practice, trust and communication, it is difficult to pull off a successful group performance whether it be just two musicians or a large ensemble. As the motto of the Suntory Foundation for the Arts, the opening concert of the two week event “nourished the spirit” of the audience and “cultivated the future” by working with talented young artists.