Daniel Froschauer
© Julia Wesely

October 2019 marks the 150th anniversary of the Austro-Japanese friendship, trade and shipping treaty of 1869. Reason enough to learn more about a very special musical friendship between these two countries. Ahead of the yearly Wiener Philharmoniker Week in Tokyo, Daniel Froschauer, Chairman of the orchestra, talks about the second home of the orchestra (Suntory Hall), a project near to his heart (the Vienna Philharmonic and Suntory Music Aid Fund) and the beginnings of a beautiful friendship.

Looking at the audience at the Musikverein or the Staatsoper in Vienna, but also at the concert programmes in Japan, you realise there’s a special musical relationship between Austria and Japan. What characterises this friendship?

This friendships started a long time ago. From early on, Austrian soloists would come to Japan, for example Rudolf Dittrich, a student of Bruckner, who’s most famous for his marching music and who become director of the newly established music academy in Tokyo (today: The Tokyo University of the Arts) in 1888. He laid the foundation for our relationship today.

The first concerts of the Wiener Philharmoniker in Japan took place in 1956, under the baton of the distinguished composer Paul Hindemith. They started a tradition of concerts which was continued by exceptional conductors like Herbert von Karajan and Karl Böhm in the following years. Our first engagements at Suntory Hall took place at the end of their opening time in March 1987, with Claudio Abbado. We’ve been regular guests ever since.

The special thing in Japan is the audience: they know our core repertoire extremely well, for example Bruckner’s Eighth Symphony. They know it with different conductors and they see the tradition behind it, what connects us with Bruckner, Strauss, Brahms and others.

This year, Austria and Japan are celebrating 150 years of diplomatic relationships. In which way can music contribute to this relationship?

Dates are always a chance to celebrate a special friendship, a relationship, to even redefine a love. The Japanese Imperial Family, for example, sends Princess Kako to Vienna – a very positive move. Japan is very present in Austria.

The connection is carried by a deep friendship. We don’t see Suntory Hall as just partners any more, they are real friends. The creation of the Vienna Philharmonic and Suntory Music Aid Fund in 2012 brought us even closer together. But even before then we had this partnership, Suntory was – and is – our most important partner.

Wiener Philharmoniker and Franz Welser-Möst at Suntory Hall
© Suntory Hall

This Music Aid Fund was created after the devastating earthquake in East Japan in March 2011 to support families and most of all children in the affected area through music. What are the origins of this fund?

We immediately asked ourselves: what can we do? We immediately donated one million euros and Suntory added another one million – that’s how we managed to establish the Vienna Philharmonic and Suntory Music Aid Fund. We played in disaster areas like Sendai, where I was involved from the beginning. It’s impossible to put into words; the incredible devastation of the tsunami, an unimaginable catastrophe – we also played at a funeral service.

What projects did the Wiener Philharmoniker initiate for children? How was the commitment received by the families?

We went to a school where we played a rehearsal together with the students, in the afternoon we held master classes, in the evening we played a concert and afterwards one piece with the children – there were lots of activities for the kids. We got an incredibly positive feedback. Entire families came, they are proud, they want to take photos with us.

In autumn 2016, the Wiener Philharmoniker played a concert together with children from the affected areas at Suntory Hall: Das Herz der Harmonie (The Heart of the Harmony). What memories and impressions did this concert leave behind?

It was a wonderful situation and very well received. We played the last movement of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony – we first rehearsed it at Suntory Hall and then performed it. It was the result and the highlight of the first years of our collaboration; it reflected the entire love and heart we’ve put into the project. It was wonderful to study one of the masterworks of the symphonic literature with the kids – and it was about more than just “playing the notes”. I believe the children took as much with them as we did.


In what way do you think this friendship has changed the musical life not just in Tokyo and Japan, but also in Vienna and Austria?

The Philharmoniker reflect the wishes and preferences of the Japanese audience with their choice of programme and conductor. We are shown a great warmth and sympathy. When you sense a feeling of love, you feel secure, and you enjoy playing even more. We have many friends at the Musikverein Golden Week, and to see them in the audience always cheers you up.

The Wiener Philharmoniker show their social responsibility not only in Japan, but with other projects as well…

The social commitment is one of the pillars of the Verein Wiener Philharmoniker [Ed: to read more about the Association of the Wiener Philharmoniker click here] since its creation in 1842. We take the sustainability of our projects incredibly seriously – we support projects where we sense a certain durability over the years. For example, each year at Christmas the Philharmoniker donate lots of money to organisations like Amnesty International or Licht ins Dunkel (an annual telethon on Austrian TV to raise money to provide help for disabled persons).

This interview was sponsored by Suntory Foundation for the Arts, Suntory Hall.