© Suntory Hall
© Suntory Hall
Most classical music fans would associate Tokyo's Suntory Hall with its symphonic hall and its great acoustics but, in fact, the venue also has a beautiful wood-panelled chamber music hall named “Blue Rose”, which can seat up to 430 people. Traditionally “Blue Rose” has been a term that symbolises the impossible because of its absence in nature, but in 2004 Suntory developed a blue rose, and the small hall was named after it in the hope that the artists who perform there will endeavor to be innovative and creative.

Suntory Hall launched its flagship festival “Chamber Music Garden” in 2011, so that more people can access chamber music in a casual and intimate setting and at affordable prices. Seven years since, it has become one of the largest chamber music festivals in Japan. Usually, the festival is held in early summer, but this year’s Chamber Music Garden takes place in September following seven-months refurbishment of Suntory Hall. This year, 14 concerts are held during the 10-day festival (15-24 September).

The festival has assembled a stellar line-up of chamber musicians from both home and abroad, including legendary clarinettist Richard Stoltzman, distinguished harpist Naoko Yoshino, up-coming young pianists Yu Kosuge and Haochen Zhang, former members of the Tokyo Quartet, Koichiro Harada, Kikuei Ikeda (violin) and Kazuhide Isomura (viola) and, of course, eminent cellist and Suntory Hall President Tsuyoshi Tsutsumi, as well as ensembles such as Quartet Excelsior, Hedenborg Trio and the Tokyo Sextet.

The Blue Rose (Small Hall) © Suntory Hall
The Blue Rose (Small Hall)
© Suntory Hall
The festival opens with a gorgeous all-Brahms evening – his String Sextet no. 1 in B flat major and the Piano Quintet in F minor – produced by Tsuyoshi Tsutsumi. He is joined amongst others by his long-term chamber music colleagues including Harada, Ikeda and Isomura, who are also on the faculty of Suntory Hall’s “Chamber Music Academy” (founded in 2010) which offers up-and-coming young musicians mentoring and opportunities to work closely with world-class musicians throughout the year. Current fellows of this Academy will be performing during the festival at the popular “One-coin Concerts” (one coin=500 yen) held at lunchtime on Saturdays.

Last year’s festival featured predominantly string quartets, including the complete Beethoven cycle by Japanese group Quartet Excelsior, but this year, the focus seems to be on the trio format in various combinations. ASIA-Ensemble @ Tokyo is a trio of three young Asian musicians coming together for the first time in Tokyo; 2009 Cliburn piano competition winner Haochen Zhang and two rising Japanese string players, Tatsuki Narita (violin) and Dai Miyata (cello) will perform piano trios by Ravel and Schubert. Hedenborg Trio, the Austrian-Japanese sibling trio from Vienna (two of them play in the Vienna Philharmonic) will give their Japanese debut at the festival, playing core Viennese repertoire of Haydn.

Haochen Zhang © Suntory Hall
Haochen Zhang
© Suntory Hall
The flute, viola and harp also creates an unique trio sound-world. Three leading Japanese performers, Yoshie Ueno, Yoshiko Kawamoto and Naoko Yoshino will explore an evocative programme of Debussy, Bax and Takemitsu. This concert is part of the new “Precious 1pm” series – casual, one-hour weekday lunchtime concerts introduced from the stage by the musicians. Also in this series, festival regular Quartet Excelsior gives a “taster programme” of selected movements from the String Quartet repertoire, suitable for people who are not yet familiar with chamber music.

Popular American clarinettist Richard Stoltzman brings glamour to this autumn “garden” of chamber music. He is collaborating with viola player Isomura and award-winning pianist Yu Kosuge in a programme including Brahms’ autumnal Op.120 clarinet/viola sonatas (intriguingly no. 1 played on the clarinet and no. 2 played on the viola!) and Mozart’s Kegelstatt Trio. The festival will conclude with a gala concert featuring many of the festival participants and will include a quartet (Mozart’s oboe quartet), quintet (Schubert’s Trout), sextet (Poulenc’s for wind quintet and piano) and even a septet (Beethoven)! Autumn in Tokyo is certainly the season to harvest the fruits in the Chamber Music Garden.

Click here to view all the events in the Suntory Hall Chamber Music Garden festival.


Article sponsored by Suntory Foundation of Arts, Suntory Hall