Main Hall © Suntory Hall
Main Hall
© Suntory Hall
With the signing of the “Treaty of Amity and Commerce” by the first Austrian mission to Tokyo in 1869, both Austria and Japan established diplomatic relations and marked the beginning of a beautiful friendship. After the Second World War, Japan was the first country to recognise Austria’s neutrality in 1955 and both countries have been welcoming delegations ever since. Yet it is not only a political friendship, it is a cultural exchange, an appreciation of each other's traditions and a celebration of music. The Musikverein and the Staatsoper in Vienna would not be the same without their enthusiastic Japanese audience and neither would be Suntory Hall without the annual visit of the Wiener Philharmoniker.

There’s probably no other foreign ensemble that has a longer standing history with Suntory Hall than the Viennese orchestra. Since 1999 the Japanese audience has been enjoying concerts directed by some of the best conductors of the world, including Nikolaus Harnoncourt, Georges Prêtre and Zubin Mehta. Following the Great East Japan Earthquake, Suntory Group and the Wiener Philharmoniker established “The Vienna Philharmonic & Suntory Music Aid Fund” to support the affected areas through music. To mark the 150th anniversary of the Austrian-Japanese friendship, the orchestra returns to Tokyo for one week in November. The residency includes an open rehearsal, a masterclass led by principals of the orchestra, a school programme as well as four concerts with Andrés Orozco-Estrada and Christian Thielemann who conducted this year’s New Year’s Concert at the Goldene Saal.

Wiener Philharmoniker and Christian Thielemann © Roman Zach-Kiesling
Wiener Philharmoniker and Christian Thielemann
© Roman Zach-Kiesling
Mount Fuji comes alive with the sound of the Wiener Sängerknaben who visit this May with two Austrian-Japanese programmes that range from Furusato (My Homeland) by the Japanese composer Teiichi Okano to the Viennese evergreen An der schönen blauen Donau and even Edelweiss from The Sound of Music. A lovely addition are two pieces by Her Majesty Empress Michiko of Japan, Sound of Singing and Nemu-No-Ki (Silk Tree). The Empress wrote the lyrics of the lullaby when she was still in high school. After her wedding with Emperor Akihito in 1959, the song with its warm melody was published and quickly became popular. More Viennese bliss is offered by the Orchestra of the Vienna Volksoper which waltzes into the new year with a Silvester and three New Year Concerts. The Wiener Ring-Ensemble presents a programme in early January and Yutaka Sado, principal of the Austrian Tonkünstler Orchestra, conducts the Japan Philharmonic Orchestra later that month.

Another reason to celebrate is Ludwig van Beethoven’s 250th birthday in 2020 and it comes as no surprise that Suntory Hall celebrates in style. During the Chamber Music Garden festival in June, the Berlin based Kuss Quartett performs a complete Beethoven string quartet cycle in chronological order over five evenings. The exceptional German violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter continues the festivities with three concerts dedicated to the composer in February. One evening explores Beethoven’s chamber music, another one his violin sonatas and on the third evening, Mutter plays the Violin Concerto in D major together with the New Japan Philharmonic Orchestra. She also leads a masterclass for fellows of the Suntory Hall Chamber Music Academy.

The Suntory Hall Summer Festival puts the spotlight on international and Japanese contemporary music. Each evening features a different Theme Composer, including the acclaimed Swiss composer Michael Jarrell, whose music has won some of most renowned prices for composition and earned him commissions from Lucerne and Salzburg Festival. The festival at Suntory Hall sees the world premiere of a new work for violin and orchestra, performed by Renaud Capuçon and Pascal Rophé conducting the Tokyo Symphony Orchestra in August. The opera Written on Skin is based on a 12th-century legend by the troubadour Guillem de Cabestany. It tells the story of a secret affair between Agnès and The Boy who is creating an illuminated manuscript for Agnès husband, The Protector. When The Protector discovers their secret love, he kills The Boy and forces his wife to eat a meal he has prepared for her. It is The Boy’s heart. Before The Protector can kill Agnès she takes her own life by jumping from the balcony. The British composer George Benjamin and his librettist Martin Crimp used this dark tale to create a masterpiece that has "conquered the world" since its 2012 première at Aix-en-Provence. The two performances at the end of August will definitely grab the Suntory Hall audience’s attention.

Andris Nelsons © Marco Borggreve
Andris Nelsons
© Marco Borggreve

Suntory Hall has long been one of the favourite tour stops for some of best orchestras of the world and the 2019-20 season proves no difference. Make sure to clear your schedule in autumn when an impressive series of international ensembles visits Tokyo, beginning with the Deutsche Symphonie-Orchester Berlin with Robin Ticciati in early October. Next up are two concerts with the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra under Semyon Bychkov and a visit by the Philadelphia Orchestra with Lisa Batiashvili and Yannick Nézet-Séguin conducting Mahler’s Fifth Symphony. Kristjan Järvi brings his MDR Leipzig Radio Symphony Orchestra to Tokyo, while his brother Paavo joins the lineup with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra in November and his Estonian Festival Orchestra earlier that year in April. This spectacular mini-season is concluded with three concerts with the Berliner Philharmoniker under the baton of Zubin Mehta and two performances with Valery Gergiev and his Mariinsky Theatre Orchestra. You also shouldn't miss the Gewandhausorchester Leipzig and their new music director Andris Nelsons in May, presenting an all-Russian programme with Baiba Skride and an evening with Bruckner's Fifth Symphony.

So long, farewell, auf Wiedersehen and see you in Tokyo!

Click here to see events in the Suntory Hall season.


This article was sponsored by Suntory Hall