Alongside its overwhelming plethora of culturing offerings, the Japanese capital is host to several orchestras, the most prestigious among them being the Tokyo Philharmonic.

The Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra
© Takafumi Ueno

Where other orchestras in the city have placed a slightly different emphasis in their concert programming – the Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony and the New Japanese Philharmonic both offering a little more 20th-century modernist music this coming season – the Tokyo Philharmonic’s programming is squarely oriented in a Romantic direction.

In addition to their duties as the orchestra at the Tokyo New National Theatre Opera House, the Philharmonic are presenting eleven concert programmes in the 2022–23 season. Each will be presented in several locations – the Suntory Hall, the Orchard Hall at Bunkamura, and the Tokyo Opera City Concert Hall.

Tadaaki Otaka
© Takafumi Ueno

The year 2022 concludes with the veteran Tadaaki Otaka leading the orchestra in Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony – a seasonal staple for Japanese orchestras. Otaka, a student of legendary conductor Hideo Saito, conducted the Tokyo Philharmonic for 20 years, from 1971–91. (He later became conductor of the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, among other subsequent positions.)

The new year of 2023 kicks off with a New Year’s Concert-type outing in early January, with the young Daichi Deguchi, winner of the 2021 Khatchaturian International Competition, conducting a programme of Strauss waltzes, Saint-Saëns and Ravel’s Boléro.

Myung-whun Chung
© Takafumi Ueno

Honorary Music Director Myung-whun Chung will return to conduct the orchestra later in January, in a programme of Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony and Bruckner’s Seventh – doing something to confirm the current trend of Bruckner as the conductor’s composer à la mode.

In early February, the orchestra will play the only programme to be performed a single time – an all-Felix Mendelssohn concert led by Keiko Mitsuhashi, one of the few Japanese female conductors. Berlin-based violinist Seiji Okamoto will join as soloist in Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto – this will be a performance well worth catching.

Mikhail Pletnev
© Takashi Fujimoto

The Philharmonic’s Special Guest Conductor Mikhail Pletnev will appear in late February, along with piano soloist Yunchan Lim. The programme on this occasion will be Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto and Tchaikovsky’s Manfred Symphony. The South Korean Yunchan Lim, only 18 years old, has already wowed observers such as Marin Alsop, Chair of the 2022 Van Cliburn Competition, at which he won Gold Medal, the youngest musician ever to do so.

Andrea Battistoni
© Takafumi Ueno

The youthful Italian Andrea Battistoni, the Philharmonic’s new Chief Conductor, will make his first appearance in March, with a suitably sunny programme of Berlioz’s Le Carnaval romain and Casella’s Italia, topped off by Saint-Saëns’ Organ Symphony.

With the orchestra tied up in the opera pit in April, Pletnev returns in May with an all-Rachmaninov programme. Next year marks Rachmaninov’s 150th anniversary and the Tokyo Philharmonic will be far from alone in commemorating it, given the Russian’s gigantic popularity among Japanese audiences. The programme comprises a duo of symphonic poems, The Rock, The Isle of the Dead, followed by the Symphonic Dances.

Not included in their main concert series, but worth attending nonetheless, will be the Tokyo Philhamonic’s performance in the final concert of the Toru Takemitsu Composition Competition in May, judged this year by Japanese composer Jo Kondo. With entries from around the world, the four finalists include the British Michael Taplin, a rare honour to be shortlisted in such a prestigious competition.

Masaya Kamei
© T. Tairadate

Tadaaki Otaka returns in June, for another Rachmaninov-centred programme. This time it is Rachmaninov’s early Symphony no. 1, paired with his Second Piano Concerto, with another Wunderkind soloist Masaya Kamei (born 2001). Unusually on this occasion, Tadaaki’s brother, composer Atsutada Otaka’s music will be included, with his composition Image initiating the programme.

The Tokyo Philharmonic is adept at opera performances, and there will be a chance to hear them outside of the confines of the orchestra pit when Myung-whun Chung returns to conduct a concert performance of Verdi’s Otello in July.  

Chloé Dufresne
© Petar Naydenov

Another youthful musician will appear with the Philharmonic in the Autumn – the 17-year-old Lina Nakano, winner of the first prize at the 2022 Sendai International Music Competition. She will be accompanied by the French conductor Chloé Dufresne, herself pretty youthful and well-decorated. Nakano will be performing Saint-Saëns’ Violin Concerto no. 3, alongside Lili Boulanger’s resplendent D’un matin du printemps and Berlioz’s dependable (and appropriately spooky, given the October timing) Symphonie fantastique.

Haruma Sato
© Seiichi Saito

The season concludes in November, with the return of Andrea Battistoni, to conduct an all-Tchaikovsky programme. Another young soloist will appear on this occasion, cellist Haruma Sato, winner of the 2019 ARD Cello Competition. Sato will perform Tchaikovsky’s Variations on a Rococo Theme, alongside a trio of Shakespearean symphonic poems: The Tempest, Hamlet and Romeo and Juliet.

This season by the Tokyo Philharmonic manages to combine venerable elder musicians with some fiery young soloists and fresh younger conductors. For all lovers of Romantic music in the Japanese capital, these concerts are a must.

This preview was sponsored by the Tokyo Philharmonic.