The Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra are back in 2024 with a new season, featuring a mix of weighty repertoire and a roster of youthful soloists, representing the cream of rising talent from Japan and around the world.

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Tokyo Philharmonic with the New National Theatre Chorus, led by Myung-whun Chung
© Takafumi Ueno

After the blast of Beethoven Ninths that is traditional in Japan in December, the Tokyo Phil embarks on a sea of (relative) tranquillity in January. The young Japanese-American koto virtuoso Leo Konno joins the orchestra performing his own composition, as well as an arrangement of Haru no Umi, a famous work for koto and shakuhachi by Michio Miyagi, often performed as the new year breaks.

Keiko Mitsuhashi leads both New Year Concerts – the second features the young trumpet prodigy Hayato Kodama performing Arban’s crowd-pleasing Carnival of Venice variations. The Tokyo strategy is again to combine well-established hands with a fleet of young virtuosos. Case in point will be Mikhail Pletnev’s concerts with the orchestra in January, with the fiery Spaniard Martín García García performing Grieg's ever-popular Piano Concerto. These concerts lean into all things Nordic, combining Grieg with Sibelius’ soulful, high Finnish style in his Second Symphony and Karelia Suite.

Also remarkably fresh is virtuoso violinist Hina Maeda, only 21, who performs Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto with the venerable Tadaaki Otaka in February. In a programme of sheer brightness and danciness, Otaka combines Tchaikovsky with Beethoven’s ebullient Seventh Symphony.

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Myung-whun Chung
© Takafumi Ueno

Beethoven shows up again later in February when Honorary Music Director Myung-whun Chung arrives to conduct the “Pastoral” Symphony, combined adroitly with Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. Both pieces are all about the outdoors, nature in all its violence and abruptness and sensual passion.

Chung’s three programmes make an energetic set in the 2024 Tokyo Philharmonic season, and each gestures at similar emotional subject matter. In June, he returns to perform Messiaen’s gargantuan Turangalîla-Symphonie, which like the Rite is suffused with saturnalia and violence. (Young piano soloist Keigo Mukawa joins alongside ondiste Takashi Harada.)

Then in September, Chung leads Verdi’s Macbeth in concert – again, a work brimming with violence and eroticism. The cast is yet to be announced, but it’s likely to be a stellar performance, one not to miss.

Another returning artist this year is pianist Tomoki Sakata. He first joins the orchestra in March, to perform Rachmaninov – a composer perhaps experiencing a hangover from his 2023 anniversary, but still potent. The Third Piano Concerto is an unstoppable force. Chief Conductor Andrea Battistoni leads this concert, which also includes Ravel’s Alborada del gracioso from Miroirs, and that other Ravelian unstoppable force, Boléro.

Then in July, Sakata returns to perform Mozart’s Piano Concerto no. 20 – which like Rach 3 is in D minor. (I wonder if Sakata has it as his favourite key? For both composers it certainly was significant.) This is paired with Bruckner’s Fourth Symphony, the composer’s first major symphonic success and a popular work to this day. Former Tokyo Chief Conductor Dan Ettinger conducts, in what is surely to be a welcome homecoming.

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Andrea Battistoni, Tokyo Philharmonic’s Chief Conductor
© Takafumi Ueno

Bruckner’s compatriot Mahler is also represented this season in Tokyo, when current Chief Conductor Andrea Battistoni conducts Mahler’s Seventh, redolent with Nachtmusik, perhaps Mahler’s most elusive symphony. Battistoni is unafraid of crowd-pleasing favourites though – in March he conducts Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana paired, unusually, with Respighi’s Ancient Airs and Dances, adapted from lute music of the 16th and 17th centuries. The pairing is adroit though, placing Orff’s unadulterated 1930s neo-medievalism with Respighi’s more sophisticated neo-Baroque.

Also on the menu in October 2024 is the return of young conductor Daichi Deguchi, in a folk-inspired programme featuring Khatchaturian’s Valencian Widow and Kodály’s Dances of Galánta and Variations on a Hungarian Folksong. These Hungarian and Spanish-inspired works are complemented by Fazıl Say’s colourful Violin Concerto “1001 Nights in the Harem” which utilises Turkish folk music fused with more conventional virtuoso violinisms. Originally written for Patricia Kopatchinskaja, the soloist is the youthful Moné Hattori, winner of the 11th Lipinski & Wieniawski Competition.

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Moné Hattori
© Yuji Hori

Many of the guesting soloists in the Tokyo Philharmonic’s 2024 season are laureates of prominent competitions, indicating the value placed on these events by Tokyo programmers. For classical music fans keen to observe the next generation of virtuosi, the Tokyo season remains a must.

And alongside these bursts of youthful fire are repertoire orchestral works redolent with big emotional dynamism: as ever, Japanese orchestras like the Tokyo Phil are keen to place their faith in such big repertoire works. Audiences will lap it up.

See all our listings of performances by the Tokyo Philharmonic.

This preview was sponsored by the Tokyo Philharmonic.