At a time when many orchestras around the world are having to face questions about their identity and role in society, Hiroshima Symphony Orchestra demonstrated in their “Music for Peace” concert that one of their roles is to pass down the memory of a place and its history through orchestral music, in a way that no other art form can. Every August, the orchestra gives a concert to commemorate and reflect on the tragedy of the Atomic Bombing of Hiroshima on 6th August 1945. This year, marking seventy-five years since the bombing, the orchestra commissioned a new piano concerto from composer Dai Fujikura, which would have been premiered by the orchestra’s “Peace and Music Ambassador” Martha Argerich, were it not for COVID-19. Fortunately, an ideal replacement was found in Hiroshima-born pianist Mami Hagiwara.

Mami Hagiwara © Hideki Nitta
Mami Hagiwara
© Hideki Nitta

The concerto, titled “Akiko’s Piano”, was the centrepiece of this beautifully put together programme conducted by the orchestra’s Music Director Tatsuya Shimono. Akiko was a nineteen-year-old student in Hiroshima who became a victim of the A-bomb, dying the next day from radiation sickness. Her upright piano, which she loved to play, survived and has been carefully restored, and in recent years has become a symbol for a peace project. It is her story and her piano that have been the inspiration of Fujikura’s Piano Concerto.

Tatsuya Shimono © Hideki Nitta
Tatsuya Shimono
© Hideki Nitta

In a way, it’s quite unusual for a piano concerto to have such a personal, programmatic story. Usually I would try to listen to a world premiere piece without too much prior knowledge, but with this piece one couldn’t help but relate the music to her life. We know that Akiko kept a lively diary, and the delicate solo passages – sometimes lyrical and flowing, sometimes rhythmic and vibrant – seemed to bring her words to life with vivid colours. Meanwhile the orchestral writing seemed to represent the society around her, responding and providing commentary. Hagiwara’s playing was not only technically superb – the music flowed under her fingers with clarity and purity of sound – but there was deep empathy in her interpretation. Uniquely, two pianos were used in this piece, the standard grand piano for the main section and Akiko’s upright piano for the closing cadenza, which made full use of the characteristics of its slightly archaic but warm tone. In the cadenza, Hagiwara played as if she was in communion with the piano, creating a breathtaking stillness in the final bars.

Mami Hagiwara © Hideki Nitta
Mami Hagiwara
© Hideki Nitta

The concert was framed by two orchestral chaconnes. Penderecki’s Chaconne from his Polish Requiem, written in memory of Pope John Paul II, set the mood with it’s sorrowful melody, which was passed around the sonorous string section of the Hiroshima Symphony with solemnness and lyricism. Meanwhile, the concert closed with Hideo Saito’s grand orchestration of Bach’s Chaconne from the D minor Violin Partita (via Busoni’s transcription). It certainly was a virtuosic showcase for the orchestra, which had largely played a subsidiary role in the programme, and showed it strengths fully.

Mihoko Fujimura © Hideki Nitta
Mihoko Fujimura
© Hideki Nitta

The main work of the second half was Mahler’s Kindertotenlieder, an apt response to the piano concerto, sung with austere beauty by mezzo-soprano Mihoko Fujimura. With surtitles in her own translation, she lived through every word and emotion of this heartbreaking text, while Shimono brought out Mahler’s restrained but highly effective orchestration. After unleashing the full power of the orchestra in the turbulent final song In diesem Wetter, the concluding orchestral postlude was especially touching. It was a poignant evening dealing with issues of loss, memory and peace.


You can read Nahoko's interview with Dai Fujikura here.

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