Archive: Japan Tour 2016: Nagoya

Nagoya Aichi Prefectural Art Theater Aichi Prefectural Art Theater


  • Alica Sara Ott, piano
  • Yutaka Sado, conductor


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Joseph Haydn

Symphony in D major Hob. I:6 «Le Matin»


  • Adagio - Allegro

  • Adagio - Andante

  • Menuet - Trio

  • Finale. Allegro


21 Min.



Proposed title: Sometimes an angel, sometimes a devil

Yutaka Sado is a musical globetrotter, a cosmopolitan who feels at home in many parts of the world and is considered a star in some of them, signing autographs when tourists spontaneously crowd round him in front of Musikverein Wien. He is well-known as Artistic Director of the Hyogo Performing Arts Center (HPAC), one of the most notable musical centres of Japan, as well as and of HPAC Orchestra, its resident orchestra, and as presenter of a weekly TV show which gives Japanese lovers of music guidance and insights to understanding and enjoy music more. Born in Kyoto, Yutaka Sado was assistant to Leonard Bernstein, and has won major conducting competitions, lived and worked in France for 17 years and has conducted the major German orchestras. With the start of the 15-16 season, he returns to Vienna as Music Director of the Tonkünstler – a quarter of a century after his first stay in Austria, the place that marked the beginning of his career in Europe. Yutaka Sado talked to Andreas Kirchner, his manager for Germany and Austria, about his approaches to music, to conducting, and about Bernstein and his relationship with the audience.

Maestro Sado, do you remember the first time you attended a concert or an opera that filled you with enthusiasm?

Yes, it was an opera. When I was ten or eleven years old I saw «Carmen» in Kyoto. That was really something special. My first concert? I don’t remember exactly, but when the Kyoto Symphony Orchestra played Beethoven’s Fifth I was deeply moved. And when I was twelve or thirteen, the Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra gave a guest performance in Osaka under Yevgeny Mravinsky. I think they played the Sixth Symphony by Tchaikovsky. It was fantastic.

So you were a fan of music even as a child?

I have been an avid collector of records by Richard Strauss and Gustav Mahler ever since I was a child. Even when I was in elementary school I listened to them every day. And in junior high school I became interested in contemporary Japanese music, for instance compositions by Toru Takemitsu.

Was it customary for children to learn a musical instrument?
No, it was rather unusual. In a class of 40 students there would only be one or two children who played the piano. At my age, I was actually somewhat embarrassed to attend my piano lessons every Sunday. I was afraid to meet someone I knew on the street who might ask me where I was going. Naturally, I wouldn’t have admitted to being on my way to piano lessons, seeing as I was a boy ...

... and, being a boy, you were supposed to do sport instead. What did you play on the piano?

Beethoven sonatas and Brahms rhapsodies, things like that. But it was so boring for me to just sit there and practise the piano for one to two hours. I would have preferred to go out and play basketball instead!

Did your mother teach you to play the piano?

No, but she supervised me when I practised. And she was very strict. She saw to it that I practised long enough and well enough. When she was listening I played Beethoven, but when she wasn’t at home I played songs by Deep Purple. But thanks to my piano lessons I could read music well, so it was easy for me to learn to play the recorder. I could play every note I heard almost instantly, like tunes of songs I knew from TV, for example. So I became a star on the recorder in the eyes of my friends.

And the girls liked it too?

I was a hero! But I made my most important musical experiences at that time as a member of a boys’ choir. I realised then that music has a great power: sharing emotions. Music gives us a lot of energy. Music is like vitamin for the heart and soul.

Then you switched to the flute.

Yes, because it allowed me to play with various ensembles. We played all kinds of repertoire pieces, not only classical but popular music as well.

You were no longer embarrassed to be playing an instrument.

Exactly. We were not that great technically, but we constantly looked for ways to create a good sound, to become better. We took great care to get the intonation right. The instruments were of very bad quality and the conductor was our maths teacher. Looking back on it now, it was truly awful. But we were proud to be members of this brass band. Even back then, making music gave me great joy. Playing together – be it as conductor, playing an instrument or singing – was fantastic. And I learned what the term “ensemble” means.

When did you decide to become a conductor, and why?

My parents often took me along to a concert. To me, the conductor with his baton was like Harry Potter. Making the music start from complete silence with one nod seemed like magic to me.

What gave you the courage to take this step?

The conductor of my boys’ choir was a great man. He wasn’t famous, but in some ways he was my best teacher. Later, when I wanted to train with a professional conductor, it wasn’t easy. You had to wait for the conductor at the stage door and ask him directly if you could be his student. But I had to manage on my own at the beginning: I conducted a brass band and a choir.

And at some point you met Leonard Bernstein.

He was my idol. And a big star, of course. He had composed “West Side Story” – such lively music and catchy melodies, an interplay of ingenious rhythms and harmonies. I loved this musical the instant I first heard it. But Bernstein was also a conductor of classical music, and the Music Director of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra no less! To me, Leonard Bernstein was a true musician, and really cool. That was a crucial point.

How do you deal with the opposite worlds of classical and popular music?

I present a show on Japanese television every Sunday morning. I invite jazz singers, rock musicians and Japanese folk musicians. It’s mainly about classical music but we also present artists who are active in other genres.

If you are open to all kinds of music, what is it that makes the difference?

The quality which can be found in all genres.

What is your mission when you make music? Is it communication? Do you feel the audience behind you?
Of course! The audience plays an important part in making a concert a success. When the orchestra starts to play, power and energy emanate from the orchestra. And vice versa: from the conductor to the orchestra, from the orchestra to the audience and from the audience back to the conductor.

An exchange of energy?

Yes. At the end of the concert the audience, the orchestra, everybody applauds and cheers. We are different people but we feel something together.

Is that what it’s all about for you?

Yes, that’s it exactly. I love people. And I love meeting different personalities, various ways of thinking and other cultures.

What does Japanese culture stand for these days?

American culture left its mark on Japan in the years after the Second World War. Japanese pop music is very American. I grew up with classical music but also with Japanese pop music. On the one hand, the Japanese culture is very adaptable, on the other hand we attach great importance to maintaining our culture and our traditions.

How did it come about that western classical music had such an impact on Japan?

It started only about 100 years ago. Professors at the Department of Arts invited professors from Germany to visit Japanese universities. I studied both the Italian solfeggio, the solmisation with do, re, mi, fa, sol, etc., and the German notation with C, D, E, F, G, A, H, C, which is still used in Japan today. The German notation is so popular, by the way, that some friends and I sometimes use it instead of numbers. When I turned 50, for example, I referred to my age as “ten G”.

You have lived outside Japan for a considerable amount of time, haven’t you?

Yes, I spent 17 years in France.

Have you ever discovered new aspects of your personality when you switch to a different everyday language and colloquial speech?

I have never thought about that, it’s an interesting idea. But as regards to music, I really want to learn more about the Viennese tradition. I have some knowledge about what is considered typically French or typically Italian, about English tone colour and German orchestral sound. But the Viennese sound is really special.

What is it that’s so special about the Viennese sound? How do you recognise it?

It’s not difficult to recognise because some of the commonly used instruments are built a special way, so they sound differently. This applies to the oboes, horns, clarinets and timpani. But sound is not only a matter of the instruments. It also has to do with certain traditions of phrasing or how the middle voice, like second violins and violas, are used. In any case, I can feel the difference immediately, and I really want to get a deeper understanding of this tradition.

You spent three years in Vienna once before. When and why?
Calling my first impressions of Vienna to mind, it takes me back a long way. In 1988 I left Japan to become Leonard Bernstein’s assistant. Based in Vienna, I accompanied him on three concert tours to Paris, Prague and Japan. I didn’t speak a word of German, my English was pretty bad and, back then, it wasn’t easy for a foreigner to feel welcome here. Sometimes people’s reactions were, let’s say, guarded – in the supermarket, for example, or at the immigration office. It was a culture shock for me, but in general people were very nice in Vienna. In 1989, I won the International Conducting Competition in Besançon and some time later I obtained my first engagement in France, in Bordeaux. Naturally, that meant moving to France. So I had to leave Vienna, even though it meant so much to me. It was, after all, the first place I ever lived in in Europe.

Now that you will be living in Vienna again, you will certainly get to know more about the local customs.

Yes! I will start with the Viennese waltz!

What do you like best about Vienna? What is special about it for you?

It’s a fantastic place for tourists, especially for music lovers. Being on a holiday here for one week or ten days, maybe even two weeks, is like a dream. For instance, if you like Beethoven, you can visit many of the houses he used to live in, you can go to museums, listen to concerts. As you know, I am from Kyoto. I was born there and studied there as well. There are some similarities between Kyoto and Vienna. Both cities are rich in tradition and they are centres of culture. In Vienna as well as in Kyoto people can be very friendly but deep inside they are guarded. Vienna is, of course, noted for being an important international centre of music for centuries. Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, Mahler, Strauss – all my favourite composers were here. And, naturally, the Tonkünstler and I will perform their works, because these composers have left behind fantastic, ingenious music. As a city, Vienna is my very first choice. I am looking forward to my time here and I am excited in the best sense of the word. All my love and my efforts will go into working hard and learning a lot. Because Vienna and its audience are worth it. I have visited Grafenegg too. And, honestly, I have never seen such a beautiful castle before in my life.

How much time would there be for rehearsing in an ideal world?

A good question. It would be best, of course, if we didn’t have to rehearse at all. But rehearsing is like cultivating a flower. You have to water it, weed it and wait for it to blossom.

How do you rehearse?

I provide the orchestra with some ideas and then, together, we try to make them work. This applies to Mozart, Beethoven and Brahms as well as to contemporary music. There is so much information to process: we should all start together at exactly the same time, play diminuendo, crescendo ... The conductor’s task is not only to supervise everything but also to get many musicians together in one place. It’s a creative process. But the most important thing is that there is only one concert at any given date. There may be a second or a third concert but, as we say in Japanese: “Ichigo ichie.” It means: “We only get one chance.”

So it has to work the first time?

Yes. The second time is a fresh attempt.

In Japan, all the orchestra members are extremely well prepared even at the first rehearsal.

Yes, indeed! I hope it will be the same with the Tonkünstler Orchestra. The approaches vary considerably from country to country. English orchestras, for example, are great at playing prima vista. I don’t think that they prepare a lot but when I ask them to do something, they immediately react and do it.

Do you use images to illustrate your ideas during rehearsing or do you prefer to work on the technical aspects?

Both. Because ultimately we rehearse to create something. In doing so, it helps to use images and stories. Images can help “programme” the right amount of muscle tension, which is really important for musicians. On the other hand, I explain why I want the strings to use the bow in a certain way – on the fingerboard, for example – or why I want the woodwinds to start more quietly so as to develop a longer phrase. Technique and images – musicians need both.

How important is it to you that the orchestra musicians listen to one another?

That’s immensely important. And it’s just as important that I listen to them.


That’s the first step. Then the musicians try to listen to one another. Again and again I say: listen, listen, listen. It also depends on the music, of course. This is probably my way of doing things, my working method.

So you leave the orchestra the freedom to create music in the moment?

It would be best if they didn’t need me at all. Naturally, there are difficult moments during rehearsals when I have to say things like: “That wasn’t good, that wasn’t harmonious.” Being the conductor, I lead them in making music, I have to show the musicians the way. Sometimes I’m an angel, sometimes a devil.

What about you as a person, what do you do to you relax?

I really like to cook. And my cooking is very much like my work: no recipe. If you have onions, bacon, milk and eggs in the fridge, you can make Carbonara, for example. I’m also good at barbecuing. And our house in Japan has a special room for the tea ceremony. We use it when we have guests, especially from abroad. You enter the room from a very small, separate entrance from the garden. In Japanese culture, such an entrance means “no weapons”. That is to say, there is no king, no samurai. Just people – host and guest.

Do you prepare everything for the tea ceremony yourself?

No, I’m not really an expert. My wife, Kimiko, and her mother are the ones who perform the tea ceremony.

What is the idea behind it? It’s obviously not just about preparing tea.

It’s all about the Japanese concept of “omotenashi”. It means “welcome”. The term is very common, we use it a lot. “Omotenashi” is pure hospitality. For example, the host chooses the tea bowl for each guest. It’s basically like a top-class Japanese welcome party.

How long does such a ceremony take?

That depends. It can take quite a while, for instance when we all have dinner together under the full moon. That’s a really serious affair.

It is said that you are a passionate golfer. Are there any other types of sport you like to practise?

I love golf, but unfortunately I don’t have enough time for sport. Besides golf, I sometimes go swimming or to the fitness club. And I have recently begun walking on the treadmill and doing push-ups.

As a conductor you must keep fit.

Yes, but I also love to watch sports. Like tennis or basketball, for example.

What about soccer?

I play that too. Once a year, in a big match organised by my friends. When I was working as a conductor for the Orchestre National Bordeaux Aquitaine, I was to play centre-forward in a game. I was young then, 28 or 30 years old. It was winter, February, early in the morning and really cold. So they gave me red wine to warm me up from inside.

Before the game?

Yes, while I was putting on my kit. On the field I got a muscle cramp before I touched the ball even once.

Do you ever have time to read books? You always seem to carry a score with you in your backpack.

Unfortunately I don’t have the time to read fiction. But I do read books about music and art – and about golf.

Which other genres of art are you interested in? Do you like the visual arts or architecture?

If I have the time, I like going to the museum. And I love architecture! That’s why a good friend of mine, the architect Tadao Ando, designed my house.

A famous architect?

Very famous. Last year, when we had the photo shooting at the Festspielhaus St. Pölten, I told the photographer that the concrete wall reminded me of my house and I showed him some pictures. He immediately recognised it as being designed by Ando.

Ludwig van Beethoven

Concerto for Piano and Orchestra No. 1 in C major op. 15


  • Allegro con brio

  • Largo

  • Rondo. Allegro


37 Min.


Johannes Brahms

Symphony No. 4 in e minor op. 98


  • Allegro non troppo

  • Andante moderato

  • Allegro giocoso

  • Allegro energico e passionato - Più allegro


45 Min.