Los Angeles Philharmonic principal violist Heiichiro Ohyama credits the martial art of kendo for facilitating his varied career as an instrumentalist, conductor, administrator and teacher.
"Not only in my work as a player and conductor, but in everything I do, it is necessary to use one thing in different ways, to adapt one skill for two activities," he explained recently. "Kendo, for example, teaches me to swing my arms. I can use that as a conductor. So many people waste so much time."
Now in his seventh season as a principal of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the 38-year-old violist from Japan, who has lived and worked in the United States since coming here from England in 1972, appears as soloist with the Philharmonic Thursday through Sunday in performances of Richard Strauss' "Don Qixote" in the Music Center Pavilion and in Santa Ana.
His commitment to the Philharmonic is just one of his facets.
Ohyama also teaches--two days a week at UC Santa Barbara, and at the Crossroads School in Santa Monica, where he conducts the student orchestra.
In addition, he is the new music director and conductor of the Northwest Chamber Orchestra in Seattle, where the ensemble plays a season of eight pairs of concerts at the University of Washington.
Further, he is music director of the Santa Barbara Chamber Orchestra, now in its third season; next season, the Channel City ensemble will give six subscription concerts in Lobero Theater.
In June, the wiry violist will conduct the 70-piece orchestra at the Round Top Festival in Round Top, Tex. And, for the first time in 10 years, this summer he will not be playing the viola at the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival in New Mexico, but will devote his non-Hollywood Bowl weeks in August to the newly established San Diego Chamber Music Festival, of which he is artistic director.
"I don't find it unusual for a musician to be involved in many things. But still I am accused of doing too much," he said. "I don't think it's too much.
"Obviously, I must be able to organize well. To be able to maximize my energy and time. To gather my best resources for each single activity."
Kendo, he said, is just one of the methods he uses to stay calm and disciplined.
A conductor who shares with pride the fact that he never had any training as a conductor, Ohyama pointed out that until 1979 the viola was his second instrument. Trained as a violinist in Japan and England, he took a minor in viola when he went to Indiana University, studying with William Primrose; in violin, his major, he studied with Josef Gingole.
As a musical administrator, Ohyama has now earned some stripes. Already this year he has put together the personnel roster and programs for the first San Diego Chamber Music Festival, sponsored by the La Jolla Chamber Music Society and set for Aug. 1-10. According to Geoffrey Brooks, executive director of the society, Ohyama tends to all the details: "He even worked out the travel itineraries."
Ohyama says he used to make programs and rosters for the Santa Fe chamber music festivals in its West Coast residencies, because "if a player wants to do his best, he likes to have a choice about who his colleagues are going to be."
For this summer in La Jolla and San Diego, he has chosen, among others, violinists Miriam Fried, Donald Weilerstein, Gyorgy Pauk, pianists Jeffrey Kahane and Yefim Bronfman, clarinetist David Shifrin, violist Nobuko Imai and cellists Ronald Leonard, Ralph Kirshbaum and Matt Haimovits--a 16-year-old from Israel whom Ohyama calls "the next Yo-Yo Ma."
What will they play? "For this first summer, a lot of your greatest chamber music hits--like the 'Trout' Quintet and the Clarinet Quintet by Brahms. Then, for next summer, we'll have to see."