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Love of Beethoven Inspires a Sharing of Cultures : Music: About 1,000 Japanese and Southern Californians will unite to present the Ninth Symphony at the Hollywood Bowl.

October 07, 1994|BARBARA ISENBERG | TIMES STAFF WRITER

When he made his Hollywood Bowl choral debut in the '70s, singer Stephen Gothold was pretty impressed with the sound of 120 voices participating in Beethoven's Ninth Symphony.

It was, however, no big deal compared with his Japanese choral debut in February singing the same piece at Tokyo's National Sports Arena. There, his was one of 5,200 voices for Beethoven's Ninth.

Now comes what many people are hoping will be Gothold's best Beethoven's Ninth experience yet: the sound of 950 voices, from Japan as well as Southern California, filling the Hollywood Bowl. Now director of choral activities at Whittier College and founding conductor of Chorale Bel Canto, Gothold will lead his choirs and others in the joyous symphony on Saturday.

In the Western world, Beethoven's Ninth is the stuff of church services, weddings and symphony halls. (In the 1965 Beatles film "Help!," its "Ode to Joy" was also the only thing that could placate the man-eating Bengal tiger.)

But, according to Asahi Homecast Corp., a Pasadena-based Japanese-language radio and TV programmer that is organizing and promoting the Bowl concert, in Japan, Beethoven's 1824 masterpiece is nothing short of "Jingle Bells" in terms of its popularity.

Japanese contemporary culture is not limited to Kabuki theater, Asahi president Mayumi Shirai told a press conference here recently. "There are thousands and thousands of people in communities from Hokkaido (in northern Japan) to Okinawa (in southern Japan) singing Beethoven in German," she said. "This is the way they receive and welcome the new year."

Conductor Hiroshi Ishimaru, who has led similar "Daiku" concerts in Sumida City outside Tokyo for a decade, will conduct the Japan America Symphony Orchestra and the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra at the Bowl. In addition to 250 Japanese singers, who are paying their own way here from Tokyo, several Los Angeles and Orange County choruses are participating.

The choruses include the Chorale Bel Canto, Cypress Masterworks Chorale, Gay Men's Chorus of Los Angeles, Saddleback Master Chorale, Saint Peter's by the Sea Presbyterian Church Sanctuary Choir, Whittier College Choir and Korean Master Chorale.

Most of the choruses have performed the Beethoven elsewhere, Gothold says, but few in so major a venue as the Bowl.

While Gothold began weekly rehearsals for about 140 people last month, the Japanese contingent didn't arrive until Tuesday, just a few days before the Bowl concert. Then again, the Sumida City singers couldn't be better rehearsed. Young or old, professionals or amateurs, many of them have been performing the work annually in Japan for a decade.

*

According to Japan America's music director Heiichiro Ohyama, conductor Ishimaru began annual concerts in Sumida City 10 years ago to expand the audience for classical music. "Hiroshi Ishimaru felt classical music should belong to everyone," says Ohyama, "not just the elite but the common man also."

Gothold had a chance to see that first-hand in February when he assembled an American contingent of 30 singers, including himself, for the Sumida City annual show. "I felt it would be slow and cumbersome," says Gothold, "and couldn't possibly be any good. But it was wonderful, very spirited Beethoven."

That's what they're hoping for at the Hollywood Bowl, of course. The Bowl is a familiar Los Angeles landmark for the Japanese, and conductor Ishimaru is quoted in a press release saying that "as a child, I used to dream of the opportunity to conduct at the Hollywood Bowl."

"Daiku" translates literally as "number nine," and conductor Ohyama says the fact that it refers to the popular Beethoven Ninth, "is understood." (In keeping with that theme, Ohyama will also lead the orchestras in Dvorak's Ninth Symphony in E Minor, "From the New World," also popular with and familiar to Japanese concert-goers.)

Shirai hopes this will be the first of many annual "Daiku" concerts, she says, forecasting ever-increasing participation by more and more singers.

"We hope this 1,000 will be 1,500, 5,000 and 10,000 in future years," says Shirai. "We'd like to see people from all over the world come to Los Angeles for this."

* "Daiku" concert tickets are available from $3 to $100 for Saturday's performance at 8 p.m. at the Hollywood Bowl. Tickets can be purchased by calling Ticketmaster at (213) 480-3232. Corporate box seats are $250 each, including dinner and parking, and may be purchased through Asahi directly at (818) 449-0018.

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