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Toshiba Employees Get Job Done as a Philharmonic Too

May 01, 1996|SUSAN BLISS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Accompanied by a contingent of high-level executives, the Toshiba Philharmonic--more than 100 amateur musicians employed by the Toshiba Corp. of Japan--began its first tour of the United States on Monday night at the Irvine Barclay Theatre. The trip is aimed at fostering positive cultural exchanges between the two nations.

There are 70,000 Toshiba employees in the Tokyo area, from which the members of the orchestra are recruited; this is essentially a community group. Not only are the instrumentalists not paid, they give part of their own salaries to participate (Toshiba also subsidizes the ensemble) and to pay a professional conductor, Yoshinori Kawachi.

Once, when public schools across this country had vital music programs, such community orchestras made valuable contributions to our lives, but recent generations have come to consider music an elitist luxury, not worth consistent funding in general education. We still have some community orchestras. But with fewer and fewer ardent amateurs of long experience to draw on, these groups generally are sorry affairs.

Not so in the case of this Japanese ensemble. It was clear from this performance that these engineers, managers, secretaries, etc. have had long acquaintance with classical repertory and solid training on their instruments. Yes, they had expected glitches--unreliable intonation among the violins, more than a few cracks from the horns, some overly reserved woodwind solos. Still, the level of playing attested to lofty aspirations.

Kawachi did not condescend; he demanded precise entrances and cutoffs, thoughtful, synchronic phrasing, some subtlety of shading and tempos that did not pander to nonprofessionals. He chose challenging scores--Mozart's Overture to "Le Nozze di Figaro" and Tchaikovsky's Fifth Symphony--with respectable results.

Ko Iwasaki joined the orchestra as soloist for Dvorak's B-minor Cello Concerto, which he played more as a gutsy tour de force than as a personal statement. The orchestra lent satisfactory support.

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