Concert in Minami-Uonuma

Rehearsal of Gounod's Petite Symphonie.

Ricefield in Minami-Uonuma where Koshihikari grows

Yo-chan (right) and Takahashi-san


Takahashi-san (left) and Shimoyama-san
Promoters of the concert in Minami-Uonuma
On the last weekend I participated in a classical music concert as a member of the Kimisawa Chamber Orchestra. The Orchestra is formed once a year to give a concert in Kimisawa, a district of Minami-Uonuma city, Niigata Prefecture.

Minami-Uonuma city is famous for producing the top brand rice "Koshihikari". While Niigata Prefecture as a whole is known as a country to produce good rice, the name "Uonuma" is particularly associated with the best quality Koshihikari. It is therefore a matter of course that high quality sake is produced in the region from high quality rice. My favorite sake "Hakkaisan" is named after a mountain in the city.

Minami-Uonuma is also a popular ski area. It takes slightly more than an hour from Tokyo to get Minami-Uonuma and you can find numerous ski slopes. And ski was the starting point for the Kimisawa Chamber Orchestra. Yo-chan, a horn player of the Toranomon Symphony Orchestra, was a frequent visitor of Minami-Uonuma during the ski season. One of his ski friends, Shimoyama-san, moved to his favorite Minami-Uonuma after retirement and asked Yo-chan to organize a concert in his private house.

The first concert took place 13 years ago in a really chamber music size. However, the concert has been developing continuously and when I joined the group three years ago the Chamber Orchestra had already reached the complement of double winds comprising of more than 40 players. The concert is in the meantime held at the gymnastic hall of the Ishiuchi Elementary School. A local implementation committee is established and chaired by a member of the municipal assembly Teraguchi-san. It is sponsored by the board of education of the city and supported by the School. In this framework Takahashi-san and many other volunteers work for organizing concert as well as after-concert party in a town hall.

Orchestra members are called by Yo-chan and have a half-day rehearsal a week before the concert in Yokohama. Yo-chan is a professional sheet music writer and personally makes necessary music sheets for all instruments. He sometimes arranges music such as pop music medley. Thanks to his untiring efforts we can offer a variety of music to the audience in Minami-Uonuma.

This year's program consists of two parts; the first part is purely instrumental and slightly more classical and the second part is dedicated to solo soprano songs and songs for the audience to sing with the orchestra.

Program


More than 100 vending machines of sake in Ponshukan (above) and an office worker fgure and a 'manekineko' inviting people to Ponshukan (right)
I arrived at the Echigo-Yuzawa station much earlier than other members and while waiting for others I went to "Ponshu-kan" (Sake house) in the station building. In Ponshu-kan, we can test up to 117 different kinds of sake from Niigata Prefecture at low price. The smallest unit price for sake testing is 500 yen and we can test five kinds of sake.

Some try a special "daimyo soba" dish which has 5 times as much as a normal portion.
It is a bit risky to drink sake before rehearsal. But, I could nor refrain from the temptation and enjoyed the heavenly taste of sake from Niigata!

This was only an overture for the two days concert tour to Minami-Uonuma. The first joint lunch of the orchestra members in a restaurant near the Echigo-Yuzawa station made us slightly exciting. We were already in a good mood.

After four hours' rehearsal we had a open-air party as usual. Unfortunately it rained in the evening. However, the inconvenience to stay in a tent did not affect the good feelings of the members. Then with the support of alcohol we started to enjoy sight-reading and playing together Mozart, Vivaldi, Haydn and so forth. Alcohol and music are two pillars of our entertainment during the concert tour. While older people went to bed around midnight, some young members sat up till morning. This is a good chance to get to know or to renew friendship with people we usually do not have chances to play together with. For example it is a pleasure for me to play Mozart's Oboe Quartet in F Major with a good oboist Yoko-chan. I thought I could play slightly better than three years ago, because I this time knew the rubato of solo oboe in the transition to the recapitulation!

While players are trying to impress the audience, nobody seems to listen to the music.

Party in the tent.

In the morning of the concert, we had the last rehearsal followed by lunch. Our usual lunch menu is "curry sauce on top of Koshihikari rice", a delicious and luxurious curry menu. When I came to Uonuma for the first time, we could have lunch in the private house of Takahashi-san. Takahashi-san is a farmer and his house is located not far from the School. He also uses his house as guesthouse during the ski season. I still remember the delicious taste of his tomatoes and cucumbers which were just plucked and chilled in well water and offered us for tasting.


Lunch is served by the local housewives

More than hundred villagers came to the concert and we were warmly welcome. Only mishap was the absence of folk song singers, who were supposed to sing "ondo" - typical folklore type song. There are several excellent folklore singers in Minami-Uonuma and we usually play together with them. But, they all work at one company in Kimisawa and all employees of this company went on a company-sponsored recreational trip to Okinawa, though we were not well informed about it! Instead of those semi-professional singers, the wife of Yo-chan sang with us and excellently.

Local housewives who volunteer to support the concert (above) and a scene of the post-concert party
After the concert, a party was prepared by the villagers. The pleasant party was arranged in a large tatami room and I could renew my friendship with the local wives who were kind enough to welcome us and work for lunch and party every year. We left the party place with the promise to meet again next year.

The members' pleasure lasted a few more hours in the Shinkansen train from Echigo-yuzawa to Tokyo. We had busy two days but we all became addicted by the excitement of an intensive concert tour. I wish that Yo-chan and Takahashi-san would gather their energy again next year and invite us to the 15th concert of the Kimisawa Chamber Orchestra.
 2009.9.18