Japan goes ahead with year-end Beethoven 9s

Japan goes ahead with year-end Beethoven 9s


norman lebrecht

December 30, 2020

The tradition of performing Beethoven’s ninth symphony in December stretches back, as we have described here, to the beginning of the First World War and reinforced by a German-Jewish refugee at the start of the Second.

This year, despite Covid, it’s still going ahead.

Conductor Keitado Harada writes from Tokyo:
Japan’s tradition of performing Beethoven 9 in December does not stop because of this virus. During the fall there were several experiments and case studies to ensure the safety of performing choral works. For example, reducing the chorus to 4-8 singers per part and adding amplification. For halls with great acoustics, not adding a mic and reducing the string count. If the soloists are singing at the front of the stage, the first few rows of the audience are not sold.
The majority of the professional orchestras in Japan are performing the 9th. Tokyo Symphony Orchestra performances this week with Maestro Jonathan Nott are all sold out. The extra measures that the stage managers and concert hall staff are taking to ensure the safety of the musician and audience is amazing. Classical Concerts in Japan are allowed 100% capacity now. As an audience member yesterday, I felt safe sitting shoulder to shoulder in a packed Suntory Hall.



  • Roman says:

    It’s sad for me personally. I’ve just emigrated to the UK recently, it looks like it is time to emigrate again, to Asia this time.

  • sam says:

    National “culture” is a funny thing, what calculated risks governments are willing to take in the face of what they think are national “traditions”, like Japan opening up concert halls for Beethoven’s 9th, when paradoxically Germany, home of Beethoven, is closed, or at the other extreme, China willing to “cancel” Chinese New Year at the onset of the pandemic, whereas back then, most European countries wouldn’t dream of locking down their chinatowns.

  • Greg Bottini says:

    “As an audience member yesterday, I felt safe sitting shoulder to shoulder in a packed Suntory Hall.”
    Good luck with that – sincerely. I hope you’re at least masked up.
    Ganbatte, sensei.

    • O. D. Jones says:

      That was my exact takeaway as well… Personally, I will feel a lot “safer” putting Furtwängler’s Lucerne 9th on turntable and waiting for my turn for the vaccine.

      • Helen Wynn says:

        Prefer the 1951 Bayreuth opening Beethoven 9th but whichever, enjoy and Happy New Year from Hawaii!

        • O. D. Jones says:

          Please give the new Audite Lucerne 9th a spin…. they’ve gone back to the original tapes and corrected speed/pitch issues. And for what it’s worth, Audite has a whole live Mahler cycle by Kubelik, that beats out his DG studio recordings…

    • Graham says:

      I have been in Japan since early November and have attended 3 classical concerts in Nagoya in the past month. At each concert, tickets were only sold for alternate seats, so we were not sitting “shoulder to shoulder”.

      Although Covid is increasing here, the level of infection is still far lower than Europe and the US. The big difference that I notice between the UK and Japan is that everyone wears masks here, even when walking around outside.

      Although nothing can be zero risk, I felt that the risk from attending the concerts in Nagoya was very low.

  • BruceB says:

    I know that South Korea and Japan are different countries, but reading Jason Haaheim’s blog entry about what it’s like to be in Korea right now, where he can see what a difference a coherent government response (and a populace with less “toxic individualism”) has made, is pretty educational. There have been a few comments on this post about being safe in public areas, but it may simply be that public areas are safer in places where the risk has been taken seriously. (e.g. concert halls are allowed full capacity now because of rules that have been in place — and followed — for months.)