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Liverpool Philharmonic Blog


Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra Tour – Japan 2024
By Sandra Parr

Moving the Orchestra on tour can be fun, as well as a challenge. Getting 90 people on to the Shinkansen (known as the Bullet train) in a matter of seconds means there is no room for error and everyone needs to move fast. The group travelled 600km from Osaka to Saga, at the far south-western end of Japan for the first concert of the tour. The train journey was just 2.5 hours, ran on time to the very second, and no hint of a train strike over here!


The Orchestra in Shinkansen carriage on the way back to Osaka after the first concert in Saga.

Arriving at the concert venue, there was a scrum to get to instruments. Bearing in mind, the instruments have been in transit for a good while, so players were anxious to check they had arrived safely and get practising in any private nook or cranny they could find backstage. All seven concerts on the tour had been sold out for a while, and you could see the pride in the players as they rose to their feet to take the applause and represent their homeland. The first concert is always exciting – if only to see who has beaten the jet lag and doesn’t fall asleep when there are lots of bars of rest to count!  

The Orchestra left Osaka straight after the matinee concert to move on to Tokyo… More suitcase packing – the only bad thing about touring! 

Everyone in the Orchestra group was very excited about arriving in Tokyo, mainly because it meant there were four nights in the same hotel and no re-packing of suitcases! Having arrived on Sunday evening, we realised that the weather was changing and that any ambitious plans for the precious free day on Monday would have to be revised because of the torrential rain which persisted all day long! Despite the weather, the Liverpool sense of humour was present when four of our musicians decided to try to recreate the Abbey Road album cover on a very busy zebra crossing. 

The Orchestra on Tokyo zebra crossing

On to the first concert in Suntory Hall – an iconic venue where many orchestras dream of performing. This is the third visit by our Orchestra, but performing there still has the excitement of the first time we came here in 2015. It’s a larger hall than the one we have in Liverpool, with an amazing acoustic and an impressive array of hydraulic lifts on the stage which allow the strings to be set at individual heights. This city is the home of our soloist, Nobuyuki Tsujii, and the volume of applause which greeted him as he appeared on the stage each night was incredible – much like one of our football teams playing a home match. We were lucky to be invited to present two different programmes on two consecutive nights because Liverpool Philharmonic now has a wonderful following, with both concerts selling out a while ago. Most of the jetlag challenge had now passed, but when the opportunity presented itself we were having a quick snooze in between sessions.

Suntory Hall

After a very successful pair of Tokyo performances, the tour went north up to Omiya Sonic City Concert Hall, Saitama for a matinee concert with “super soloist” Nobu playing both Rachmaninov Piano Concertos No.2 and 3 in one concert – plus three magnificent encores! After the concert, a quick Shinkansen train took us up further north to the coastal city of Niigata. Not surprisingly, Nobu slept the whole journey! Upon arrival, with a precious free evening, the very hospitable team from Avex welcomed the group with a party Japanese-style: low tables, shoes off, food featuring the freshest fish from the area (which included some cooked at the tables). The drinks flowed and we were told it was the first time the restaurant had ever run out of saké! Toasts and speeches followed from staff and, impressively, this included Hilary Browning (chair of the player’s committee) delivering an extensive thank you message in Japanese! 

Soloist, Nobuyuki Tsujii  

After the penultimate concert in Niigata, we were lulled into a false sense of security that nothing could go wrong. Everything had been going like clockwork until someone jinxed it by remarking on that very fact. Then our luck changed…

The Saturday morning departure from Niigata to Nagano all happened on time, with the Orchestra buses travelling for over three hours through some amazing scenery that looked very much like Switzerland in Spring. However, the travel for the Conductor’s group was hit by something unheard of here in Japan. Train problems. Over 1.5 hours later, it was clear Domingo was not going to reach the rehearsal in Nagano. A series of swift WhatsApp calls established a plan B. Then onto plan C as the wait became longer. Then plan D was needed. Thankfully Nick Bootiman (Principal Viola) took the sound check rehearsal.

These things often happen in threes, and they did! Next up was a player having to leave the stage as the concert began owing to a nosebleed. The concert started…and towards the end of the first movement we suspected a problem with the piano. Then number three happened, Nobu had to stand up and stop the concerto at the end of the slow movement – he spoke clearly and simply told the audience we needed to call the piano technician back before we could continue! A few tense minutes passed, with the Orchestra waiting quietly on stage for the repair of the broken string to be made and then “tuned up” to pitch before being able to continue. With the delay, there was some concern that the concert ending later than planned may cause the Orchestra to miss their evening train back from Nagano to Tokyo. In the end, there was time for both Orchestra encores and the audience rose to its feet after the ‘All You Need is Love’ encore. An uplifting end to a seven-concert tour of Japan, our third visit to this most splendid country, and somewhere we hope to return in the future.

Needless to say, the train journey back to Tokyo for our final night was lively, with Domingo turning his hand to being bartender! The worst thing about touring is that last night double challenge: whether to prepare for the return jet lag by staying up (very) late, and the “will I be able to close my suitcase” game. 

Chief Conductor Domingo Hindoyan

The return flights are underway, and everyone will be home in the next few hours – that is except our cargo team who will travel with the instruments and not be back until midweek, just in time for rehearsals in preparation for the concert next Saturday. The carnet (formal list of items being carried) has 387 different items ranging from the string boxes to timpani, brass and wind cases through to the music scores and the long list of percussion items. Everything that went out must come back in exactly the same way, and the rules are very strict.

Talking to musicians from all sections, there was one clear repeated message: it was fantastic to be back undertaking international touring to represent our city abroad, and to have time to get to know colleagues better – especially where new members have joined recently. It was also a bittersweet moment for those colleagues leaving the Orchestra this summer, who have now completed their last tour with us. 

Touring is not a holiday. Yes, there’s some free time to explore the host country, but the primary function is to deliver the highest possible level of performances. Repeating the concerts always brings the opportunity to develop the artistic delivery too, not only between the players but to the audiences each time the programme is played. The proud smiles on the faces of the Orchestra said it all – but when the entire audience starting waving to the players at the end as they were leaving the stage, and all the players waved back to the audience, bringing even more applause, well that was a moment to treasure in our history. 

Cookies on our website

Liverpool Philharmonic has updated its cookie policy. We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. This includes cookies from third party social media websites. Such third party cookies may track your use on our website. If you continue without changing your settings, we'll assume that you are happy to receive all cookies. However, you can change your cookie settings at any time.