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USA-Japan Goodwill Mission Concert honors and raises relief for typhoon victims

Maestro Hideaki Hirai and the New York Festival Orchestra
Maestro Hideaki Hirai and the New York Festival Orchestra
Stanly Abraham

2013 USA-JAPAN Goodwill Concert at Carnegie Hall


On December 26th, Carnegie Hall’s Stern Auditorium hosted a holiday concert dedicated to the victims of typhoon Haiyam. It aimed to raise awareness and funds for rebuilding affected communities and lives in the Philippines. This was USA-Japan Goodwill Mission Concert's 4th annual issue. It surprised and delighted at the same time its audience with a rather diverse musical program.

New York Festival Orchestra, the Beethoven Memorial Chorus, Hideaki Hirai-Music Director and Conductor, and soloists
Photo: Stanly Abraham

The Japanese-American Beethoven Memorial Chorus with Hideyuki Tsuji (Choral Conductor), the No Borders Youth Chorus, an a cappella chorus of young men representing a number of countries, with Joe Cerutti (Music Director), the New York Festival Orchestra with soloists Naomi Satake (soprano), Francesca Lunghi (alto), Paul Williamson (tenor), and Katsuji Miura (bass-baritone), with Maestro Hideaki Hirai (Japan) at the helm, contributed a great deal of celebratory spirit through powerful and dynamic performances.

The self-described "Beethoven to Broadway to Barbershop" compilation of several distinctive musical events that comprised the program made for an exciting evening that was equally enjoyed by the audience and the performers.

Well over an hour prior to the door opening, a large crowd of concert-goers lined up the entrances to the Stern Auditorium, each competing for the best seat in the house in this general admission event. Excitement and anticipation, present throughout the evening, filled the air long before the first notes were played.

With the highly expressive and lively presence of the orchestra, and especially its conductor, Maestro Hirai, the concert quickly reached and maintained a high energy level. The international makeup of the chorus, orchestra, and soloists further helped achieve a shared sense of humanity and common purpose that included also the audience.

On several occasions, the audience could not hold their appreciation; even inadvertently interrupting the Ode to Joy’s final intricate and powerful layering of the string sections with a thunderous applause. The end of this concert part was followed with a very long and emotional reaction on the part of the audience. Much of it was directed to Maestro Hirai for his masterful interpretation and intimate knowledge of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony, which he conducted from memory.

Maestro Hirai made a remarkable Carnegie Hall debut in front of an audience of about 3000 people who recognized his outstanding job with the New York Festival Orchestra. This special concert was also NYFO's first performance. With very limited rehearsal time only on the concert day, because of the holidays and because many of the orchestra musicians came from different parts of the United States, both the conductor and orchestra did a very fine, polished, and full of energy performance not to be missed!

I want to express my gratitude to Mr. Kalin Ivanov (principal cellist and manager of the New York Festival Orchestra, who did a great job leading the cello section!) for arranging the opportunity for the following exclusive interview with Maestro Hirai after the performance.


Mila Hover: Maestro Hirai, first of all, thank you for sharing your holidays with the New York audience! Can you tell them what does your participation in the USA-Japan Goodwill Mission Concert 2013 mean to you personally?

Hideaki Hirai: Since I feel the USA as my second home, having lived in New York and vicinities for seven years while I was a student in the 90s, it is a very special occasion and honor to participate in this concert. I wish this concert would enhance our friendship between the USA and Japan under the spirit of Ode to Joy.

MH: How would you describe your experience working with the New York Festival Orchestra (NYFO) and the Beethoven Memorial Chorus, considering the limited amount of time you had together before the event?

HH: Both Orchestra and Chorus were so enthusiastic and fantastic! The Japanese chorus members were rehearsed in Japan before our tour to be joined by more than 50 American wonderful singers. In the meantime, NYFO members, due to the Christmas holidays, could meet each other for the first time on the day of the concert. Thanks to the fact that they are all soloist-caliber musicians, we concentrated so hard to put everything together in such limited hours of rehearsals. And it was like a chemistry that my intention, interpretation, and ideas on this monumental 9th Symphony were immediately transmitted to their playing and absorbed in their deep musical expressions. It was a really phenomenal experience to have shared such a great success with them. I am looking forward to working with NYFO in the future!

MH: Lastly, what one word comes to your mind when reflecting on the experience that can summarize your evaluation of the audience's reaction throughout the program?

HH: JOY or DELIGHT! Thank you very much for your interest in our concert. I am very much looking forward to reading the article. Wishing you a wonderful New Year 2014!

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