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Directing a musical presentation is no small feat. Conducting involves the difficult task of guiding a number of instrumentalists through nonverbal communication: via hand gestures and the use of a baton, which are especially noticeable during an orchestral performance.
It is this field of endeavor that Yoshikazu Fukumura, the musical director and principal conductor of the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra (PPO), has endeared himself to local audiences of classical music.
The mission to bring the PPO to a new level of musical heights is the goal of former music director of the Tokyo City Ballet Co., Kyoto Municipal Symphony and Nagoya Philharmonic Orchestra.
Fukumura has built a solid reputation of committing himself to shape newer orchestras in Asia. Satisfaction for him comes in the form of continuous guest appearances in a number of major Japanese orchestras, aside from making recordings as well as conducting festivals and subscription concerts for countless musical companies.
Across the continent, this native of Tokyo believes in the capacity of the PPO to be among the elite orchestras in this side of the world.
“My goal is to make them first in Asia. I think it is possible. Filipino musicians are very talented,” the Japanese maestro said in an exclusive interview with Envoys&Expats.
He envisions the PPO, an all-Filipino orchestra, as already playing at a level above many orchestras in Asia, coupled with the fact that its music still continues to improve.
Among the Filipinos he admires include pianist Raul Sunico, violinist Diomedes Saraza Jr. and trumpeter Raymond de Leon.
With commanding presence, the maestro directed the country’s leading orchestra in its first performance during its 37th concert season on September 13 at the Cultural Center of the Philippines’s (CCP) Main Theater. The handpicked program consisted of timeless classical pieces, such as “Don Giovanni Overture” by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, “C Major”by Sergei Prokofiev and “Symphony No.7, Op. 70, D minor” by Antonin Dvorak.
The cherry on the cake of the program was the “Piano Concerto no.3, op. 26” of guest pianist Noriko Ogawa, whose “ravishingly poetic playing,” as described by The Telegraph, is a force to be reckoned with in the music world.
Throughout the ebb and flow of the entire performance, the PPO exhibited intense concentration as members played their respective instruments with great mastery. In the end, the maestro’s uncompromising ways have reaped rewards. It has set the bar high for the succeeding concert series, billed as Gold Classical Music Treasures.
‘Music of the people’
It is evident that there are no signs of slowing down for the Japanese master conductor.
Aside from making the CCP his home, Fukumura and his crew also get to travel around Metro Manila and across the country to bring the “music of the people” to where they are. Among the many places they have visited include Bohol, Antique and Palawan.
“It is my duty, and also I am very interested,” was his reply when asked about their outreach concerts. They have played in various settings: in schools, churches and auditoriums of different provinces. These engagements never fail to fire up the spirit of the dutiful maestro.
Just recently, on September 27, the PPO brought their brand of exquisite music to the Kartilya ng Katipunan in Manila.
“I am very impressed by the Filipino audience. They are very warm. Honestly, I’m very impressed by the county and the people,” the Japanese confirmed.
And aside from concerts outside the CCP, he is able to harness his deep connections in the music industry to good use. In fact, he was able to bring in young blood, such as the likes of Japanese-American violin superstar Ryu Goto, to guest in PPO’s concert season in the past. The said move brought much attention to the local orchestra, especially from among the younger generation.
The versatile conductor did not start off as the strict and highly disciplined individual he is now. He sheepishly described himself as being naughty during his youth. Thus, his enrollment in one of Japan’s top music schools by his parents was a means of directing his path and creative energies, as well.
Fukumura eventually found his calling in music, as he studied its many disciplines: piano, trombone and conducting.
“The piano is basic. If one can play it, that person has a lot of opportunities to be able to play different kinds of music. The piano is an important instrument to learn,” the maestro shared.
He recalled he was only 22 years old when tried his hands on conducting with the Kyoto Symphony Orchestra. The compositions where he weaved his baton then were “Tchaikovsky No.4, Oxford Symphony, and Miroirs” by Maurice Ravel.
Thirsty for knowledge, the young Fukumura constantly shuttled between Japan and Italy to learn more on the subject of conducting and composing.
“There was a great conductor in Rome: Franco Ferrara. He would shout at me if I made a mistake,” Fukumura vividly recalled. “But I consider him an excellent conductor. I am very happy to have studied with him.”
To this day, unmistakable mannerisms of the Italian conductor have rubbed off to the former Japanese understudy whenever the latter would ascend the podium.
As for composing, he studied under Maestro Jacob Napoli at the Santa Cecilia Academy of Music in the Italian capital.
Among the many accomplishments of the Japanese conductor was being a runner-up in the 1976 John Player International Conductor Competition in England.
As his career took off, Fukumura came to prominence in Japan as the regular conductor and narrator of the popular NHK TV Concert Series, Music of the World.
He has directed several performances in Europe: the Royal Philharmonic, BBC Symphony, Bournemouth Symphony, Sicilian Symphony in Palermo, Budapest Symphony, and the music company where he started, Santa Cecilia Orchestra.
The same achievement holds true in Latin American cities that have accorded him with recognitions, national medals, and the title of being the musical director of a great number of concerts.
Fukumura has also collaborated with countless symphonies in that side of the world: “My favorite place is Havana, Cuba. I got to work with the national symphony when I won a prize in a competition there. My connections then led me to Caracas, Venezuela. I’ve been to all the countries [there] ever since.”
At 73 years of age and more than half a century later when he first wielded a baton, Fukumura is a sterling example of what kaizen, a Japanese concept of constantly improving oneself, can achieve. Throughout his career as a conductor, he has kept the fire of his passion burning, never resting on his laurels, and helping musicians the world over achieve their true potential.
Coincidence or not, the PPO has struck gold with this musical director and principal conductor, as the CCP currently celebrates its 50th anniversary.
When the PPO finally becomes the best orchestra in Asia, it will truly be music to this Japanese master conductor’s ears.
Image credits: Jimbo Albano