Three Memorable Concerts Hosted in 2020: Listening Under the Pandemic


written by Goto Ten
translated by Shimizu Chatori 

 From April 5th to May 25th, 2020, a state of emergency due to the spread of Covid-19 was issued in Japan, requiring citizens to refrain from unnecessary outdoor activities. Even after the first state of emergency was lifted, a voluntary restraint was required from all citizens, while travel was advised by the government. Subsequently, a second state of emergency was announced on January 7th, 2021, following a surge in the numbers of infected patients, revealing the inconsistent policies enacted by the government. Concerts in Japan were held, postponed, or canceled at the discretion of the organizers and concert halls, under the above-mentioned circumstances. The three events introduced in this article were held in midst of the turmoil, in between the two states of emergencies. 

  The first concert that I would like to review here is the Suntory Summer Festival 2020’s “Orchestra Space XXI-2”, held at Suntory Hall (Tokyo) on August 30, 2020. It is my wish to especially mention about Yoichi Sugiyama’s “Autoritratto” for orchestra (2020) for orchestra. This work was conducted by Masato Suzuki and performed by the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra. 

  The mechanism of “Autoritratto” is quite clear, as the program note explains that the piece “uses the national anthems of countries which were either eliminated, or was first attacked in a military combat  above a certain scale”. It covers a time-scale of “half a century, beginning in 1969 when I was born, as well as when Stockhausen completed his work ‘Hymnen’ until today, covering military conflicts around the world following the time flow as much as possible”. However, the music is extremely obscure, with the audience hearing many national anthems overlapping with each other. This presents us with the fact that military confrontations around the world are occurring all at the same time.

  I would like to acknowledge composer Yoichi Sugiyama as someone who had taught me the beauty of playing out of sync. However, the deviation in this piece gave me an impression opposite of the beauty of unsynchronized music. 

  The more I understood the musical concept, I had an urge to not want to hear more national anthems (which is a resultant of a military conflict within this piece). However, the music progresses unsympathetically. I remember the feeling of “having an unwanted object in front of my eyes” and “an urge to experience it to the end”. In other words, I felt that this music was necessary to us.  (During the same concert, “A Study for Orchestra: illuminance / juvenile” (2014/2020) was performed under the conducting of the composer Motoharu Kawashima. I am unable to introduce the piece in detail, as I experienced the piece in the foyer due to a circumstance. However, I was able to perceive Kawashima’s concept of “action music” through fixed camera and television speakers, and I admit that the work made me applaud in the foyer alone.)

  The second event that I would like to share is the “MUSICA CRAS GIFU 2020 Masahiro Miwa Festival – Purified Night -”, held at Salamanca Hall (Gifu) on September 19, 2020. It is possible to view the digest video of the day at

  This event was initially announced to be streamed online, only viewable in real-time. With Miwa Masahiro in charge of composition, planning, and creating the configuration of the event and Shinjiro Maeda as a video director, diverse artists, Butoh dancers, and instrumentalists took part in molding a perplexing performing arts event. The beginning of the event were as follows.

  There was a monochrome image, a pentagram line drawn on the floor, and at the center of the stage squat the Butoh dancers. Six performers rhythmically roamed on the line, and occasionally sprinkled white powders on the Butoh dancers. On the outskirts of the action were the sounds of the gamelan, as well as a man in zentai with horns writing something on the whiteboard. A video of several chickens roaming around was projected. Without a definite climax, the performance ritualistically continued in an austere, bland manner. 

  Although some may feel a little dismayed upon experiencing these expressions, as if they have participated in a ritual in a faraway land, however, one of the hints for enjoying this performance is what Miwa advocates as the “reverse simulation music”. This is when “a ‘living human being’ performs a music composed by a computer simulation utilizing an algorithm” (quoted from “Interview of Miwa Masahiro” in the latter part of the video digest). In the same interview, Miwa states that “‘music’ and ‘rituals’ are almost equivalent”, and the performance was planned as a “funeral memorial service of the music”, in which the music is to have died due to the spread of Covid-19. Moreover, the white powder was the same lime (calcium-oxide) that was sprinkled on countless chickens which had been mass disposed of bird flu, and the act represented that the situation has finally paid a visit to the humans. 

  Though I have experienced the above performance through the means of online-streaming, I felt as if I was there in person. Perhaps it is so due to the fact that the performance was not created for the audience attending the performance but was (likely) directed to the audience on the other side of the screen.

  While I was watching the performance without any burdensome heart, now that I look back at the archive video, my concerns of how Covid-19 will affect my surroundings were dug up, and I remembered how much anxiety I was facing. In the past, we might possibly have been dissolving our worries, either with definite solutions or mentally, by “gathering”, when faced with such situations an individual has no power over. I believe that this work presented us one of the many answers (from the perspectives of the performers) of how “not to go insane” while the act of “gathering” was prohibited.

  The third event I would like to review here is “Haruyuki Suzuki: Chamber Music Panorama – Memory of Malfunction –”, held at the Opera City Recital Hall (Tokyo) on December 16, 2020. The audiences were allowed in the hall, and an online broadcast was also available.

  This was a portrait concert of Haruyuki Suzuki, who active not only in contemporary music, but also in film music. The concert was performed by Kazuhiro Kajihara (flute), Ryuta Iwase (clarinet), Erika Kawamura (piano), Gaku Yamada (guitar), Tomomi Ota (accordion), Yoji Sato (contrabass), Yoshu Kamei (violin), and Aki Kitajima (cello), and on top of that layered the spoken words of the composer himself. It is an arduous task to briefly explain the a la carte of his diverse musicality presented in the concert, however, when broadly speaking, the music invites us to participate in a game of “trying to focus one’s camera on the music” (according to the composer’s words on the program note).

  For example, “Is This C’s Song?” (2006) underlays Chaplin’s film music and tries to deliberately “dislocate” the natural flow of music. When the joyful music initiated by the violin and cello is abruptly interrupted by the piano at the beginning of the piece, it gives an impression as if the instrumentalists are performing in a comedy film. However, upon several more “dislocations” are repeatedly put forth, the comedic feel is left behind, and a fresh interest of “what will happen next?” triggers into the audiences’ minds. In “Precipitation-Wreckage” (2003), the narrating voice explaining (self-referencing) the progressing musical flows is suddenly altered by a poetic narrative (and electronic sounds), giving the audience a feel of listening to a scene of a radio drama. In this fashion, the piece presents the listeners individual frames, which soon morphs into a new outlook again. As a result, the listeners are able to encounter “how they listen”, or be guided into a new way of “focusing one’s camera onto the objective”.

  However, seen from another point of view, the concept of “memory”, which can also be found in the title, surfaces as an important factor. In “Orbital” (2005/2020), it seems as though certain melodical motifs are repeatedly found in an unexpected moment throughout the piece, however I am uncertain whether those motifs are the same ones that had appeared before. Here, the audiences are to engage in a task of abstractly remembering the past, as well as broadly memorize the music they are listening to at the moment. Although it might sound like a hassle when the process is written out in words, this kind of concentration, in my opinion, can be a very comfortable one.

  These diverse “invitations to participate in a game” do not discriminate whether the listener is an expert or an amateur and seek active listening which goes along with the flow of music in front of them. I believe that this creative attitude is extremely similar in style to that of movies, especially experimental ones.

  (In passing, I would like to note down that I have been involved in this event as a staff member responsible for the video streaming. Therefore, I have experienced this concert not from the view of the audience seat, but as a videographer of the event. According to Suzuki, who is also the organizer of this event, he had not planned an online streaming in the beginning phases of the planning. However, due to the new realities Covid-19 has brought forth, the capacity of the hall was cut down to half, as audience members had to appropriately distance themselves with one another. It can be said that the fact that online streaming was possible might have been a silver lining of a dark cloud).

(1) Among the Japanese government’s “Emergency Economic Measures for Covid-19”, the “Go To Campaign” was implemented as a demand-stimulating project for travel, eating and drinking, and events. The campaigns included “Go To Travel”, which subsidized the cost of domestic travel; “Go To Event”, which subsidized ticket fees for events; “Go To Eat”, which aimed at stimulating demand for restaurant businesses; and “Go To Shopping Street” to promote economic stimulus in shopping streets.

(2)  It is a method of composing from a perspective of thinking of music as a “series of performative actions”, rather than a “series of sounds” (from the website Motoharu Kawashima Jouhou-Kan).

(3) A conductor and a composer, active in both Japan and Europe. He serves as a professor at the Claudio Abbado Conservatory in Milan, Italy.

(4) A Japanese contemporary music composer and performer. He is an associate professor at Kunitachi College of Music, a lecturer at Tokyo College of Music, and Shobi University, and serves as a Vice Chairman of the Japan Composers Association.

(5) It is a method of composing from a perspective of thinking of music as a “series of performative actions”, rather than a “series of sounds” (from the website Motoharu Kawashima Jouhou-Kan).

(6) Japanese contemporary music composer and media artist. He serves as a professor at the Institute of Advanced Media Arts and Sciences (IAMAS). He is known for his “reverse simulation music” and the Formant Brothers, a duo which synthesize human voices to make them artificially sing.

(7) A videographer, who sees video media as a “tool for discovering the unknown”. He continues to create interdisciplinary works in fields such as experimental films, media art, and documentaries. He serves as a professor at the Institute of Advanced Media Arts and Sciences (IAMAS).