Stage Two: London
29th March - 5 April 2014
“Our life was severely affected by the earthquake and the accident at the nuclear power plant. However, there were people who supported my life. Keys of Change is one of them. I would like to do my best to express joy and warmth to the audience tonight. Also, the very great efforts we are making will show our appreciation to Mr. Panos Karan and all of those who planned this wonderful collaboration with a professional orchestra in London.”
Mayuko Shio, Cello
“The assistance of people around me has helped me to overcome the difficult times of the last three years since the earthquake. I am extremely grateful for this opportunity to participate in such a special concert. I would like the power of our music to give some strength and courage to the audience.”
Mao Obara, Viola
The group, which finally consisted of 37 middle-school students, travelled to London together with two music teachers (Suda-sensei and Sato-sensei), as well as a professional group leader from Japanese travel company HIS (Watanabe-san). Panos and Zach were on the same flight from Tokyo on 29th March, assisting the students. Also, the senior cabin crew member for British Airways in Japan (Ms. Hisako Sunamoto), was informed in advance about the students background and purpose of travel, and a lot of welcoming and help was given during the flight, as many of the students were travelling by air for the first time.
The students stayed at the Royal Russell Hotel in central London, in double and triple rooms. The room sharing list was arranged by the teachers, based on school, age and instrument. Group leader Watanabe-san, stayed in a single room, while the two teachers occupied a triple room, leaving a spare bed in case of illness of one of the students. Transportation from Fukushima to Narita (29th March) and Haneda to Fukushima (5th April) as well as throughout the trip in London was by coach.
Meals for the students and teachers in London were provided in various ways: Greek meze, Italian pizza and English fish and chips, o-bento lunch boxes, and katsu curry (Wagamama). A buffet farewell dinner buffet, including sushi, was arranged by the London Fukushima Fujinkai (Shakunagekai) on the last evening (costs shared with KoC).
In the weeks before the visit, the London coordinator, Chris Patrick, a trustee of KoC, organised a group of volunteers to be with the group at all times. These were Japanese and English young people who were able to speak both Japanese and English and who gave their time generously to support the Fukushima students and teachers by interpreting, answering questions, sorting out problems and generally helping to make the visit run smoothly.
Preparing for the Queen Elizabeth Hall performance was at the heart of the schedule. Daily rehearsals took place in various venues: St. Christina’s School in St. John’s Wood (30th March), the Hellenic Centre in Marylebone (31st March), St. Stephen’s Church in Kensington (1st April) and the Queen Elizabeth Hall at the Southbank Centre (2nd April). Panos and Zach continued working very closely with the students on 30th and 31st March (composer Ronald Corp met the group on 31 March to conduct his work) and Orpheus Sinfonia conductor Thomas Carroll took over the rehearsals on 1st and 2nd April.
Although the group was only in London for five full days, they managed to give five performances in a variety of venues and to a variety of audiences.
30 March 2014
Length: 25 minutes approximately
Audience: around 100
The ensemble group (string quintet) gave a pre-concert performance at the foyer of King’s Place. Zach played the solo part of Mozart flute concerto while Panos conducted the small group. The rest of the students attended as audience. This was an informal introduction to a London audience. The ensemble showed impressive stamina, considering the long journey the day before, and were able to improve on their performance and their musicality.
Kid’s Company (Treehouse)
31 March 2014
Length: 40 minutes approximately
Audience: around 150
The whole orchestra travelled to the Sidings Community Centre in Camden to perform for Treehouse, an educational group, which is part of Kids Company, a UK charity supporting vulnerable children. The Japanese orchestra performed for a group of young children from a different part of the world, some of whom come for particularly difficult circumstances. The performance created a very positive musical connection that was followed by informal conversations between the two groups. The Japanese students noted that they had never before met people of their own age from so far away, and with such great ethnic and cultural diversity.
31 March 2014
Length: 3 minutes approximately
Audience: around 1 million
The string quintet was invited by the BBC to perform at the end of the popular news programme Newsnight. As all the musicians were under 16, the performance had to be pre-recorded before 10pm and broadcasted later the same evening. The students played Furusato, and, at the director’s request, the musical theme of Newsnight, which they had to learn in less than an hour. The Japanese song was chosen for broadcast, although both performances were later shared by the BBC on youtube. Panos, Zach and the group leader Watanabe-San went with the students to the studio. The students were very nervous but thrilled to be in the studio and playing on television (none of them initially knew what the BBC is and only realised the responsibility and opportunity when it was explained to them that it is the British equivalent of NHK).
Residence of the Japanese Ambassador
1 April 2014
Length: 30 minutes approximately
Audience: around 30
The whole orchestra was very kindly invited to the residence of the Japanese Ambassador in Kensington Palace Garden. After a warm welcome by the Ambassador, the string ensemble played part of Mozart’s Flute Concerto, with Zach performing the solo part as well as conducting, followed by the wind ensemble which played a number of short pieces. The group was then invited to visit the garden of the Residence and to have refreshments in one of the beautiful reception rooms.
“I am surprised to see my daughter having grown so much in a week. She could not stop talking about memories from London.“
Father of Megumi (3rd Horn)
”My daughter was delighted to tell me that she felt it was a great achievement to perform in front of a big audience. Thank you very much for such a special occasion.”
Mother of Hisano (2nd violin)
Sharing the message in London
Members of the Fukushima Youth Sinfonietta performed on BBC2‘s Newsnight for an audience of more than 1 million (above).
(Far right) Junko Suda, Japanese music teacher, rehearsing with the Fukushima Youth Sinfonietta at the Queen Elizabeth Hall.
Sightseeing, other activities
Farewell at Heathrow
Between rehearsals and performances, the group took part in the following activities: a walk around Trafalgar Square, through Horse Guards Parade to Buckingham Palace to see the Changing of the Guard (30th March); a visit to the Fukushima Garden in Holland Park, with an explanation given by Mitsuyama-San from the Shakunagekai (1st April); talks by musicians working in the UK, including composer Ron Corp, conductor Toby Purser and orchestral player Mana Shibata (31st March); attendance at a concert at the Royal Festival Hall (1st April); a visit to the British Museum and Tate Modern (3rd April), as well as a walk past St Paul’s Cathedral and across the Millennium Bridge and shopping in Covent Garden (3rd April); a farewell dinner at UCL (3rd April).
The group left the UK from Heathrow on the morning of 4th April, accompanied by the two teachers and group leader. While Panos and Zach were saying goodbye that morning, everyone in the group, all the students, and the three adults, broke into tears, and many of them were still in tears for a long time after going through security and boarding the plane, we were later told.