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An Orchestral Tribute

On March 16th, the Tokyo-based NHK Symphony Orchestra performed a concert in Washington, D.C. At the last moment, their conductor, André Previn, added a movement from Bach’s Orchestral Suite No. 3, commonly known as “Air on the G String,” as a tribute to the people of Japan. Just before the concert, the Orchestra’s Chairman, Naoki Nojima, spoke with the audience: “As we perform for you tonight we are performing for ourselves as well and for our loved ones back home.”

I found a number of things remarkable about this story: that the Orchestra chose to go ahead with their performance, despite what had occurred at home, and the choice of the piece itself, which is more tender than solemn, more likely to be heard at a wedding than a funeral. But more than anything else, I was struck by the fact that an orchestra of Japanese musicians would choose a piece written three centuries ago by a Thuringian composer as a memorial and catharsis for the great tragedy that had afflicted their nation. Rarely have I encountered such eloquent testimony to the capacity of great art to transcend time, cultures, and plight.


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