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Arts

After an earthquake, Symphony musicians moved to a different rhythm

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Sept. 4, 2012 - By way of contrast, compare this little slice of St. Louis Symphony Orchestra touring history with the full-dress, all-stops-pulled-out moves the orchestra and staff are making.

On Feb. 23, 1995, the orchestra arrived in Osaka, Japan, to begin a two-week tour. 

Rather than taking the customary day off to recover from the journey from St. Louis, about half the members of the orchestra commenced to make the 30-mile trip to Kobe, which the month before had been ravaged by a massive earthquake. The concert, under the direction of former music director Leonard Slatkin, was played in the Oriental Palace Hotel’s 500 seat theater. As the stage could only accommodate half the members of the ensemble, their colleagues stayed behind in Osaka.

The purpose in going to Kobe was to play a benefit for the people of that city and to raise money for relief, but perhaps more than that was the opportunity to extend the hand of friendship and sympathy, and to bring greetings from far away to the devastated city and its population.

The Osaka-Kobe trip is usually measured in minutes, but on that crisp, clear, blue-sky day of winter, it filled hours and involved four changes of conveyances. The orchestra members, out of necessity, carried their instruments, even the big ones, such as the string bass. No one involved will ever forget this mini-tour. Nor to be forgotten is the propulsive fellow-feeling that drove us to the ravaged town. It would take a hard heart not to be affected by the music and the sentiments represented by it. When Samuel Barber's “Adagio for Strings” was performed, the audience wept as one.

There are a couple of very good reasons for relating this side-tour story. One is to contrast its stripped-down quality and spontaneity with the entirely grander, more precisely organized and more gargantuan task of moving an entire symphony orchestra and all its professional and personal effects from St. Louis to Europe.

The other reason is to give the reader a sense of the generosity of the men and women who represented St. Louis and the United States in Japan. The outpouring extended beyond the members who travelled to Kobe. Musicians who remained behind in Osaka raised money for the people of Kobe among themselves, $3,500 in all. At the suggestion of Japanese Empress Michiko, the money went to a scholarship fund.

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