My life is now complete.
Er, okay, that was a bit overdramatic, but it’s a bit hard to not get emotional when you watch over 500 musicians come together under the baton of Hisaishi Joe to perform the beautiful and evocative pieces of music from the greatest animated films of all time. Hisaishi’s music won’t always satisfy listeners who are constantly searching for musical innovation or complexity, but they will satisfy by a mile anyone who is searching for music with sincerity and heart. Beyond that, I can’t think of any other composer who can so effectively bring to music the nostalgia, wistfulness and childlike wonder we all retain within us even as we grow older.
The concert (well, the abridged video of it that I watched) begins appropriately with the music from Nausicaa. It isn’t one of my favourite Ghibli films, but the haunting main theme suits it very well it’s beauty is accentuated by the followup from the Ritsuyukai choir. Then comes the “Requiem” including that very memorable section where the children’s choir sings a melody, mouthing “la la la”…the familiar simple phrase, but quite a moving effect when combined with the orchestra.
The next score featured is one of my absolute favourites from Hisaishi and in my opinion, his most accomplished work. That is Princess Mononoke, of course. Here the pieces I am so familiar with are rearranged to include the choir. It is a treat, as always, to hear the wonderful melody for Ashitaka rendered by the full orchestra. Unfortunately, like many pieces in the concert, it is an abridged version. The majestic orchestral swell is as powerful as ever, however, the unquestionably powerful effect of a Japanese-influenced melody brought to life through the orchestra. The title song was also played, sung by the soprano, Masako Hayashi, who appears on stage between the children’s orchestra. Her voice was crisp and clear, but the wonderful surprise came when the full choir joined in and brought the song to heights unattained in the original recordings. This section of the concert was certainly my favourite.
The abridged renderings of the scores for Kiki, Porco Rosso, and Ponyo were all very good. Ponyo definitely got a lot of “screen time” at this concert. It does have some very beautiful moments, including what is, in my opinion, another absolute highlight of the show, and that is the rendering of “Rondo of the Sunflower House”. I believe this song is from the image album and not the actual score…..regardless, it is in my opinion the best song associated with Ponyo, even surpassing the opening theme, “Umo no Okaasan”. It has a simple and charming melody, but even better, is sung by Hisaishi Mai, the daughter of the composer. If you’re afraid that this is a case of family preference trumping talent, you do not have to worry. The gods of music ensured that Hisaishi’s daughter was given a remarkable talent for voice. Her voice is as pure and beautiful as is her singing. I consider her to be the best singer at this event. (And I can certainly see the resemblance).
The score for Howl’s Moving Castle…..well done, but I don’t have much to say here because I’ve never been a big fan of the film itself and thus am not too familiar with the score. The Spirited Away segment followed, and while I don’t understand the omission of the closing theme, “Itsumo Nando Demo” or any pieces from the score, there were other songs which were sung by a pop singer, Ayaka Hirahara. The song itself was quite nice, but I’m afraid I simply don’t like her somewhat pop-oriented style of singing. There just seems to be too much emphasis on stylizing the melodies instead of simply singing them and letting the beauty of the composition itself carry the performance. I’m not sure how to write out my thoughts on this clearly, but perhaps some of you understand what I mean. I find “purity” more impressive than “style” in this sort of singing. That said, if you can get beyond that kind of singing, she has a nice voice and it was a good performance.
Next was the Totoro section, beginning with the sublime “Path of the Wind”. Unfortunately this was cut short and does not last long at all, which was a heavy disappointment. The concert organizers went all-out and arranged some beautiful visuals to accompany this piece, including bathing the ceiling in green forest-like imagery. The music is cut short by the introduction of “Sanpo”, the iconic title music from Totoro. This is a curious arrangement which brings in various members of the choirs as well as soloists at different points. I didn’t think that the first half was very strong, but as the orchestra swelled and it grew to a grander scale, Hisaishi convinced me that this rearrangement was a good idea.
The show closes with the other iconic theme from Totoro, and a heavy applause from the audience. But not only that, Miyazaki himself comes up from the audience with flowers for his long-time collabarator. Here you can see the adoration and respect that the Japanese audience have for Miyazaki. Young, old, male, female, a grin breaks out on everyone’s face. As he walks through the aisles, the people on either side have amusingly shocked reactions, their mouths open at the presence of Miyazaki near them, there is a loud visible “oooh” from the crowd, and the applause grows even louder. This man truly is a legend.
Actually, the concert is not over. There were two encores. Unfortunately neither of them were presented in their entirety on the video that I have. I was able to view the final half of “Ashitaka to San”, and it is an absolutely beautiful rearrangement which includes the heavenly children’s choir singing the melody.
One of the things I like most about this concert is watching Hisaishi conduct. He is a no-nonsense conductor. He does with a very steady hand movements and never makes overtly dramatic poses. Furthermore, he is all smiles throughout the concert, and comes off as a genuinely nice and friendly person.
I am still on a search to a find recording of this concert, but until then, boy am I glad that I became aware of it’s existence.
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