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August 2003

I was delighted and excited when Midori invited me to perform with her in Japan this summer. I was even more delighted that the repertoire was to include three of my favorite violin sonatas: Janáček, Schumann No. 1, andBrahms No. 2. We tried out parts of the program in the US earlier in the year but the first concert in Japan took place in Morioka.

We arrived in Tokyo two days before the Morioka program. The first night was spent at the Grand Arc Hotel in Tokyo, with its beautiful view of the Imperial Palace. I took a long walk in the park in the morning after an excellent cup of coffee from one of the many coffee bars behind the hotel. The train ride to Morioka was relaxing, and I was surprised at how conveniently everything was arranged: the hotel, train station and concert hall were all within minutes of one another. We got off the train and walked through a department store straight into the hotel!

The concert itself was an amazing experience – the crowd response, the intensity that Midori brings to every phrase and my delight when I was able to respond in kind. After the concert, I had my first experience with frantic autograph sessions. Midori graciously goes into the lobby after each concert and is immediately swamped by fans. I even sold a few of my own CDs, and had my picture taken, mostly with admiring schoolchildren of various ages. It was an exhausting but very stimulating experience. Afterwards, we went to an excellent Korean restaurant with Ebi, Midori’s delightful assistant for this tour, and had delicious cold noodles with meats and vegetables that we cooked ourselves at the table.

The next morning, on the plane to Osaka, I looked out the window in a daze and had my first view of Mt. Fuji: it had less snow than in the classic pictures, but was still majestic. After landing, I met Midori’s grandmother, who made me feel very welcome in her home. I practiced on her very nice piano while Midori did some errands. When Midori returned with several other people, we all had a large, varied and very delicious dinner (shabu shabu et alia). The following morning I went for an early jog near the hotel. Attempting to find a spot with some trees, I accidentally ran into the Panasonic company grounds, only to be stopped by guards who asked to see my ID. When I showed them my hotel key, they had a good laugh and pointed me back towards the hotel.

Kanazawa was the next stop. I felt relaxed at the concert the following night and thought the Mendelssohn and Lutoslawski went especially well.

Our arrival in Fukuoka, a most interesting city, had the added attraction that my wife, Denise, joined me there, having traveled from Tokyo. The hotel was right on a river directly across from the concert hall/shopping complex. The following day, as I dressed for the 7 PM recital, I suddenly realized that my shoes were nowhere to be found. The hotel suggested a store, and I went to find Ebi to see if she could get me there quickly. Instead, a group of women who were helping with the concert brought me to a bridal shop right in the concert complex, where I was loaned a pair of perfectly fitting patent leather shoes. I had left my shoes in Kanazawa!

The concert was probably the best of the three so far. The Schumann, for me, was especially poignant, and the Janáček and Brahms held together well. Also, I was more comfortable with the newly-learned Amy Beach encore.

The following morning, Denise and I explored Fukuoka a bit. We visited the Taconic temple, where we viewed a large Buddha and walked around it into a completely darkened tunnel before emerging. We also had lunch at a frantic but fascinating noodle/tempura place, and visited the relaxing Asian Art Museum.

Denise then went back to Tokyo, while I went on to Sasebo. It reminded me a bit of nice resort towns on the beach – very relaxed. When I got to the hall, my shoes had arrived from the hotel in Kanazawa! The piano was very stiff, possibly almost new, so the Mendelssohn, with its fast, light staccatissimo, was difficult. I thought the Brahms went well.

After the concert, we rushed to get to Nagasaki (Omura) and rode a quirky, ‘clanky’, train along the beach route. Waking up early the next day, I was happy to see that we were situated on a bay, with mountains in the background. I jogged around the pier in a light rain, enjoying the sea air.

After one more plane trip – to Tokyo for a benefit concert at the Hotel Okura – my intense week and a half, with five concerts, was over. It was an immensely gratifying and stimulating musical experience, punctuated by delicious food and beautiful scenery. Denise and I spent a week in Kyoto before returning to NY.

Peter Vinograde