Shinko Hanaoka, the Japanese cellist, spoke today to the Jiji Press Top Seminar. I’d just been talking to a Japanese ex-colleague about European and Japanese attitudes to teams, so her description of the differences between Japanese and British orchestras struck a chord. Apparently in Japan, when there is a vacancy in an orchestra, applications are invited and there is an initial selection based on the applications. Those selected are called for audition and the person who plays the best in the audition is selected. The UK system is similar, up to the point of the audition, but apparently several people are shortlisted after the audition and then called, randomly and without much warning, to play in concerts, as part of a trial period, which can go on for years. They are compensated the same way a contract musician is paid, but they are under scrutiny not just for their ability to play, but their sociability, flexibility etc. In other words whether they fit into the team.
I suppose in the Japanese orchestra case, there is an assumption that it goes without saying that the new member will make every effort to fit in the team. It’s the training every child receives from kindergarten onwards. However, Hanaoka herself admitted she found the Japanese orchestra “gyoukai” (industry, trade, profession) very oppressive and full of rules and expectations about how she should behave.
She wasn’t totally positive about the British method either – as clearly selection based on personal characteristics rather than musical ability is liable to prejudice and political considerations. She confessed she did sometimes use the excuse of being a foreigner to get out of some of the more “gyoukai” like aspects of the British musical scene. (The “freedom of a foreign life” as I have noted previously)
Even once she succeeded in the trial period, she found it impossible to get the Royal Philharmonic to do the necessary to get her a visa, so had to continue her studies in order to qualify for a student visa, and then finally permanent residency. She said it was unsurprising that she was one of very few foreigners in the orchestra, in contrast to continental European or American orchestras.
A further point she made, familiar to anyone with Japanese customers, is that Japanese audiences are way more fussy than British ones. “Maniacs” she said (meaning maniacal in the depth of their knowledge, rather than nuts), whereas British audiences mostly just wanted to enjoy themselves and were far more casual.
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