The Gürzenich Orchestra in Asia

The Gürzenich Orchestra in Asia

Clara Jumi Kang about the upcoming tour to South Korea
Daishin Kashimoto and François-Xavier Roth about the Asia tour

The Gürzenich Orchestra will conclude the 2021/22 season with a tour of Japan and South Korea under the baton of Gürzenich Kapellmeister François-Xavier Roth.

The tour will kick off in Kawasaki from 2 to 8 July 2022, followed by two concerts in Tokyo at the legendary Suntory Hall and Tokyo Opera City. The final concert in Ako will be followed by performances in South Korea in Seoul and Andong. The orchestra has invited violinist Daishin, pianist Hisako Kawamura and violinist Clara Jumi Kang as soloists.

It is a special honour for the Gürzenich Orchestra to be one of the first international orchestras to travel to Japan since the beginning of the Corona pandemic and to be able to present works from the orchestra's core repertoire in the country's two most important halls, the legendary Suntory Hall and Tokyo Opera City. With Robert Schumann's "Rheinische" Symphony No. 3 and Anton Bruckner's Symphony No. 4, the Gürzenich Orchestra will present its ID, completely re-read and interpreted by Gürzenich Kapellmeister François-Xavier Roth.

The invitation to Japan is also a recognition of the artistic excellence that the orchestra has achieved under the aegis of François-Xavier Roth. Not only the audience in Tokyo, but also in Kawasaki and Ako can convince themselves of this. The orchestra then travels to South Korea for two concerts in Andong and the acoustically outstanding Seoul Arts Center.

For Gürzenich Kapellmeister François-Xavier Roth, the trip is a highlight of the season: »I am delighted to be able to travel to Asia again, and now also to Japan with my Gürzenich Orchestra. It is a pleasure and an honour, the concert halls there are extraordinarily beautiful and have incredible acoustics. I have missed my audience there very much. The Japanese know the classical works very well, and they are very friendly and warm - it's really my favourite audience. Classical music also has a long tradition in South Korea. How many great musicians from South Korea and also from Japan don't we have in the Gürzenich Orchestra by now!
Our programme for the tour reflects a large part of our identity: Schumann, Beethoven and Bruckner. We are playing Bruckner's Fourth Symphony in the original version, which is still performed far too rarely. Bruckner's symphonies have a long tradition in Cologne, just think of my predecessor as Gürzenich Kapellmeister, Günter Wand. Our current approach is modern and streamlined, and we are pleased to be able to share this with a large audience worldwide with our Schumann and Bruckner cycles on CD.

I have already worked with violinist Daishin Kashimoto as a soloist, and when I conducted the Berlin Philharmonic, he was concertmaster there. He is a great artist and virtuoso, and I am delighted to perform Camille Saint-Saëns' Concerto for Violin and Orchestra with him - in 2021 we were going to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Camille Saint-Saëns' death, and now we are making up for it. With the excellent pianist Hisako Kawamura and violinist Clara Jumi Kang, on the other hand, it will be the first encounter, which I am very much looking forward to.«

The Gürzenich Orchestra was last in Seoul, Beijing and Shanghai with François-Xavier Roth in 2017. In 2014, it visited the same cities with Roth's predecessor, Markus Stenz, plus Hong Kong. In 2010, the Gürzenich Orchestra was a guest at the EXPO 2010 in Shanghai together with the Cologne Opera with two performances of Richard Wagner's "Ring des Nibelungen", the first performance of the complete "Ring" in China's history. In 1992, the Gürzenich Orchestra gave a guest performance in Japan together with the Cologne Opera, presenting the productions of "The Flying Dutchman", "Macbeth" and "The Abduction from the Seraglio" in productions by Michael Hampe, conducted by James Conlon. The opera guest performances in China and Japan were each accompanied by orchestra concerts.

Translated with (free version)

Es ist für uns eine besondere Ehre, als erstes internationales Orchester seit Beginn der Corona-Pandemie nach Japan zu reisen.

Stefan Englert, Geschäftsführender Direktor des Gürzenich-Orchester Köln

Travel Diary

Day 10: »Ten eventful days are behind us. And it almost feels like before!« by David Neuhoff

An eventful, successful, exciting and also exhausting tour comes to an end today. When we started our trip to the Far East as cultural ambassadors of the city of Cologne with some starting difficulties of a travel-technical nature, the feelings during the long journey were mixed: on the one hand, great anticipation that we would finally be able to be on the road again and share our passion in another culture. On the other hand also a little bit of concern about the unknown and the unfortunately still present restrictions and burdens of Covid-19. 

A full program awaited us from the first day in Tokyo: starting in Kawasaki and Tokyo, we travelled to Andong and Seoul through Ako. We were able to play six beautiful concerts in incredible halls with outstanding soloists in front of a fantastic audience. Each hall was special and impressive in its own way - be it sonically and/or architecturally. François-Xavier was able to motivate us to top performances with his energy and enthusiasm for music, and during the rehearsals and especially the concerts he made us almost forget our sometimes great fatigue and exhaustion (we covered about 27,000 km in ten days!). This was thanked by our great audience at every single concert. The frenetic cheering resonated not only with enthusiasm but also with great gratitude and - so it sounded - with the desire for and the joy of a return to normality in life and especially in cultural exchange. The energy transported itself through every hall and carried us on this journey.

Now, during the last flight, back to Germany, we recapitulated what we had experienced and accomplished. As I look around the plane, I notice mixed emotions within me again, just as I did on the outward journey. I'm looking forward to coming home and sharing the experiences, and at the same time I'm curious and excited about what new adventures and opportunities await us as we head more and more back towards normalcy. I feel privileged and proud to have the opportunity to play in distant countries and other cultures and to bring music and also a piece of Germany closer to the people. It also fills me with pride to be able to play with such outstanding colleagues who, together on a tour like this, always surpass themselves and make the time spent in faraway and foreign countries something special. Our special thanks also goes to the many helping hands in the background - our orchestra wardens and our administration - without whom such a tour would not be possible. 

Our tour to Japan and South Korea has once again shown that despite language barriers and cultural differences, music brings people together, connects them across national borders and fills them with happiness and joy.

I look back with gratitude and look forward to the future with the wish to see you again as soon as possible!

David Neuhoff, Horn
Speaker of the Orchestra Board

Day 8: »We wish our colleagues to be happy in Korea and for the Korean audiences to enjoy our concerts.« Interview with Jee-Hye Bae and Kyuri Kim 

Jee-Hye and Kyuri, you have been playing together here in the Gürzenich Orchestra for a few months. But you knew each other before that. How did you get to know each other?
Jee-Hye: When I was in Berlin, I went to Kyuri's concert by chance. And I fell in love with her performance immediately. I suggested we play together in a string quartet as we got into the Hans Eisler Musikhochschule. Sadly we couldn't continue with our string quartet because I won the audition at the  Gürzenich Orchestra in Cologne. And look, now we are here together again!

Kyuri, how is life in Cologne?
Kyuri: Cologne feels like home for me and it did right from the very beginning. And even when I auditioned, I could feel the warm atmosphere of this city and the orchestra. I am so glad and honored to be a part of a group that is this friendly and enthusiastic.

You both come from South Korea. Is it special for you to play with your orchestra in your home country now? 
Jee-Hye: Yes indeed. We never thought that we would be so excited ! It doesn't feel real that we are here in Korea with our colleagues. When we arrived here in Korea Kyuri said that suddenly her shoulders and back were straightened as if she was very confident and proud! ^^ We wish our colleagues to be happy in Korea and for the Korean audiences to enjoy our concerts.

The Gürzenich Orchestra plays two concerts, one in Seoul and one in Andong. Have you played in those halls before? If so, how do the cities, the halls, the audiences differ?
Jee-Hye: We have played in Seoul Arts Center but not in Andong.The city of Andong is famous for the »Hahoe Village«, where the entire village is registered as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. So it has a totally different atmosphere than Seoul. The Seoul Arts Center is the most popular hall for classical music in Korea. It was built in 1988 when I was born. Classical music in Korea doesn't have a long history, therefore the audiences consist of more or less young people. As a consequence the reactions of the audiences are always really passionate.

Jee-Hye, you grew up in Seoul, your family lives here, you studied here. What are you doing when you return for two days? 
Jee-Hye: This time, of course, I was with the orchestra the whole time. But usually my mom picks me up at the airport and we go home where my mom's famous Korean dishes are waiting for me. I always wish I could stay longer than two days when I visit Korea!

You know life in Cologne and in Berlin. How is life there different from life in a metropolis like Seoul?
Jee-Hye: The most different thing between Seoul and Cologne/Berlin is the nightlife. In Seoul you can go shopping, watch a movie in the theater or do whatever you like no matter how late it is, even on Sundays. Of course there are bars in Germany which are open until late, but for people like me who don't drink, it is a little bit hard to enjoy a bar at night. But I actually really adore the calm time at night, the quietness on Sundays in Germany.

What activity/sight/restaurant would you recommend if we were in Seoul for a day?
Jee-Hye: I would love to invite you to my parent's place and my mom will cook! 


Day 7 –»The whole experience is mind-broadening« by Liz Macintosh

Hello today from Liz Macintosh!

I am lucky enough to be on this tour after retiring at the end of May .Touring is undoubtedly strenuous, but so rewarding and I am grateful to have seen so many wonderful far-flung places thanks to my violin. 

It has been really quite emotional seeing the reaction of our audiences during our concerts and realising how important this has been for them. Concert tickets are fantastically expensive here. We are very lucky to have this opportunity! 

I have been on almost every Gürzenich Orchestra tour during my 33 years in the second violin section. As well as playing in many fantastic concert halls, sometimes we have a bit of time to see the sights and actually do some of the things in the guidebook. Other times, like today, absolutely not!  But I have certainly noticed this; one always takes home some impression of a place - even if there wasn't much, or indeed any time to explore. The whole experience is mind-broadening. Pacing yourself and knowing how to stay fit and well for the concerts - as well as taking in the culture where and when you can is a valuable skill. It has been especially touching seeing how proud and happy our Korean colleagues are to be with us in their country and how eager they are to make sure we have a great experience here. 

Today our concert was in Andong.
On paper at least, it looked like it would be an unbelievably tough day. 

I do believe we COULD have visited the Unesco Hahoe Folk Village, or visited the famous mask festival museum, but no time for all that! 

The bus journey to Andong took 5 hours (in by far the most comfortable bus I have seen in my life), including a stop for coffee and another for a delicious traditional Korean lunch. Who gets to see so much of the Korean countryside on such a short visit? Not many!

We stopped at a hotel in Andong for a quick rest and freshen-up and then on to the concert hall. During the rehearsal we met our new soloist, Clara Jumi Kang and played through the Saint-Saens Concerto with her, making changes to suit her interpretation of it. This hall presented its very own  acoustic challenges, and was also incredibly humid, but it felt that the orchestra had a very special connection, especially with Francois, who guided us through the programme with extra energy and a ready smile. He even introduced the encore with a short speech in Korean, which was very popular indeed with the audience! We left the stage extremely damp, but strangely satisfied! 

A quick change of clothes and we were back on that lovely bus for the journey back to Seoul. 

The organisation on this whole tour has been phenomenal -  Our administration, who moved veritable mountains during the planning period to make this tour happen at all and of course, looking after us from day to day. The stunningly efficient people from Japan Arts and Vincero, who among many other things, herded us around in airports or on and off buses and made sure we did our Corona Tests . (Corona update: not one case on the entire tour!) Our stage crew, Wolfgang, Eto and Martin are legendary. They are always at the concert venues hours before us, smoothing our path and setting everything up and they are the last to leave after all the equipment is all set for transport. 

A tour is such an important thing for the orchestra. It is a very bonding time for us. Spending more time with each other, and all being affected by the inevitable jetlag, but nevertheless  pulling together to give our very best in the concerts! 

Real teamwork- there's really nothing like it!


Liz Macintosh
2. Violins

Day 6: »I have the feeling that everything happens much more stress-free and efficiently in Japan than in Germany, where many things like to be made unnecessarily complicated.« by Victor König


My name is Victor and I am a bassoonist in the Orchestra Academy of the Gürzenich Orchestra. Today I'm going to share a little bit about the travel day from Japan to Korea.

The day started - still satiated from the late and expansive dinner the night before at the hotel in Himeji - with a small breakfast at 6:30 a.m. I myself could only eat miso soup and some fruit at such an early hour. Afterwards we went 150 km by bus the to Osaka airport. It went for kilometers on the highway through the port city of Osaka, which was packed with cranes, bridges, container ships and industrial buildings. I also find it particularly impressive that the airport is located on an artificially raised island in Osaka Bay, 5km from the coast.

The check-in and flight were very relaxed. I have the feeling that in Japan everything happens much more stress-free and efficiently than in Germany, where many things are made unnecessarily complicated.

Once we arrived in Seoul, we drove another hour from the airport to the hotel through the city. I was very impressed by the incredible number of skyscrapers, the wide streets and the Hangang, the river through Seoul. To me, Seoul makes a much larger and more unmanageable impression than Tokyo, although the latter has about 5 million more inhabitants.

The rest of the day I set out to explore the city. First on foot at 35°C and super high humidity and then by metro. We passed through a beautiful old neighborhood with many small alleys, shrines and temple complexes. At one of the many street food stalls I bought fried vegetables without knowing exactly what I was getting, which was very good. Later we went to a small Korean restaurant. The main dishes - I had a spicy fish soup - were accompanied by many small side dishes, soup and tea. A lot of it is sour or spicy pickled vegetables like cabbage or radish. Later, on the way back it started thundering.

I am very happy to be part of this great trip. Despite the many concerts in a short time and thus exhausting days, it is a super experience for me to travel and play in these countries. I will especially remember the great concerts, nice people and the delicious food.

Victor König
Bassoon Academist

Day 5 »Ohh! This is it, my dear Japan!« by Chieko Yoshioka-Sallmon

Corona, transportation difficulties, surprising changes and much more... and still we arrived in Japan!!! 

At the first concert, I didn't really feel like I was back in my hometown. I think I was still befuddled from the excitement of the trip.

It was only after the concert when I saw the beautiful night scenery of Tokyo from my hotel room that I remembered: "Hello Tokyo! I'm back! (^_-)"

Tokyo is beautiful only at night, during the day the city is gray. In the nights of Tokyo, there are red little lights going on and off everywhere - it looks like stars and so slowly I remember my life in this city at that time. But I don't have much time for these memories, because every second of this trip is timed. It goes on and on, so fast that one has almost no possibility to get comfortably fat. :D 

The second concert in Japan is particularly memorable for me, because when we played Bruckner's 4th Symphony, all my colleagues were so super concentrated that the musical experience was breathtaking. My friends who listened to the concert were so excited. Every minute there was a new sound and new colors! For me, it was one of those concerts that I will definitely rave about for years.

And then came the concert at Tokyo Suntory Hall! My family came: My mother is 94 years old and the last time she was in one of my concerts was about 20 years ago at the Kölner Philharmonie. My emotion was at 150%. At least!

My sister was as excited as I was about the great fortune that our mother could once again experience my concert live. Fortunately, I have my console partner Juta and our conductor François-Xavier Roth, who brought me back into the world of music. I have great confidence in Mr. Roth. He leads us through the »musical journey« (as he said in an interview in Japan) with the beautiful movements of his hands. After the concert, I could not stop my tears. Thank you so much to all the dear ones! I was sooo happy!

Tonight I slept for 6 hours straight. And today I enjoyed the view from the Shinkansen. I grew up in the middle of Tokyo, but when I see the bamboo forests, tea fields and lush nature from the Shinkansen, I think »Ohh! This is it, my dear Japan!« every time.

The whole tour is very exhausting, but all the concentrated music making is a lot of fun for me. It's like going on vacation somewhere in a foreign country: with lots of surprises, new discoveries, and lots of new color and sound. It's comfortable to always play the same way and always in the same place. But on this tour you realize that every hall sounds different, we have to react differently in every situation, and every emotion affects you. Actually, I am a friend of security and calmness - only once in a while there may be an adventure. This trip was one of them.

Chieko Yoshioka-Sallmon
1. Violin

Day 4 »At this moment on the stage on the other side of the world« by Ikuko Homma

Our tour through Japan and South Korea remains something very special. The concerts in the breathtaking halls, the get-togethers with colleagues, the culture - everything about it is beautiful and also a little exhausting. 

This trip means a lot to me in particular. I haven't been back to my home country and Tokyo for about 2 ½ years now, and now I also have the wonderful situation of being here with »my« orchestra. Two things that shape me and mean a lot to me are united by this tour.

Our concerts in Kawasaki and Tokyo, especially the one in Tokyo Suntory Hall, were impressive and full of magical moments. The enthusiasm for the music of Schumann, Beethoven and Saint-Saëns was palpable. The orchestra is more and more enthusiastic with each performance and this incredible joy could be seen not least in the audience. Standing ovations, which we have not known to this extent before, required François-Xavier Roth to come on stage again and again - while we musicians had already packed up our instruments long ago. It seems that the Japanese audience is thirsty for music that we brought in the program. 

Every time we play the last movement of Schumann's 3rd Symphony in E-flat major (»Rheinische«), I get goose bumps. The symphony that symbolizes our home Cologne so well sounds at that moment on the stage on the other side of the world - in my other home.

I sincerely hope that we can travel here again in the not-too-distant future, play new music to this enthusiastic audience, and soak up the fantastic atmosphere and acoustics. 

Ikuko Homma
Solo English Horn / Oboe

Day 3: »10 to 20 stories« by Valentin Ungureanu


My name is Valentin Ungureanu. As a member of the first violins, I may tell you about my experiences on the third day of our Japan and Korea tour with the Gürzenich Orchestra Cologne.

The day began, as it did yesterday, with a surreal view from the hotel window over the rooftops of Tokyo. After the past years, it indeed feels very special to be here again. However, there was not much time to deepen this train of thought in the morning, because after testing and breakfast, we already had to drive to our next concert venue - the Tokyo Opera City Concert Hall. 

I deliberately chose today for writing, because this concert hall impresses me every time. It is hard to estimate how high the pyramid-like ceiling reaches; certainly 10 to 20 stories in my imagination. But the hall is also a true work of art in other respects. So we were allowed to test out the acoustics after arrival in an actually very extended rehearsal (which was a bit of a difficulty after the concert the night before with a different program and still a bit of jet lag), but there was thankfully some time afterwards for lunch and changing clothes. This was followed by an unusually early concert by German standards at 3 pm. The program included Mozart's Piano Concerto in D minor and Anton Bruckner's 4th Symphony in its original version. This program is a special one on our trip, since we will perform it only this one time. For me personally, this is a bit of a pity - I really enjoy playing the Bruckner symphony, despite the typical tremolo passages; however, we will have a lot of fun with Schumann's 3rd symphony and the other works. The concert was a complete success for the audience and the orchestra, and I am very grateful to have been able to play again in Japan and in this special hall as part of the Gürzenich Orchestra. 

During the lavish final applause, Mr. Roth surprisingly interrupted the audience to give a short speech in Japanese. Freely translated, he praised the opportunity to perform in Japan again after the last difficult years and he hoped that our concert would be a start for international orchestras to return to Japan . The audience responded with much applause. For me personally, it was and is a pleasure to travel and perform with my colleagues and friends in the Gürzenich Orchestra.

Well, last but not least - around 6:30 p.m. we reached our hotel again and so the evening passed afterwards (without instruments) in small groups in the streets of Tokyo. 

Valentin Ungureanu,
1st violins

Day 2: »Muza Kawasaki Concert Hall« by Ulrike Schäfer

Our 1st concert day starts with a routine that is new to us. Before entering the breakfast room at the hotel, temperature measurement and quick tests await us in the elegant Japanese way. No more fumbling with test sticks. Instead: imagine something like a USB stick whose removable cap reveals a piece of sturdy fleece that will be kept in the mouth for 2 minutes and later displays the result.

Our rehearsal for our 1st concert in Kawasaki takes place in the morning, and this is really extraordinary, in another hall. Double work for our orchestra attendants, who have to set up twice today. But as always, everything is excellently prepared for us! Our conductor is full of energy and in a good mood and we already give everything in the rehearsal. Rehearsal on the back burner? No way!

It's 35°C outside, but it feels much warmer because of the high humidity. And so we are always surprised to see cyclists and even joggers wearing masks from the air-conditioned bus.

In the evening we arrive at the »Muza Kawasaki Concert Hall«. It doesn't look that big at first glance, but it can hold 2,000 people thanks to clever terraced seating arrangements. And hardly a seat was left empty! As our leader said after the acoustic rehearsal, our concert is one of the first concerts of a non-Japanese orchestra and of great, also symbolic significance: the return to "normality" after the last difficult years. It’s very easy to play in this hall, the softest pianissimo is possible and even a really loud fortissimo still sounds round. A warm applause greeted us, as well as François-Xavier, who immediately took us along with his energy. When the trumpet signal sounded in the »Leonoren Overture«, memories of our remarkable 1st »Fidelio« in Hong Kong in 1989 suddenly flashed through my mind. Right before the start of the concert in 1989 the news announced: »The wall is open!«. It felt a bit like that for me tonight too. Daishin Kashimoto was great in Saint-Saëns violin concerto: colorful, passionate and of course sparkling!!! Phenomenal! This could only be topped by our »Rheinische« by Robert Schumann, with which we always have a little bit of the Cologne Philharmonic with us, as the fanfares in the last movement are their well-known intermission signal. And with the encore, the overture from »Béatrice and Bénédict«, which was of course charmingly announced, we even had a bit of Cologne opera in our luggage.

Our conductor is not one to bathe excessively in applause. He often sends us off stage with his »we kiss and we go«, as he did today. But he definitely did not count on the enthusiastic Japanese audience.... He had to go out again alone, when we were already packing our instruments.

It was a great pleasure to start our tour with this concert in this hall! 

Ulrike Schäfer
Solo Cello

Day 1: »The time has come»by Natalie Chee

The time has come......

After finishing our season last week in the Kölner Philharmonie with three brilliant performances of Bruckner's 9th Symphony under the baton of our GMD François-Xavier Roth, we are now flying to Japan. We are playing two new programmes, which we have been rehearsing intensively for a week. Even after an exhausting season, working on them is very inspiring because François-Xavier gifts us with his enthusiasm and energy every day. We play fantastic works with great soloists. What more could you want? 

The preparations for the tour, like life in general, are still very much accompanied by Covid. Fortunately, the extensive PCR tests before departure have not jeopardized the project. But some colleagues unfortunately did "get it" on the last few meters - we will miss them very much on our trip.  

On the morning of departure, we received the news at 6 a.m. that the trains to Frankfurt airport had been canceled. Overnight, two coaches were organized to take us to the airport. It was and remains simply exciting! But I am very much looking forward to the tour, despite the difficult circumstances.

The Gürzenich Orchestra has not been to Asia since 2018, and anyway, we are the first German orchestra to travel to Japan since the Covid pandemic. What an honor!  It's my first big trip abroad with the orchestra, as I've only been with them since September 2019. Tours always bond orchestras together. It's a great way to get to know your colleagues better. You simply experience a special time together. Experiences like that strengthen the cohesion of an orchestra, even though tours are always enormously exhausting. The schedule is very tight and there is little time to see anything other than the hotel, airport or concert hall. Jet lag is also a factor. Reality is always very different from the romantic idea of a tour. But the enthusiasm of the audience and the exciting impressions of the foreign country make up for it all. What a privilege that we - also as ambassadors of the city of Cologne - are allowed to play our music in these faraway countries! We will give our best!

Natalie Chee
1.   Concert master

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