‘Dear Japan - With Love, 2011’
Students organize benefit concert for Japanese relief at Shepherd School ofMusic
Far from missing a beat in response to the worrisome crises back home, two resourceful Japanese students at Rice University’s Shepherd School of Music have joined forces and organized a benefit concert of classical music Monday evening to help those stricken in their homeland.
I’ve always been impressed by the high caliber of the Shepherd student musicians I’ve heard in recitals, but when Shepherd School Professor of Piano Jon Kimura Parker gave me the back story on these two students, I was really intrigued. Apparently, it takes more than a massive earthquake, a devastating tsunami and ongoing fallout from a huge nuclear crisis to throw these remarkably self-disciplined young musicians off key.
Instead of helplessly fretting over this triple dilemma, students Makiko Hirata and Maiko Sasaki came up with the idea for the concert and took action to carry out their ambitious plan with the help of many enthusiastic friends enlisted from within and outside their school community. Hirata is a doctoral student in piano performance, while Sasaki is a doctoral student in clarinet performance.
Hirata told me her family lives in Yokohama, near Tokyo, where they are safe, but “they still have scheduled 3-hour blackouts every day” and there are shortages of food and supplies. Speaking of the gargantuan blow of the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster, Hirata said, “I am afraid this will have very long-term effects on everybody” in Japan. She felt she had to do something to help, and shortly thereafter, she met Sasaki, who shared her concerns and yearned to be of service to their homeland in some special way.
She said she felt lucky that her parents, sister, and other relatives in Chiba were safe, although she was worried about food shortages, like milk and eggs. “My brother-in-law stood for two hours to get those,” she said.
Although she is very concerned about her family, she said she felt even worse for “the people in the critical area in northeast Japan,” where nuclear reactor radiation concerns remain at the top of world news headlines.
Hirata and Sasaki put the concert, “Dear Japan -- With Love, 2011,” together in two weeks. Each will perform during the program at 8 p.m. Monday in Stude Hall, located inside Alice Pratt Brown Hall at Rice.
Parker, an internationally renowned concert pianist as well as a Rice professor, will join members of the River Oaks Chamber Orchestra and Shepherd School students to perform Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 27 in B-flat Major, K. 595. Parker is featured as the concert’s main attraction, and I can tell you why, based on personal experience.
The last time I heard this virtuoso pianist, some time ago, he basically blew the musical socks off everybody in jammed Stude Hall – and that includes a lot of seasoned classical music concertgoers. (Not an easy crowd.) The standing ovation that followed the last note of his commanding performance of a challenging Brahms composition was immediate and thunderous. It wasn’t your basic “Houston Howdy” expression of appreciation for which Houston audiences are justly famous, I can assure you.
Parker was pleased to be invited, to take this opportunity to show his own support. “My own heritage is part Japanese, so I was especially happy to help them in this endeavor,” he said, describing the Mozart piece he will play as “elegant, introspective, and thoroughly beautiful.”
Other outstanding Shepherd faculty members, including Robert Moeling, piano; Kenneth Goldsmith, violin; James Dunham, viola; and Norman Fischer, cello, will participate in the first half of the program. It will feature J. S. Bach, “Bist du bei mir,” BWV 508; Debussy, Deux Romances; Rachmaninoff, Vocalise; Brahms Piano Quartet No. 3 in C Minor, Op. 60; and “Trio Webster” by Toshi Ichiyanagi.
No tickets are required for admission. Donations will be collected at the door before and after the concert, as well as during the intermission. Checks should be made payable to “Japanese Association of Greater Houston” with the notation “Japan relief” in the memo line. Funds collected will be sent to the Japanese Red Cross.
The presenters note that they “gratefully acknowledge the generous assistance of the Japanese Association of Greater Houston, River Oaks Chamber Orchestra, and Rice University in making this evening possible.”