Bridging cultures

Bridging cultures

Los Angeles Daiku and the Pasadena Master Chorale team up to present a Japanese holiday tradition

By Carl Kozlowski 01/03/2013

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For most fans of classical music, Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony is one of the greatest compositions of all time. But for Jeffrey Bernstein, the score is a means of bridging the cultures of Los Angeles and Japan, which he will be doing Saturday at the San Gabriel Mission Playhouse. 
 
Bernstein is a composer and conductor who is also the artistic director of the Los Angeles Daiku and the Pasadena Master Chorale (PMC). The Daiku is a 70-member chorus dedicated to performing various arrangements of Beethoven’s “Symphony No.9” in an average of five shows each year, with the biggest performed the first Saturday after New Year’s Day. 
 
This weekend’s performance could be the Daiku’s biggest event yet, as members not only team up with the PMC, but are joined by a dozen guest singers flying in from Japan for the occasion. In turn, 45 members of LA Daiku and 17 members of the PMC will travel with Bernstein to Neruto, Japan, in June to perform the Ninth Symphony together as well. 
 
“This is a big concert for us, and the most exciting part for me is that we’re building a bridge to a whole different group of people across the ocean with a love for Beethoven’s Ninth,” says Bernstein. “It’s a mania there, with hundreds of amateur performances of it in Japan each year, especially at the holidays. A lot of it is the excitement they bring to it. The piece’s goal was to bring all men together like brothers, and that’s what I love about it.” 
 
Daiku began during the First World War, after roughly 5,000 German prisoners of war were moved to Japan from China. There were dozens of POW camps throughout Japan and one, housing 1,200 prisoners, was in the city of Naruto. 
 
“Those prisoners were the lucky ones,” says Yasu Tanano, president of Los Angeles Daiku. “Bando, the general in charge of the camp at Naruto was a true humanitarian. ‘Even prisoners are the same as us,’ he would tell his guards. And, true to his word, Bando encouraged the prisoners to make use of their skills — whether they were engineers, architects, bakers, carpenters, printers or musicians. But the truly amazing thing is this: The general urged them to work not only within the camp but outside, in the town, so that the Germans could teach their skills to the people.”
 
The POWs were grateful for their dignified treatment and, when the war ended, they hit upon a unique way of expressing their appreciation. They mounted a production of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, arranged — fittingly, considering the population of the camp — for an all- male chorus.
 
The Japanese guards who heard the performance instantly loved the work and word of the Ninth spread rapidly. By the 1920s, Daiku was a staple of Japanese orchestras. Soon, Daiku aficionados also began to present huge amateur performances of the work, with sometimes as many as 10,000 singers participating. 
 
“It certainly puts the 600 singers I will lead in June in perspective,” says Bernstein. “When I think about the piece, I marvel at the way billions of people have been transformed and humanized by Beethoven’s expression of his most private and intimate thoughts through music. Magic happens. For one performance, all of us taking part — singers, musicians and audience — stand together just as Beethoven urged us to, as ‘brüders’or brothers.” 

The “Second Annual LA Daiku” is performed by Los Angeles Daiku and the Pasadena Master Chorale at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at the San Gabriel Mission Playhouse, 320 S. Mission Drive, San Gabriel. Tickets are $25 general admission, $20 for seniors and $15 for students. Visit  pmc1213beethoven.eventbrite.com before Saturday. Tickets will also be available at the door, beginning at 6 p.m. Call (626) 208-0009.

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