Iran from Viewpoint of a Japanese Pianist
Noriko Ogawa, the Japanese pianist traveled to Iran last month on an invitation extended to her by the Japanese Embassy in Tehran. During her stay, she performed piano pieces in Iranian cities of Tehran and Shiraz. What follows is a part of her account of the Iran trip which she has sent to the BBC.
I recently had the chance to travel to Iran; a country whose cultural and political conditions are very much different from where I am currently living, that is, Britain. I went to Iran on the occasion of the Japan Culture Week [which was held in Tehran on October 22-29, 2013] in late October and during my stay, I could take part in performance of three classical music concerts. The concerts had been organized on the initiative of the Japan Embassy in Tehran in cooperation with Japan Foundation in London.
Although relations between Iran and Japan have been always normal and friendly, however, for a Japanese like me, who is living in London, part of my opinion about that country had been shaped by information that is available in Britain.
I knew that the embassies of Iran and Britain had been closed in the two countries. Diplomatic relations between the two countries have gone sour in recent years and the information provided about Iran by the British and other Western media outlets is such that it tends to make people scared of Iran, or at least, make them reluctant about traveling there.
I should confess that before my trip to Iran, I really didn’t know where I was traveling to. However, my general feeling about the trip and the visit to Iran was positive.
When standing in line to travel to Tehran at the London airport and later, when I was moving toward the plane, my instinctual positive feeling about the trip to Iran became gradually stronger. Among Iran passengers, I saw a great number of young men and women whose appearance and behavior was no different from other people I was used to see in London.
Now, when I go over my memories of that exceptional trip after having stayed in Iran for a few days, I see that the most prominent part of those memories is warm and honest treatment as well as the hospitality of the Iranian people. Everybody there hails you with a polite smile. I, having been born in a country where respectful treatment of others is of high importance, was in a good position to appreciate the respectful treatment of the Iranian people.
What I saw from the Iranian people during my short trip [to that country] was that they are always serene, well-mannered, and ready to offer all kinds of assistance and cooperation. I wondered why I didn’t know anything about the good and well-mannered people of Iran, who are very cultured and take pride in their culture and arts, before this trip?
On my first day in Tehran, I started with rehearsal of musical pieces with the philharmonic orchestra of Tehran. The piece we worked on was part of Mozart Piano Concerto No. 9. From the beginning of our rehearsal, it was quite evident that Tehran Philharmonic Orchestra and its conductor, Arash Gouran, are very serious and professional. Their focus and attention in playing that piece in the best and the most beautiful manner caused me to sit behind my piano very seriously and start playing with great enthusiasm.
On the evening of the same day, the inaugural ceremony of Japan Culture Week was held at Niavaran Cultural Complex. After some speeches and performances of beautiful pieces of Iranian traditional music, it was my turn to perform a piano recital for a full hour.
This was my first performance in Iran which was watched by about 500 enthusiastic spectators. Although I had carefully practiced how to wear a headscarf, throughout my performance, I was concerned lest my headscarf would slide back and my hijab become disorganized.
We set off for [the southern Iranian city of] Shiraz early in the morning. The program was held at Ehsan Hall, which is a cultural, arts, and educational complex. Most of the 500 people who had been invited to watch the program had something to do with music one way or another. This time, however, my hijab did not cause me trouble because one of the Japanese ladies who accompanied us showed me how to wear my headscarf correctly.
After the program was carried out in the presence of an enthusiastic audience, we flew back to Tehran at the evening of the same day. We reached our residence in Tehran at 2 a.m. I was very tired, but very happy as well because all our programs were carried out successfully.
The morning of the third day was spent on new rehearsal and a number of interviews. We had a couple of hours before the concert began during which we could see the interesting hustle and bustle of Tehran downtown. Before the concert started, I practiced for two hours with the big B sendorfer piano of the concert to get used to this excellent and unique instrument of Tehran Philharmonic Orchestra.
The concert started at nine o’clock at Vahdat Hall and I was really very excited to see the hall packed with the audience. We performed Mozart Piano Concerto No. 9 for an audience of about 1,000 culture loving people and music enthusiasts, who had come together at the Vahdat Hall. Following the first performance, which was very lively, it was turn for performing the second piece which was somehow serious and more difficult. When performing this piece something very interesting took place on the stage.
When playing the serious, and to some extent saddening, melody of this piece using ti note in minor key, a profound connection gradually developed among Arash Gouran, who was conducting the orchestra, members of the orchestra, and I. It seemed that we were talking to one another from the bottom of our hearts and had complete trust in our playing skill and what we were doing. Had I experienced such a feeling on any other occasion during a performance before that night? I can honestly say that this was the first time that I had that feeling.
Even now, reflecting back on those moments, I can say with confidence that the profound connection that developed when performing music during those moments had overshadowed everything else. Violins were crying in response to my piano and their divine sound stirred some kind of profound and unparalleled sense of unity and unanimity in me.
We were showing our friendship and ties using the language of music, which transcended all the existing cultural, political and religious frontiers. During those sublime and unique moments, the joint sound of music went beyond all kinds of obstacles and borders and reminded us of the most basic point which is a common denominator among all humans. I am honored to have experienced such precious moments and, perhaps, played a part in creating them.
It is quite ordinary for me to travel to various countries to perform music and as soon as a trip is over I think about the next one and performing music in another destination. However, after getting back from Iran, there was a big difference compared with my past performances in that I cannot easily forget the experience and memories of this trip.
As soon as our plane took off the airport in Tehran, I tried to focus on a piece of music for my next concert, but it was to no avail.
The heavy and saddening piece of Mozart Piano Concerto No. 9 keeps playing in my ears and I cannot control my tears. The only thing I could do is to lean against a chair, become immersed in memories of my trip to Iran, and review the unique moments that I had experienced in my trip.
Born in Kawasaki in 1962, Noriko Ogawa is a Japanese classical pianist. She studied at the Tokyo College of Music from 1977 to 1980, and then continued her studies at the Juilliard School in New York from 1981 to 1985.
Among her most notable achievements are coming second in a Japanese music competition in 1984. A few years later, she gained third prize in the 1987 Leeds International Piano Competition.
At present, she teaches music at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London. In Japan, Ogawa acts as artistic advisor to the MUZA Kawasaki Symphony Hall in her hometown. In 1999, the Japanese Ministry of Education awarded her their Art Prize in recognition of her outstanding contribution to the cultural profile of Japan throughout the world and she has also been awarded the Okura Prize for her outstanding contribution to music in Japan. As a writer, Ogawa has completed her first book (published in Japan) and is currently working on a Japanese translation of Susan Tomes’ book, Out of Silence – a pianist’s yearbook.
She traveled to Iran in late October 2013, on an invitation from the Japan Embassy in Tehran and took part in three musical performances in the cities of Tehran and Shiraz.