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Press From Malaysia

       The article below was written for a new website in San Francisco as part of a promotion for my tour in Malaysia in 2012.


To celebrate a bond forged 30 years ago, two countries will meet on stage through music and song.

HOW a public policy endures the test of time often says a look about its success and people’s acceptance of the plan.

The Look East Policy, first drawn up to develop bilateral relations between Malaysia and Japan, and foster better understanding of the cultures of both countries, is still going strong three decades down the road.

The Cattleya Choir under the Japan Club of Kuala Lumpur comprises 35 Japanese-speaking women who have been trained by Dr Takahisa Ota since 2002.

As such, an upcoming concert organised by The Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre (KLPac) to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the plan, looks set to be a show peppered with triumphant sentiments.

The title of the event is a mouthful – KLPac Orchestra Look East! Celebrating 30 Years – but it’s indicative of the many vibrant performances and orchestral pieces on the programme.

The three-day concert will feature items by the all-female, Japanese-speaking Cattleya Choir, lyric coloratura soprano Yoon Jeong Hwang, members of the Japanese Traditional Dance and Music Group of the Japan Club in Kuala Lumpur and the KLPac orchestra.

Music brings people together, says Dr Ota.

Directed by the orchestra’s resident conductor Dr Takahisa Ota, the concert will be a testament to excellence, exchange and respect between the two countries.

“This is a very special concert for me. Malaysia has been my home for many years now and it is a great pleasure to be working with such fine Malaysians as Datuk Faridah and Joe Hasham, who have become dear friends,” says Dr Ota.

This is the first time he’ll be conducting the KLPac Orchestra, after taking over the baton in January this year, following the death of resident conductor Brian Tan Wee Thean last October.

Dr Ota, who embodies the spirit of the Look East Policy, has been involved in the Malaysian performing arts scene for many years. During his tenure with the National Symphony Orchestra in 1993, he was very invested in training and nurturing local musicians.

Now, as resident conductor of KLPac’s string ensemble and orchestra, he aspires to further develop the classical music scene here.

While the policy calls for Malaysians to emulate the qualities of the Japanese, Dr Ota believes there’s a thing or two the Japanese can pick up from the people here.

“The musicians in Malaysia are very passionate about their music. When they play, they pour their heart and soul into their performance.

“Malaysia is also blessed with a very rich culture. I’m in awe of the Malaysian gamelan, which has its own distinct identity compared to its Indonesian counterpart,” says Dr Ota, who lists P. Ramlee’s Getaran Jiwa as one of his favourite local songs.

The celebration of culture and heritage is set to take centre stage during the Look East! concert, and this is evident from the Japanese folk music and dance performances lined up.

Some of the traditional pieces include the songs Otemoyan and Kisobushi, and the orchestral piece, Rhapsody For Orchestra, by Yuzo Toyama.

With the selection of these items, Dr Ota hopes to share the beauty of his country and transport the audience to the Land of the Rising Sun.

Kisobushi, which will be performed by the Cattleya Choir, tells the story of the people from the Koso District of Nagano Prefecture and its lush landscape.

Rhapsody For Orchestra, arguably one of the better known Japanese orchestral pieces, is a short suite based on four Japanese folk tunes. Drenched in commercial appeal and a slick arrangement, it is a perennial favourite with international symphony audiences.

“There’s really no other suitable piece to play,” Dr Ota says with a chuckle.

For a concert that will predominantly blend Japanese and Malaysian music styles, it’s interesting that a Korean coloratura soprano will take to the stage too.

“Yoon Jeong Hwang holds a special place in the hearts of many Japanese. She performed for a concert to support the cities affected by the tsunami and earthquake in Japan in 2011, and her kindness touched us all. I’m honoured to have her perform in the concert,” he shares.

Dr Ota views music as a component which unifies people regardless of their background, and that’s what he wants to show with the Look East! concert.

“I believe that music brings people together, and I am happy to share my experiences with all my Malaysian friends and the orchestra.”

The KLPac Orchestra Look East! will be held at Pentas 1, the Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre, from today till Sunday. Tickets at RM50 and RM30, and RM20 (for students, the disabled and TAS card members) are available at the office (tel: 03-40979000).

© YoonJeong Hwang Ball 2015