REVIEW POTPOURRI – Conductor: Takashi Asahina

Takashi Asahina

Peter Catesby Peter Cates

Takashi Asahina

Japanese conductor Takashi Asahina (1908-2001) achieved renown in his native country throughout most of his lifetime but was little known elsewhere until the early 1990s when he was 85.

I found out the general details during a phone interview with former Chicago Symphony manager Henry Fogel. He was visiting friends in Japan and invited to attend a symphony concert. He told of witnessing an elderly gentleman hobbling to the podium and figuring that the concert would be nothing special.

He quickly found out that this presumption was erroneous. The scheduled work was the Alpine Symphony of Richard Strauss, a piece demanding not only the usual 100 musicians, but also extra brass and percussion including a wind machine, and an organ.

And the moment the elderly gentleman lifted his baton, sheer power and magic occurred. Henry told of being so unexpectedly stunned by an unknown conductor that he went to a record store in Tokyo and spent $250 or more on every recording of Asahina that was in shock.

Daniel Barenboim

Upon his return to Chicago, he told then- Music Director Daniel Barenboim of his experience and suggested Asahina for a guest conducting gig; to which Barenboim smiled skeptically. Pulling out a CD of one of the Bruckner Symphonies, he then pleaded with that Maestro to just listen for 20 minutes.

After 10 minutes, Barenboim told Henry to engage Asahina for three weeks of guest appearances. Those concerts were a hit with orchestra players and audiences.

A CD of Mahler’s hyper intense and gorgeous 6th Symphony features Asahina conducting the Osaka Philhar­monic, one of several orchestras he regularly appeared with in Japan. He gave a performance that built from beginning to end with an astute balancing of rhythm, dynamics and subtlety of detail.

At the Symphony’s first performance during the early 1900s, the composer was a nervous wreck before it began, wringing his hands and crying like a baby.

YouTubes abound of Asahina’s broadcasts and are well worth exploring.


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