This past weekend, on Friday 9th and Saturday 10th of June 2017 precisely, Joe Hisaishi performed three concerts in Paris based on the music of Hayao Miyazaki‘s films and named “Joe Hisaishi Symphonic Concert: Music from The Studio Ghibli films of Hayao Miyazaki“.
Gori Martínez and Felipe Múgica attended those concerts (Friday 9th and Saturday 10th respectively), and have collaborated with SoundTrackFest to bring you the following summary articles, narrating what was lived there.
Sensations of the concert began as soon as I left Palma de Mallorca (Spain) by plane, because right next to me were two guys no older than 20, Enrico and Aina, who were talking about the concert and of course, we were talked about their love for Miyazaki’s movies and Hisaishi’s music.
This was already telling me that probably the audience that would go to the concert would be more a public fan of the films than fan of the music, although it is true that they were authentic experts of the music, since they knew all the themes and release years of each of the films.
In the concert we found long queues to enter the immense hall of the Palace of Congresses of Paris, where we could see a public totally committed, even from before the beginning of the concert.
The room was full, with about 3,700 people in the audience, who were anxious even before listening to the first notes of the concert.
There were audiences of all ages and nationalities and we could see people from Japan, Germany, Sweden and many other countries, including of course Spain, from where a large group travelled just for the concert. Of course, it’s necessary to emphasize the Asian public due to its large number.
First the choirs came, then the orchestra and finally Joe Hisaishi who conducted the evening. The audience was already excited and nervous to witness the concert.
The program of the night was as follows:
The total duration of the concert was more than two and a half hours without intermission, but in spite of that it felt very short. All the themes in the program were performed and in the middle of the concert, several bands appeared in the central staircase and occupying all the corridors, with musicians of all ages (from kids to older people). Hisaishi was addressing and conducting facing the public, who was pleasantly surprised by this development.
During the evening two female singers performed various themes from the films, and several piano solos were performed by the composer himself, emphasizing a violin solo that gave a special touch to the long concert.
From the first pieces played one could appreciate the emotion in the younger audience, even with some people crying. Besides me, several girls were holding Totoro’s plush toys while music was played, and I’m sure they will remember this concert all their lives.
Aina and Enrico, the guys from Mallorca, told me on the return plane that they will come back to this kind of concerts if they’re celebrated again, and that made me think that this type of events, although sometimes may seem a bit crowded and popular, always help to spread the love for film music and to create new fans.
At the end of the concert there was a great round of applauses with the audience standing, which forced Hisaishi to play two additional themes. I had never seen so much applause at a concert or so much enthusiasm for a composer.
To point out some possible improvements, the images projected on the screens over the orchestra correctly accompanied the pieces at all times, although the video montages were not very good. Neither the images of the musicians playing that were intercalated were of great quality, and that’s why I think that the technical part was a little bit deficient. The translations from Japanese to French were not very good also.
Curiously, they only gave a bouquet of flowers to the composer at the end of the concert, who gave it to one of the singers, so the other singer got no flowers. Not important but curious detail.
As a positive aspect of the venue: the easy access to the Palace of Congresses of Paris via the metro, and the possibility of merchandising that was available to the public in the place (plush toys, discs, etc.).
As expected, there was no possibility of interacting with the composer, despite the high price paid for the tickets.
In summary, although the concert was very good, it was not however as spectacular as the concerts of the Krakow Film Music Festival (Krakow FMF) or even the festival of Tenerife (FIMUCITÉ).
Only in a country like France can you conceive a concert like this. France is a country of great fondness for manga and anime and huge devotee of director Hayao Miyazaki and by extension, of the soundtracks of the equally admired Joe Hisaishi. Only here you can organize three concerts dedicated to the music of the films of Miyazaki, getting an absolute full house (in the Palace of Congresses of Paris, with capacity for 3,723 people) and with a very very high resale prices of the tickets. And only in France you can see a concert of Joe Hisaishi in which, as soon as the composer gets on stage, the whole audience stands up to applaud him and dedicates a long ovation even without having started to play a single note (standing ovation which would become something usual during the show).
Also only in France is possible to organize a concert of this size, in which not only we had Hisaishi conducting an orchestra, but also we had two choruses (one adult and one with kids, entirely feminine), two solo singers (a soprano and a singer with a higher pitch) and a band. All this gathered to perform a selection of the best music composed by Hisaishi for the films of Miyazaki and turn the concert into an event of those that you know that can only be witnessed once in a lifetime.
The performance consisted of a selection of suites from each of Miyazaki’s films, from Nausicaa to The Wind Rises. The concert, once concluded, happened to be a version on a smaller scale of the mythical concert held at Budokan Stadium in Tokyo, for the 25th anniversary of Ghibli Studio, with some modifications in the repertoire, of course, since The wind rises was not made when that concert took place. In case anyone has not seen or does not know this spectacular and massive concert, it is available on Youtube in the following link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eY1XtWyKlJA
The orchestra was conducted by Hisaishi himself from beginning to end, who from time to time stepped down from the stage to sit at the piano to play and show his talent as an excellent pianist. The music was accompanied by screenings of scenes from Ghibli’s films on a large screen over the stage, alternating with live performances by either the musicians of the orchestra, or Hisaishi himself with the baton (there were several cameras distributed on stage and across the Palace for the filming).
The music began with the suites of Nausicaa and Princess Mononoke in their symphonic versions. For me in particular, these two selections, with the orchestra, choir and solo singers, gave me goosebumps more than once. In Nausicaa there was singer Mai Fujisawa, in a high-pitched voice, to sing the song that in the original soundtrack was sang by Hisaishi’s daughter. For Princess Mononoke, soprano Hélène Bernardy appeared on stage (singing in Japanese) giving her voice to the main theme of the soundtrack. While she was singing, French subtitles appeared in the screen.
The concert continued with two delightful suites of Kiki’s Delivery Service and The Wind Rises, for which a mandolin player was added, giving an unmistakable Italian sound to the musical selection. The next piece in the repertoire was Ponyo on the cliff by the sea with a splendid and extensive suite, which I consider is one of the best compositions of Hisaishi for Miyazaki. Wonderful music in which the soprano Hélène Bernardy returned to put her voice in the theme Mother Sea and that closed with the delicious song of Ponyo, performed by the choir, charming and catchy, and that left the public smiling.
This could be the end of the first part, but in fact it wasn’t because there was really no intermission, as it was an uninterrupted two hour long concert. At this moment was when the orchestra left the stage to take a break. Hisaishi turned his back and faced looking into the audience, and when you were wondering what the hell was going to happen next, came the big surprise of the night, when an interminable band of music began to walk through the corridors of the hall among the audience, and began to play the music of Laputa: Castle in the Sky. The music (played basically by wind instruments and percussions) was this way located around the audience and with the children’s choir singing at the front, produced an amazing feeling of being surrounded and being in the middle of the music. What an experience! And without a doubt the highest point of the concert.
After this experience, the room changed into a Night Club to perform Porco Rosso, since the stage was left only with Hisaishi to play the piano, and a selection of brass instruments, that gave a very suggestive Noir ambience to the performance with the instrumentation and the melancholy tone of the music. Another great moment.
Next Howl’s moving castle came, with its main theme with waltz reminiscences in some of its variations. After this, Spirited Away was played, where Hisaishi returned to sit at the piano to play the main theme, and where he emphasized the version sung by Mai Fujisawa of the piece Reprise. To close the program, inevitably, My neighbor Totoro, with a compilation of the best moments of the soundtrack, leaving for the end the famous song of Totoro performed by the choir that left the public singing and shaking their heads to the sound of music.
After the official program of the concert, it was time for the encores. Fortunately, as I wanted to be surprised, I did not remember which encores Hisaishi played at the Budokan concert, and were exactly the same: Madness, a fast piece from Porco Rosso (which served as an excuse for the composer to sit down at the piano again) and the beautiful Ashitaka and San theme of Princess Mononoke; which were an excellent finishing touch for the concert.
It is necessary to recognize the great effort Hisaishi did in these three concerts: two complete hours of concert, without intermission (unlike the orchestra that could leave and rest some time), conducting the orchestra and playing the piano; and the concert that I witnessed was the second concert of the day! A great show, in every way: by the extraordinary musical selection, by the impeccable interpretation in charge of the Orchestra and Choir Lamoureux; by the girls’ chorus, the vocalists and Hisaishi himself. And with an audience totally committed and applauding with standing ovations again and again. A unique and unrepeatable event that had to be lived.
And as a final anecdote, comment that a screen appeared in which a text written by Miyazaki was shown, in Japanese and translated into French, in which he asked the composer to compose the music for his new movie!