Bridging USA & JAPAN: Ode to Japanese Joy at Disney Hall

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Striving for international joy and harmony through music, this summer Japanese and Japanese-American communities unite with Americans to share in a glorious musical experience. The Bridging USA and Japan Concert, featuring Beethoven’s magnificent 9th Symphony, is being staged on Friday evening at the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Downtown Los Angeles.


An almost 400 strong chorus of music lovers have been rehearsing since last November, led by conductor David Benoit. Photo: Julian Ely

According to their press release, Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” is performed in Japan in December more frequently than anywhere else in the world, combined, for the entire year. The lyrics and music salute the perseverance with which humans unify to meet the struggles and hardships of life.

Also according to their press release, this tradition began when Japanese music university students sang the piece at their farewell parties and then again when they returned. The rallying of large groups to perform “Ode to Joy” gained momentum during the 20th Century. To this day choral groups unite in multitudes to revel in the exuberance of the message, the ecstasy and power of the music, and the friendship of other singers from all walks of life.

Drawing on this uplifting tradition, Japan Business Association of Southern California has organized a special concert to build bridges of mutual understanding between Japanese and Americans. Friday’s concert also commemorates the 2009 centennial of the founding of the Japan-America Society of Southern California.

Mr. Yasuyoshi Suzuki, the President of JBA, says he was “determined to make it happen,” organizing the group of volunteer – mostly amateur – singers and raising the necessary funds to stage the concert in grand style.

An almost 400 strong chorus of music lovers have been rehearsing since last November, led by conductor David Benoit. Surprisingly, Benoit has a background in Jazz, and he claims this was an incredible opportunity for him. Benoit drew a comparison between classical and jazz music, observing, “Beethoven broke so many rules with this piece. To say it is a lot of music is an understatement.”


Consul General of Japan Junichi Ihara sings tenor in the choir. Photo: Julian Ely

Consul General of Japan Junichi Ihara recently hosted a special preview of the upcoming concert with Maestro Benoit and members of the Bridging USA and Japan Choir. We were treated to a sampling of the pieces by soprano soloist Keiko Takeshita and pianist Hiroshi Taguchi.

Consul General Ihara, who is singing tenor in the choir, shared his experiences, saying, “I have spent the past eight months rehearsing the “Ode to Joy” with the choir.  It has been an incredibly rewarding experience.”

He went on to say how much he has enjoyed being a part of the choir, “The music is fantastic.  It has also been satisfying to see our choir make progress, and to enjoy the camaraderie amongst fellow choir members through our weekly rehearsals.  If the mission of the Concert was to enhance relations among the varied members of the greater Southern California community through the joy of music, I would say it has been a tremendous success, even before it has taken to the stage.”

Consul General Ihara lamented the fact that he could only attend about a third of the rehearsals and joked that when he sang with the choir he “felt sorry for Beethoven.”

Beethoven’s entire 9th Symphony, of which the rousing choral “Ode to Joy” will celebrate the long history of U.S.-Japan friendship in the region, promises to inspire and strengthen this relationship.  The evening will also feature works by Gershwin, Fauré and Bernstein. Featured soloists will be Keiko Takeshita, Silvia Vasquez, Katsumi Narita, and Jinyoung Jang who will perform along with the choir.

Bridging USA and Japan Concert, Walt Disney Concert Hall, Los Angeles Friday July 10, 8:00 pm
Performers: Bridging USA and Japan Choir and the acclaimed Asia America Symphony, David Benoit, Conductor.

Beethoven: “Symphony No. 9 in D-minor, Opus 125”
Bernstein: “Overture from Candide”
Mozart: “Overture from the Marriage of Figaro”
Fauré: “Pavanne”
Gershwin: “Japanese”

Tickets: $100, $75, $50 and $25.

Tickets are available through:
Ticketmaster (213) 365-3500 or
Walt Disney Concert Hall/L.A. Music Center Ticket Window

Pauline Adamek is a Hollywood-based film, theater, and food critic who writes for FilmInk Australia, the Los Angeles Daily News and the Sun Community Newspapers, as well as various websites under the “nom du net” Max Million. Contact her at

About Karen Young

Karen Young is the founder of My Daily Find.