The Tokyo Syndrome
On my last trip to Japan, I noticed the Japanese fervor for foreign fashion. Everywhere I went there were more Armani, Versace and Ralph Lauren stores than I have ever seen. I began to wonder why the Japanese have this urge for Western style. I thought their traditional Japanese fashion was beautiful. Likewise, they have their own great indigenous culture: music, theater, and unbelievable architecture and gardens. In some ways, I think Tokyo is the most modern city in the world today. So why do the Japanese feel the need to import all the Western culture? Is it low self esteem? Even with all their accomplishments, they still seem to have a lack of self worth, something that might be called Tokyo Syndrome. After speaking to many Japanese people, I learned they feel that the West is where all the real high fashion comes from. But I do not agree. I think the Japanese have a great and beautiful sense of style that is evident in every aspect of their lives.
When I arrived back in New York, I walked across the street from my apartment and saw one of our great concerts halls. I looked at the program, and I noticed most of the entire season roster came from foreign cultures that are mostly over one hundred years old. Why do we feel the need to import all of our orchestral music from Europe? Do we suffer as well from our own type of Tokyo Syndrome? Are we that embarrassed of our own culture? Aren’t we capable of producing our own American orchestral culture? Or do we lack a sense of self-worth as well in the orchestral world? Is it possible to put a value on and appreciate our own American music, or will new American music be relegated to the ghettos of the concert world?
I notice that jazz musicians have developed their own sound and culture that is identifiable with New York. Rap musicians have done the same and have captured their own urban surroundings in their music. Why can’t we do it in the world of orchestral music? Is it the orchestras? I do not think so. They will play whatever the patrons would like to hear. So then is it us—the listeners?
Has the orchestral world gone into a complete metamorphosis, or are they only catering to a public that has no interest in hearing new and creative things? Concert halls have always been a place for the elite of society to gather and hear music. When New York was young, concertgoers listened to the music that they had heard back in their homelands of Europe. But even then orchestras knew that if you played the same thing year after year you would lose your audience. So why is it that today if you play the same music all the time it is totally acceptable? People have told me that it was the old management guard that introduced this type of orchestral management tone. Perhaps we have been so beaten down as a society that we no longer want to be challenged, but instead go to our concert halls to hear the familiar sounds that comfort us. But whatever the reason for this type of programming, it now must be broken.