"You smoke too much," said National Symphony conductor Mstislav Rostropovich, handing an electronic cigarette lighter to National Symphony president Martin Feinstein, "but this will help you to smoke more."
The scene was a surprise party for the 59th birthday of Feinstein (who seemed not at all surprised) Saturday night in the Imperial Suite of the Nagoya Miyako Hotel, where the National Symphony Orchestra is sharing the status of honored guest with a Soviet volleyball team and a rock group called White Snake.
After opening presents -- which ranged from ancient silk cloth and a hard-to-get cassette tape recorder to a bottle of Scotch and Japanese playing cards -- Feinstein listened critically while the 25 guests sang "Happy Birthday to you." He then blew out the candles (about a dozen of them) on the cake, managing it in one breath with an assist from Rostropovich on the last candle.
"This is so lovely," Feinstein said. "I will have to plan a National Symphony tours for each of my birthdays."
The party followed a concert in the Shimin Kaikan concert hall of this Japanese seaport (famous as the center of Japan's pearl-fishing industry and particularly for the "cormorant" fishers who use lashed, trained birds to catch fish. The concert had ended in explosive "bravos" from the audience and two encores after the orchestra's impassioned performance of Tchaikovsky's Fourth Symphony. The "bravos" were even louder and more numerous than those given earlier in Osaka, which had amazed tour manager Hiroshi Nishio. "Japanese audiences always applaud politely," Nishio said, "but I have never heard them shout 'bravo.'"
Audience response has also surprised the orchestra. At one concert in Osaka, "Stars and Stipes Forever" was played as an encore, and after a few bars the audience began clapping along in rhythm. "They booed while we were playing that in Mexico," said a member of the orchestra after the concert.
Audiences for the first five concerts in Japan have ranged in size from about 2,000 to 2,500 at ticket prices that would shock American concert-goers. aTickets for the gala opening of the Osaka festival cost 5,000 yen (about $20) for seats in the rear balcony, and up to 15,000 yen ($60) for a box seat. Later festival performances were 1,000 yen ($4) less, and tickets in Nagoya ranged from 4,000 to 10,000 yen ($16 to $40) with a student-discount rate of 3,000 yen ($12). Students, some carrying violin cases, have been a large part of audiences in both cities, and after each concert there have been long lines to autograph-hunters at the stage door, most waiting for Rostropovich, who gives autographs with his customary good cheer,but many trying to get autographs from other orchestra members.
Some fans came for more than autographs. One young Japanese percussionist, for example, waited aftera performance to talk to tympanist Fred Begun, although he could speak no English. After some negotiating through an interpreter and a bit of red tape with the concert hall management, Begun managed to have a workout with him on the stage of an empty concert hall. "We could only communicate in musical terms, like 'pianissimo' and in sign language, but we had a very good session. The kid is only beginning on tympani, but he has a promising technique," said Begun.
Members of the orchestra have been enthusiastic about Japan in what is, for most of them, a first encounter. They have used their free time energetically, sight-seeing not only in the cities where they have played but in such nearby tourist attractons as Nora and Kyoto, sampling japanese food or looking for piza (which can be had in a good but slightly exotic version) or McDonald's hamburgers, Colonel Sanders fried chicken or Baskin-Robbins ice cream, all of which are available in familiar form under their standard trademarks.
The orchestra swarmed like locusts through the radio stores of Osaka after hearing the Sony "soundabout," a pocket-size cassette recorder that produces an extraordinary richness of sound through its special headphones. The demand was high and the machine is in such short supply that within a few days every radio store clerk in Osaka had learned at least two words of English: "Sold out."
A soundabout was one of the presents given to Feinstein at his birthday party. Rostropovich, presenting it, said that it was given "in the name of the National Symphony, so that the sound of the symphony will be in your ears more than the Washington opera." Feinstein, who is the chief executive of the opera as well as the Symphony, then recalled an incident that had happened in Washington: "On the day before our departure, after six hours of rehearsal, Slava came to me and said, 'I want to use your office for 10 minutes.' I didn't understand why, because he has an office of his own, but he kicked me out and I went. When I came back, about nine minutes later, he had divided the office down the middle, marking the two halves with black tape on the floor, walls and ceiling. He had put all the National Symphony material on one side and all the opera material on the other, and he told me, 'too much opera and ballet."
Whenever position it has in Feinstein's mind, the orchestra enjoyed top billing -- above the Russian volleyball players and White Snake -- on the "Welcome to Nagoya" sign outside the hotel. In the lobby, White Snake fans abounded, easily detectable by their groupie costumes, which resemble American or English groupie costumes. Volleyball or symphony fans in the lobby tended to blend into the crowd, but not the Russian volleyball players. "You can tell them easily because they're all about 7-feet tall," said harpist Dotian Carter, who enjoyed teasing the Russian athletes. "You can harrass them just by taking their pictures," she explained. "They hate it, and they refuse to smile." Perhaps one reason the Russian men refused to smile was because Carter asked them whether they were playing a Japanese womens' teams.
The Japanese may be even more enthusiastic about volleyball than they are about rock or classical music. Rostropovich, nostalgic for things Russians if not for things Soviet, tried to get tickets for the game, found it was sold out, and finally arranged for a seat in the press box. "The KGB men with the team will really be surprised when they look in the press box and see that one of the reporters looks like Rostropovich," a symphony staff member said.
Rostropovich is so interested in Russians visiting Japan that he has suggested the 1980 Olympics should be held in Japan rather than Moscow. Why he would like to see that happen may be partly explained by a joke he told at lunch recently.
"You know what is definiation of Moscow String Quartet?" he asked. "Is Moscow Philharmonic after last Western tour."