As I write this piece, I'm about to set off on a tour of Japan, singing six recitals in two weeks, a biennial event for me, and one I used to dread. My first visit was to sing the small role of Sellem the auctioneer in Stravinsky's Rake's Progress at Seiji Ozawa's Saito Kinen festival in Matsumoto in 1995. In a provincial Japanese town for five weeks, arriving in the middle of a large Sumo wrestling convention, underemployed, phoning home too expensive - I didn't embrace the experience but hunkered down in a faceless Hilton hotel clone, eating pizza and reading Jane Austen.
Each subsequent visit has been easier, and performing to Japanese audiences is one of the great pleasures of my professional life. First and foremost, they know and love the repertoire I sing. There's an extraordinary and superficially surprising fit between Japanese musical tastes and Lieder, or German art song as the Americans rather self-consciously call it. Audiences are concentrated, and know the words of the songs so well that they can often be seen (and remember, if you're ever in a Lieder audience, WE CAN SEE YOU) mouthing the words. The cultural fit is, of course, unsurprising. German Romanticism had an enormous impact on Japanese thinking at the turn of the 20th century, and an aesthetic of miniaturism is predisposed to appreciate an art-form one of whose primary exponents, Hugo Wolf, celebrated its smallness in song - Auch kleine Dinge können uns entzücken, small things can also delight us, is the opening song of his Italienisches Liederbuch, published in the 1890s.
Only a few years before I first went to Japan I was working in television, making business and politics programmes, and the Japanese economic miracle was the wonder of the world. We were desperate to churn out proposals for programmes about Japan, and the channels were desperate to commission them.