Japanese conductor Eiji Oue turned down the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra 10 years ago, but has agreed to lead it on an international tour this month to celebrate its 103rd anniversary.
Ahead of the concert at the Esplanade Concert Hall on Thursday, he reveals that what clinched the deal this time was the chance to return to Singapore and play with local music students at the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory.
The Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra will rehearse Mahler's Symphony No. 5 with conservatory students tomorrow at the Conservatory Concert Hall.
"I insisted that we play at the conservatory," he says in English during a Skype interview from the orchestra's office in Tokyo. "Singapore is one of the most important places for me on this tour. I'm so much looking forward to seeing the students, to not teach, but simply share music with them."
Oue, 56, led the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory Orchestra on April 18 last year in a performance including music by Profokiev, Stravinsky and Oue's late mentor Leonard Bernstein. He says he was impressed by the students' passion for music as well as the conservatory facilities.
He replaces the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra's chief conductor Dan Ettinger on this world tour.
As conductor laureate of the Osaka Philharmonic Orchestra, he refused to lead the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra a decade ago, citing a clash of interests. He chose instead to focus on full-time appointments overseas with ensembles such as the Minnesota Orchestra in the United States and Germany's NDR Radio Philharmonic Orchestra Hannover.
His decision then raised eyebrows, given the Tokyo Philharmonic's status as Japan's oldest orchestra. It is also among the country's most prolific, performing up to 300 times a year and reaching an audience of 250,000.