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Symphony Guest Conducts In Two Distinctive Realms

Travis Rivers Correspondent

The Spokane Symphony Orchestra

Guests: conductor Kazuyoshi Akiyama and flute soloist Marina Piccinini

Time and location: tonight, 8, Opera House

Tickets: $11-$25, available at the symphony ticket office, 624-1200, and G&B

Kazuyoshi Akiyama is a conductor twice over. On stage, he ranks as one of the world’s outstanding symphonic conductors. At home, he serves as conductor of a large and elaborate model railroad system with some 300 cars.

“I collect them wherever I go to conduct,” Akiyama says.

Akiyama shopped earlier this week for his Spokane car, but the real reason he came to to town was to be guest conductor of the Spokane Symphony in an Opera House concert tonight.

The program includes Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Third Symphony and Toru Takemitsu’s “Winter” together with Mozart’s Flute Concerto No. 1 and Francoise Borne’s “Carmen Fantasie” with soloist Marina Piccinini.

Akiyama avoids any pretentious parallels between his profession and his hobby. It might be tempting to compare the concentration necessary to control the complexities of orchestral music with that required by building and running an intricate model railroad.

“No, for me,” the conductor says, “the model railroad is only a recreation - a complete escape.”

Akiyama’s busy career needs an occasional escape.

In 1968, he became director of the Tokyo Symphony, a job he still holds. That same year, Seiji Ozawa invited Akiyama to become his assistant conductor with the Toronto Symphony. Since then, Akiyama has established ongoing relationships with a number of Japanese and North American orchestras. He has been music director of the American Symphony Orchestra and Vancouver and Syracuse symphonies. In addition to his work as music director of the Tokyo Symphony, he has been principal conductor of both the Osaka Philharmonic and Sapporo Symphony.

The 51-year-old conductor recently decreased his permanent positions by becoming conductor laureate in Vancouver and Syracuse and resigning as principal conductor in Sapporo. But Akiyama has instead assembled a formidable list of his guest engagements, including most major orchestras in the United States as well as European ensembles in Berlin, London, Cologne and Geneva.

Akiyama began his musical training at 3, studying piano with his mother, a well-known teacher in Tokyo.

“I don’t remember when or why I became interested in conducting,” he says, “but I wanted to be a conductor from a very early age.”

While still studying piano at Tokyo’s Toho School of Music, Akiyama began lessons with Japan’s most famous conducting teachers, Hideo Saito. “He was very strict,” Akiyama says. “Itzhak Perlman says that Saito reminded him of the strict ways of his violin teacher, Ivan Galamian. With Saito, you had to learn everything most thoroughly.”

Akiyama’s connection with Spokane began in 1989, when he hired young Brazilian conductor Fabio Mechetti as his assistant in Syracuse. Mechetti had been assistant conductor of the Spokane Symphony. In 1993, the same year he succeeded Akiyama as music director in Syracuse, Mechetti also became music director in Spokane and has since been eager to have Akiyama as a guest.

“Akiyama is one of the greatest musicians I’ve ever known,” Mechetti said in a 1993 interview, before his return to Spokane. “I’ve never encountered anyone with a deeper love for music or a more thorough knowledge of it, or anyone who could convey that love and knowledge to an orchestra better than Akiyama.”

Tonight’s soloist is Canadian flutist Marina Piccinini, who has performed several times with both Mechetti and Akiyama. She studied at the Juilliard School with former New York Philharmonic principal flute Julius Baker and with the Philharmonic’s present principal Jeanne Baxstresser, as well as with the Swiss virtuoso Aurele Niclolet.

James Schoepflin, a symphony member and clarinet professor at Washington State University, will present a preconcert talk on the evening’s music in the Opera House auditorium beginning at 7 p.m.

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