Asahina, Takashi


Asahina, Takashi
▪ 2002

      Japanese conductor (b. July 9, 1908, Tokyo, Japan—d. Dec. 29, 2001, Kobe, Japan), was credited with popularizing the Austro-German repertoire—especially Bruckner, Beethoven, and Mahler—in Japan and had one of the longest careers of any conductor, remaining professionally active virtually right up until his death at the age of 93. A self-taught violinist, Asahina abandoned a legal career and worked as a department-store clerk and a railroad engineer before apprenticing himself to Russian conductor Emmanuel Metter in the early 1930s. Asahina made his conducting debut in 1939 and founded the Kansai Symphony Orchestra (now the Osaka Philharmonic Orchestra) in 1947. He became widely known internationally after conducting the Berlin Philharmonic in 1956. Asahina conducted more than 60 orchestras in 15 countries and in 1994 was awarded the Japanese Order of Culture in recognition of his achievements in the arts.

▪ 1997

      Octogenarian maestro Takashi Asahina, widely credited with having popularized the compositions of Beethoven, Bruckner, and Mahler in Japan, considered giving up the baton in 1996 until a word of encouragement from Emperor Akihito changed his mind. The encounter took place in 1994 when Asahina received the Order of Culture, a decoration that acknowledged outstanding achievements in the arts. As Asahina jokingly explained it in his memoirs, he interpreted the emperor's advice to "hang in there" as an "imperial edict."

      Asahina was born in Tokyo on July 9, 1908. In early infancy he was adopted by his father's colleague, an engineer who specialized in the construction of railway tunnels. As a child Asahina suffered from asthma and lived for a time in a seashore area outside Tokyo. He took up soccer to strengthen his body and learned to play the violin. Asahina opted to study law at Kyoto University after failing a university entrance examination in Tokyo. He continued to play the violin in university extracurricular activities but quit soccer to make time for music.

      Following graduation in 1931, Asahina took the examination required of those seeking positions in the government. To his dismay, the one topic he was certain would not be asked, and which he had not studied, was asked. He turned in a blank paper, fully aware that his plans for a career in government would never be realized.

      Asahina landed a job with a private railway company that owned a chain of department stores. For two years he worked as a passenger train engineer and a department store clerk, and he then reentered the university (1933) to study philosophy. He also became seriously interested in music and studied the violin and conducting. Asahina looked up to Emmanuel Metter, a Russian who taught at Kyoto University from 1926 to 1938, as his orchestra-conducting mentor. Asahina made his professional debut as a conductor in 1939. After conducting the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra and the Harbin Symphony Orchestra in Japanese-occupied China during World War II, he established the Kansai Symphony Orchestra in Osaka in 1947 and became its regular conductor, the position he retained when the Osaka Philharmonic Orchestra replaced the Kansai orchestra in 1960. Since his European debut in Helsinki in 1953, he had conducted more than 60 orchestras in 15 countries. Because he saw himself as a conductor who received no formal education at a music school, Asahina humbly declined to take protégés under his wing. (TEIJI SHIMIZU)

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Universalium. 2010.

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