Title means "Quietness", "Comfortable Sound" and "Excellent Acoustics"

Nagata Acoustics News 97-5iNo.113j
Issued : May 25, 1997

Kuse Espace Hall Opens "in concert" with Duo Miki

by Yasuhisa Toyota

Kuse Espace Hall (concert mode)
Last month, on April 1, a new 500-seat multipurpose hall opened in the town of Kuse. Kuse has a population of about 10,000 people and is located in the northern part of Okayama Prefecture, to the west of the more famous Kyoto/Osaka area. Strictly speaking, the new Kuse Espace Hall is a multipurpose hall. However, special attention was given to providing superior acoustical characteristics for classical music performances through the use of a movable proscenium design. We designed the acoustical reflection panels so that when they are moved into place, the hall becomes a single, shoebox-shaped space with a stage, standard rows of seating for the audience, and concert hall acoustics.

The first time I visited Kuse was to begin discussions for the Espace Hall project. Immediately, the town surprised me. By Japanese standards, it is a town of modest size, yet it had established and was operating its own cable TV network. In 1985, Kuse proclaimed that it would create a "Town of Culture," and as one facet of its cultural and media promotion activities, the town set forth to establish a municipally-run cable TV operation. In 1993, TV Kuse Broadcasting was established, followed by trial on-air runs in 1994, and the commencement of regular programming in 1995. TV Kuse Broadcasting is an outstanding success and has permeated the entire life of Kuse. More than 80% of the town's residents are now paying members of the service and consider it an indispensable source of information on local news and events.

When Kuse further decided to expand the town's vision further and build a hall, the same energy and enthusiasm that Kuse was putting into its cable TV broadcasting immediately flowed into the Kuse Espace Hall project. (Kuse chose the name "Espace," because of this French word's multiple meanings of "place," "space," and even "outer space.") During the three years that the hall was being designed and under construction, the town put together a full calendar of musical performances, bringing to Kuse the Japanese drum virtuoso group Kodo, the Vienna Orpheus Piano Trio, and the Shigeharu Mukai Special Jazz Concert, as well as producing a Kuse Folk Entertainment "Caravan" show and planning lectures, film festivals, CD listening clubs, and other cultural events. The performances and events were held in the town's existing gymnasium, conference facilities, and drive-in theater. Through the repeated success of these pre-hall performances and events, Kuse established positive word-of-mouth and an atmosphere of anticipation, excitement, and raison d'etre for Espace Hall.

Typically, the people who are involved in preparations for the opening of a new hall focus solely on the performances and events that will take place for a limited period of time immediately following completion of the hall's physical construction work, as if the performances and events are the final stage of the construction process itself. All too often, when the inaugural performances and events are over, the hall's usage decreases dramatically and no-one assumes responsibility for ongoing planning of performances. While a committee may initially be formed to coincide with the planning of a new hall's inauguration, these planning committees also need to consider the larger objective of becoming an integral part of the cultural life of the community where the hall is located. What makes Kuse so special is the community's participation and avid response to the performances and events that were planned and staged prior to the opening of the new hall. Ordinarily, it is nearly impossible to draw together an audience before a new hall is opened, and the people who plan an inaugural program make this situation worse by scheduling performances and events to coincide exclusively with a new hall's inaugural period. While Kuse certainly acknowledged the need to prioritize Espace Hall's inauguration in scheduling performances this spring, when they were able to schedule a performance before the hall's opening they went ahead and did it. I asked them about their priorities and they replied that "it would be a waste of the facilities we already have if we didn't take advantage of them when we have the opportunity" What a sensible approach! The people who run TV Kuse Broadcasting, the Espace Hall project, and the programming of performances and events in Kuse represent a happy departure from the bureaucratic stereotypes I have encountered elsewhere. Now that the hall is open, I am truly confident that the town of Kuse will ensure that Espace Hall continues as a vibrant hub in the cultural life of this true Town of Culture.

Duo Miki (Mr. & Mrs. Miki)
Given Kuse's enlightened approach to arts programming, its invitation to Duo Miki's pianist to take on a leadership role in planning Espace Hall's opening strikes me as perfectly true to character. Duo Miki is the name of the husband-and-wife piano and violin duo based in Hiroshima Prefecture's Fukuyama City. The husband, Kenji Miki, is the pianist, and his wife, Toshie Miki plays the violin. This highly talented couple perform throughout Japan wherever they are asked to go. Their goal is to bring the joy of classical music to as many people as possible and, to achieve this end, they do not limit their performances to fancy or famous concert halls, but also perform at schools, homes for the aged, local Buddhist temples, post offices, or just about any place where people wish to gather to hear them. Of course, Duo Miki's repertoire includes classical music standards such as Mozart and Beethoven, but their true forte is a large repertoire of shorter works based on folk melodies, nursery rhymes, and other unpretentious and traditional local songs of Japan and elsewhere. My first opportunity to hear Duo Miki was in connection with my design work for the Fukuyama Geijitsu Bunka Hall. To this day I remember the beautiful tone of Toshie Miki's violin as it virtually sang out to the audience with emotion that touched the heart and would not let go. Since that first introduction to Duo Miki, I have attended any number of their performances and have watched as, over and over again, they hold the attention of audiences filled with people unaccustomed to listening to western classical music or to sitting for long periods in a concert hall.

To introduce Kenji Miki only as Duo Miki's pianist does not truly do justice to the several creative hats that this artist wears. He is also an exceptional concert producer. When the mayor of Setoda -- a small town on a small Island in Japan's Inland Sea -- asked Mr. Miki to serve as Producer for its Bel Canto Hall, Mr. Miki readily agreed. He proceeded to arrange for noted pianist Alexis Weisenberg, as well as many world-class performers, to perform in Setoda, which is located in a part of Hiroshima Prefecture well off the beaten concert-tour path. As a result of Mr. Miki's efforts, the little town of Setoda is now known throughout Japan as the home of Bel Canto Hall. From a purely technical acoustical engineering perspective, Bel Canto Hall is actually just one of many multipurpose halls with nothing particularly spectacular to distinguish it. But throughout the surrounding region it has achieved an admirable reputation as a concert venue. Bel Canto Hall provides perfect testimony for the important roles that a producer and effective concert planning play in establishing a hall's reputation among the general public.

In addition to his concert planning and production hat, and his pianist hat, Mr. Miki charms Duo Miki's audiences with snippets of witty talk interspersed between the pieces of a Duo Miki performance. When a certain tension develops in the audience from listening to the emotional beauty of Mrs. Miki's violin, her husband's few words provide the perfect measure of comic relief to relax Duo Miki's listeners and prepare them to enjoy listening to the next work on the program. I have also had a glimpse at another hat that Mr. Miki wears when he and his wife are rehearsing, because then he becomes her coach, providing the succinct feedback cues that, together with the obvious total trust that the two performers share, enable her to fine tune her wonderful playing to perfection. In introducing Mr. Miki to visitors of this web site, it would, therefore, indeed be misleading to present him only as a pianist, for he excels as well as a Producer, both of concerts and of Duo Miki's unique performances.

It is no surprise, then, that when Kuse set up the Kuse Espace Foundation to oversee the operation of Espace Hall, it selected Kenji Miki to fill the position of its Executive Director of Arts and Culture. Knowing as I do the breadth of Mr. Miki's capabilities, I am certain that his leadership will extend beyond the overseeing of classical music concerts. Undoubtedly, we can look forward to Mr. Miki's vision guiding many aspects of the Foundation's activities. In Japan, the establishment of an independent foundation to oversee an arts facility increases flexibility within the organization and enables it to draw upon outside personnel to an extent not possible when the operation of the facility remains directly under government control. I know of too many halls that are burdened by the assignment of top positions to men chosen by an "old boys" network as their reward for many years of bureaucratic service. In Kuse, the government employee who was actually in charge of the hands-on planning of Espace Hall was released by the local government so that he could be employed by the new Foundation, and because of the foundation's independent status, this employee was then free to choose Kenji Miki and other professionals outside the government bureaucracy to set the course for the new hall. Hopefully, Kuse can be a model for other halls to move outside the governmental bureaucratic "box" and establish independent foundations to oversee and implement their concert and event program planning.
(Kuse Espace can be reached by fax at +81-867-42-7201; Duo Miki can be reached by fax at +81-849-24-1720)

Nagata Acoustics Receives Prize of Acoustical Society of Japan !!

by Minoru Nagata

Award Ceremony
Suntory Hall, which celebrated its tenth anniversary this past October, recently received a new accolade as winner of the Acoustical Society of Japan's prize for outstanding technological development in acoustics. Nagata Acoustics was designated recipient of the award as the acousticians of this major concert hall. This ASJ Prize is an annual prize now in its fifth year. According to the Acoustical Society of Japan, the prize "recognizes significant contributions to acoustical environments as demonstrated in the development and invention of technologies and/or products." On May 20, 1997, I attended the award ceremony together with four colleagues from Nagata Acoustics who were integral participants in our Suntory Hall project team. The award ceremony was held at the regular assembly of the Acoustical Society of Japan, at Tokyo Institute of Technology. The following are the award acceptance remarks I delivered at that gathering.

"In accepting the Acoustical Society's prize outstanding technological development in acoustics in recognition of our work to create Suntory Hall, and on behalf of my four colleagues at Nagata Acoustics who contributed so significantly to this project, let me express our overwhelming sense of gratitude to the Acoustical Society.

"As many of you are aware, Suntory Hall was the first large scale concert hall to be built in Tokyo, and it was our first experience designing a vineyard-configuration hall. At the time that we began our work on the hall, the assumption was that if a space was a concert hall, it necessarily had to be a shoe-box configuration, so you can well imagine the apprehension with which we proceeded with the Suntory Hall project. And while the acoustical characteristics are the most important aspect of a concert hall, our acoustical engineering work also included balancing a host of other conditions and requirements. Given this backdrop, it was often the confidence and encouragement we gained from Keizo Saji, then president of Suntory Hall's owner, Suntory Limited, that gave us the courage to proceed. Mr. Saji enthusiastically proclaimed his vision of building a new hall for a new era.

"Last autumn, Suntory Hall celebrated its tenth anniversary. Ten years ago, Tokyo's Bunka Kaikan (Metropolitan Festival Hall) had an established reputation of nearly a half-century as the concert venue in Japan. When Suntory Hall came on the scene, it basked in the novelty of its rich acoustics and was quickly welcomed by Tokyo audiences. Of course, to a greater or lesser extent, the performers had another reaction to the acoustics of Suntory Hall's stage, open as it is on three sides. As we anticipated, there were mumblings from performers that it was difficult to hear. Nevertheless, with time, visiting orchestras and individual performers from overseas praised the hall, and local Tokyo orchestras also became accustomed to its sound characteristics. Today the hall enjoys prominent status as one of the world's truly superior concert halls, and it has barely an unused day on its schedule. But this fine reputation could not have been built on acoustics alone, so I would also like to give due recognition to Suntory Limited, which, from the hall's inception, has always provided the highest standard of planning, operations, and customer service to audiences and performers alike.

"The building of Suntory Hall began a trend in our country, both in the larger cities, and in smaller ones, concert hall after concert hall was commissioned, and we now have a most lively concert calendar throughout Japan. I am very grateful for the many wonderful opportunities we have to hear concerts in exceptional halls and to be able to bring exceptional performers to these halls. It is my hope and intention that Nagata Acoustics will continue to pursue the highest standards of acoustical engineering by combining what we learn from first-hand concert listening in halls at home and abroad with technical advances at the professional level.

"Again, a heartfelt thank you to the Acoustical Society and everyone who is here today, and to my mentors who have helped and supported me and my colleagues in our work throughout our careers. Thank you very much."

Nagata Acoustics News 97-5iNo.113j
Issued : May 25, 1997

Nagata Acoustics Inc.

E-mail: info@nagata.co.jp

News Back Issue Archives


Company Profile Specialization Selected Projects