On the 23rd the National Cherry Blossom Festival kicked off in Washington, D.C. At the opening ceremony that day, held in Washington’s luxurious Warner Theater, a full house of 2,000 guests filled the seats. There were opening remarks by Ambassador Sasae and Washington, D.C. Mayor Gray, as well as performances by 4 groups of Japanese artists.
The event began with a rousing rendition of Japan’s national anthem, Kimigayo, by soprano, Rina Haruki. Ms. Haruki is an up-and-coming soloist, and her involvement in New York’s opera and musical scenes has included performances in such venues as Carnegie Hall and the Merkin Concert Hall.
Following the opening remarks, violinist Nanae Iwata and pianist Mariko Furukawa took the stage. The two were sent to perform at the behest of the Julliard Music School in New York. They proceeded to favor the crowd with performances of works by Wieniawski, Tchaikovsky, and Kriesler. Ms. Iwata’s violin brought together such a richness of expression, delicacy, and power, while Ms. Furukawa’s piano provided brilliant support. Many in the audience were moved to tears. Everyone in attendance came away from the experience a fan of the duo.
Ms. Junko Yagami followed with three choral arrangements. For her first song, she sang Sakura shousho with the accompaniment of New York pianist, Mr. Senri Oe. Ms. Yagami had actually recorded this song with Mr. Oe in New York the day before. Next was Tsubasa, a benefit song for the victims of the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami, bringing the audience to tears once again. She ended with the hit song, Purple Town. The power, subtlety, and beauty of Ms. Yagami’s voice earned a standing ovation from the crowd.
The fourth group to grace the stage was the Chihiro Yamanaka Jazz Trio, with bassist Yoshi Waki. Ms. Yamanaka, who is based in New York, is an acclaimed musician who has won every kind of award imaginable. She gave a confident rendition of the jazz standard, Take Five, as well as a strong performance of her signature song, Yagibushi. The audience, overwhelmed by the sheer power of the show, erupted in cheers. As soon as the trio was done, the promoter at a famous local jazz club rushed to greet Ms. Yamanaka.
In addition, American musician Andy Grammer and hip hop group Urban Nation performed for the crowd.