Until recently, the idea of Orientals performing Western music seemed about as freakish as Heifetz playing the one-string ichigenkin. Now all that has changed. In the past few years, American and European concert halls have experienced something close to a full-scale invasion by talented Korean and Japanese musicians. Last week, Japan's Seiji Ozawa, 32, conducted programs of Rossini and Hindemith in Canada; Korean Violinist Young Uck Kim, 20, performed Saint-Saëns' Concerto No. 3 in Corpus Christi, Texas; and an eight-year-old Japanese cherub named Hitomi Kasuya played part of a Mozart violin concerto in Albuquerque and in South Euclid, Ohio.
Most of the migrant Orientals are string players, and many are filling chairs in the world's great orchestras. Amsterdam's Concertgebouw numbers five Japanese violinists among its ranks. West Berlin's Radio Orchestra has a Japanese concertmaster, as do both the Oklahoma City Symphony and the Quebec Symphony. The Boston Symphony and the Japan Philharmonic are in the second year of an exchange agreement whereby two string players from each orchestra swap places for a season. And the promising youngsters keep coming: co-winner of this year's prestigious Leventritt Award was Korean Violinist Kyung-Wha Chung, 19, and second spot in the 1966 Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow went to Japanese Violinist Masuko Ushioda, 25.
Violins & Candy Bars. Western music was introduced into Japan before the turn of the century, but its tonalities and forms were so alien to the whining microtones of Oriental music that it found only a small following. By the 1930s, German music teachers had settled in Japan and introduced their ear-training methods into school music programs. The Japanese, in turn, brought the Western techniques to Korea during their prewar occupation. After World War II, the presence of Americans in Japan and Korea stimulated even more interest in the Western repertory.
Says Conductor Ozawa: "After the war, you could find little grocery stores in the Japanese countryside selling cheap violins side by side with candy bars. The people needed an outlet, and music was the perfect thing." Violins were easier to make than brass or woodwind instruments. Moreover, the stringed instruments were physically ideal for the Orientals: their nimble fingers, so proficient in delicate calligraphy and other crafts, adapted easily to the demands of the fingerboard.