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Friday, April 2, 2010

Cost-cutting brings classics to the masses


Staff writer

"Rather than managing an opera house, I wanted to create a 'structure' for a new event," says French producer Rene Martin in a book published in Japan last month titled "How a Classical Music Festival Gathered 1 Million People."

News photo
Mad for music: Producer Rene Martin launched La Folle Journee to try to excite people about classical music. This year's event features around 1,500 performing artists and celebrates the birth of Frederic Chopin. YOSHIAKI MIURA PHOTO

After being inspired by the excitement of 35,000 young fans at a U2 concert, Martin launched La Folle Journee (which translates as "day of madness") in 1995 in his hometown of Nantes, in the northwest of France. It has been held there annually ever since and re-created worldwide. The event aims to remove barriers to classical music by offering a program of short concerts lasting from morning till night performed by first-rate classical musicians at unusually low prices.

"I enjoyed the way artists interacted with audience between and after performances," says Masahide Kajimoto on his first impression of LFJ in Nantes in 2002. As president of Kajimoto, one of the world's largest classical-music management companies, he paved the way for LFJ to come to Japan in 2005.

The event held at Tokyo International Forum has developed into the largest LFJ in the world. LFJ also spread to Kanazawa, Ishikawa Prefecture, in 2008.

Celebrating the 200th anniversary of the birth of Frederic Chopin (1810-1849), LFJ is now expanding to two other regions in Japan — Biwako (Lake Biwa) in Shiga Prefecture and Niigata — and to Warsaw, Chopin's hometown.

A key point of LFJ's "structure" is cost sharing to lower the ticket price.

The budget of Tokyo's LFJ is around ¥600 million, half of which is covered by ticket sales, while 30 percent is subsidized by 110 private companies. This year, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government joins the event as cohost, further strengthening LFJ's financial base.

In Kanazawa, ticket sales, public subsidy and corporate sponsorship are roughly equal. Niigata's LFJ will be subsidized mostly by the city, and Biwako's LFJ will be mostly paid for by concert venue Biwako Hall. Additionally, the event locations stand to benefit from an increase in new customers.

The artists also share in the cost- cutting by lowering their performance fees.

With companies, local governments and artists pitching in to subsidize LFJ's bounty of programming, Martin has far-surpassed those U2-size audiences he initially dreamed to duplicate.

"When I was young, I would play records for my friends in my room," recounts Martin. "Today, I am doing the same thing for my audience at concert halls."

La Folle Journee au Japon takes place April 28 through May 4 at Tokyo International Forum, Yurakucho and other venues in the area. LFJ de Kanazawa: April 29-May 5. LFJ de Niigata: April 30-May 1. LFJ de Biwako: May 1-2. Tickets cost ¥1,500 on average. For more information, visit www.lfj.jp/lfj_2010/

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