First violinist Takako Masame likes diversity and harmony of 100-year-old Cleveland Orchestra: My Cleveland (photos)

April 12, 2018

First violinist Takako Masame likes diversity and harmony of 100-year-old Cleveland Orchestra: My Cleveland (photos)

CLEVELAND, Ohio -- The Cleveland Orchestra’s centennial season is first violinist Takako Masame’s 34th with the ensemble.

Cleveland creds: Moved here in 1985

Currently lives: Euclid

Schooling: New England Conservatory

Family: Husband, freelance trumpeter John Brndiar

Favorite locally owned restaurants: Fire, Minh Anh

How does it feel to continue a century of music?

Takako: It’s a legacy you have to keep going. Members change, but I think it’s the same tradition carrying on.

Cleveland’s a really small town compared to other cities with big orchestras, but we are considered to be one of the great ones in the world. People here support us. We have to give because they give.

How much do you practice?

Takako: It depends what we’re working on, but three, four hours at least. On our nights off, I usually have dinner, then go practice. It’s like with an athlete. If you don’t practice, your muscle declines.

Do the neighbors hear?

Takako: If I have my windows open, they like to hear me. But I’ll close the windows when everyone’s going to sleep.

Where’s your violin from?

Takako: From the Ruggieri family in Cremona, Italy. It’s over 300 years old.

Do the airlines handle it with care?

Takako: The orchestra has strict rules and an instrument trunk that goes into the cargo bay.

Unusual experiences on tour?

Takako: A friend here grew up in Dresden, Germany. They left a church in the old town square damaged from the bombs to remember. She asked me to go and take pictures.

We had an afternoon off but not too much time. I took three other musicians.

Down in the basement, they were having a lecture and a film with hundreds of people focused on it. None of us spoke German.

We were trying to get out, but the entrance was closed, and we couldn’t find the exit. The player with the lead that night was getting really nervous. Everyone was looking at us. Finally, the lecturer stopped and escorted us out. I was so embarrassed.

Surprises at Severance?

Takako: In January, three singers had solos in Haydn’s “The Seasons.” Two got the flu. We get the email about 4:30 p.m. It’s a 7:30 concert. We had to modify it and skip movements. Franz usually never talks during the concert. But he had to explain what was missing. My friends in the audience said they loved it.

How’s the sound at Severance?

Takako: Great. We can hear each other really well. It’s warm and homogenous. It’s never harsh. We are lucky to have this hall.

Sometimes on tour, we play at some hall, and it’s too brittle, or we can’t hear each other, or we hear too much, because it’s reverberating.

At Blossom, which turns 50 this summer, can the weather mess things up?

Takako: Sometimes all the sudden a thunderstorm comes, and everyone on the lawn has to run. The orchestra is pretty well protected because we have this big roof over us. But one time the rain was coming in sideways, so we had to get out.

The air conditioning can be a challenge. The air vent is right next to the first violins. We get blasted when other people are hot.

Do Clevelanders understand classical music?

Takako: They are really sophisticated. Sometimes, guest conductors are surprised. With Michael Tilson Thomas, we did Tchaikovsky’s Sixth here. The third movement is strong, fast and loud. In other places, the audience applauds after it, because they think that’s the end of the symphony. Here nobody does.

Where are you from?

Takako: Tokyo.

When did you come to the U.S.?

Takako: In 1979. I went to Tanglewood Music Festival and the New England Conservatory. I got a job in the Indianapolis Symphony in ’83.

What about Cleveland?

Takako: I came here in the season of ’84-85. It was my dream to be in the so-called big five orchestras. I’m sure there were other people as well-prepared for the audition, but I had a good day and they gave me the job.

Who’s they?

Takako: [Christoph] von Dohnanyi hired me. He was fairly new.

What was he like?

I learned a lot of standard repertoire under his directorship. I particularly loved his Brahms. He was really good with balancing the orchestra and talking about the tightness of the ensemble.

How’s Welser-Most?

Takako: Franz talks more about the intellectual side of the music and the period, what it meant for the composer and the people who played then.

What are the maestros like offstage?

Takako: You just don’t chat with the music directors.

What’s your outside gig like?

Takako: I’m in the Amici String Quartet with others from the orchestra. The present members have been together since like ’96. We’ve played at ART in Tremont, Stan Hywet, the Art Museum, in Japan, in Florida...

What was it like when you and a few orchestra colleagues played the national anthem before the last game of the 2016 World Series?

Takako: I’m a big Indians fan. I got the call like 1:30 p.m. “Can you get here by 3:30?” “Of course.” Midway through, I realized the whole place was singing together. That was the most incredible experience. Too bad we lost. I’m crossing my fingers for this year.

How’s Cleveland’s weather compare with Tokyo’s?

Takako: Cleveland has a longer winter. This winter’s been a bit too long. My friends in Tokyo keep sending me gorgeous pictures of flowers and saying, “How’s Cleveland?” “Snowing.”

But I like the weather in Cleveland. It makes us appreciate spring and summer even more.

I live on the water in Euclid. I come to work from I-90 on MLK. Any time of year, it’s so beautiful there, between the daffodils and the leaves and the snow.

Your future?

Takako: I’d like to play as long as I can do a good job.

In Cleveland?

Takako: Where else?

Anything else you’d like to say?

Takako: This country’s idea is to welcome everybody. That’s the American dream. Now it’s in question a little bit. It’s really difficult for me to hear what’s on the news sometimes.

Japan is one race, one nationality. But Cleveland has Hungarian, Irish, Slovak and all the people came and made it strong. That’s when the orchestra was founded. They had the money, and Adella Prentiss Hughes, had this idea in 1918 of giving everyone a chance to hear classical music.

If you look at the orchestra, maybe there’s a couple people born here. Everybody else is from different states or countries. We’re different races, nationalities, genders, maybe orientations. We work together and represent Cleveland.

For more information about the Cleveland Orchestra and its centennial season, see clevelandorchestra.com.