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The Fukushima Youth Sinfonietta is touring Boston in commemoration of the 5th anniversary of the Tohoku earthquake disasters of 2011.
The Fukushima Youth Sinfonietta is touring Boston in commemoration of the 5th anniversary of the Tohoku earthquake disasters of 2011.
37 backers pledged £5,676 to help bring this project to life.

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Photo by Eloise Campbell (www.campbellpicks.com)
Photo by Eloise Campbell (www.campbellpicks.com)

FROM FUKUSHIMA TO BOSTON

A Musical Bridge

Help Bring the Fukushima Youth Sinfonietta to Symphony Hall, Boston

Presented by the Japan Society of Boston, in partnership with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Keys of Change and the Consulate General of Japan in Boston.

THE FUKUSHIMA YOUTH SINFONIETTA (福島青年管弦楽団), an orchestra of students from ten Fukushima high-schools and middle-schools established by British charity organisation Keys of Change, has been invited to perform at Boston’s famed Symphony Hall on April 3, 2016, following a week of music workshops and exchange programs with American youth orchestras, culminating in a major concert at Boston’s renowned Symphony Hall on April 3, 2016.

Please help bring this 60-member group of talented Japanese student musicians and teachers from Fukushima to Boston!

This courageous ensemble of young musicians has been a vehicle of resilience and recovery for the people of Fukushima, and has inspired hope and optimism throughout Japan and the world. The Boston visit by the FYS, is presented by the Japan Society of Boston, with the cooperation of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Keys of Change, and the Consulate General of Japan in Boston, and will commemorate the fifth anniversary of the disasters of 2011. This is a program of the U.S.-Japan “Tomodachi Initiative,” supported by the U.S.-Japan Council and the American Embassy in Tokyo. Please join hundreds of other donors around the world in helping to bring this extraordinary orchestra from Fukushima to Boston this spring!

British charity organisation Keys of Change and concert pianist Panos Karan are largely responsible for the creation of the Fukushima Youth Sinfonietta in March 2012, responding to requests of young middle-school students in Fukushima to come together for a performance at the Fukushima Ongakudo Hall. Two years later, in April 2014, Keys of Change invited 37 Japanese teen-age musicians from the FYS to London for a concert at Queen Elizabeth Hall, to present a program of international standing and coordinated the FYS workshops and exchanges with young British musicians. This musical visit was the accumulation of projects by Greek/British pianist Panos Karan, founder of Keys of Change. Together with fellow musician Zach Tarpagos (flutist), Karan has visited the Fukushima area 15 times since 2011, each time working intensively with music students from ten Fukushima schools, helping them develop their musical skills, coaching them, performing with them, and encouraging their leadership potential both musically and socially.

Photo by Miko Tanaka (mikotanaka.com)
Photo by Miko Tanaka (mikotanaka.com)

In August of 2015, Keys of Change invited more than 50 young Fukushima instrumentalists in the FYS to Tokyo for a concert marking the ensemble’s Tokyo debut. This concert, at Tokyo Opera City Concert Hall, was attended by Her Majesty the Empress of Japan, who came backstage to personally congratulate the young musicians. The FYS benefited from the collaboration of a number of young American and European musicians, invited by Keys of Change, as well as by the participation of advanced music students from Toho Gakuen School of Music and several professional musicians from the Japan Philharmonic Orchestra, under the baton of conductor Tetsuji Honna. In preparation for the Tokyo concert, Keys of Change had organized and coordinated daily rehearsals in Fukushima, a concert at Fukushima Ongakudo, as well as all travel arrangements and accommodations in Tokyo for the members of the student orchestra.

The Japan Society of Boston actively promotes grass-roots projects and major cultural exchange programs to strengthen friendship and understanding between America and Japan. It is a non-profit 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization whose mission is to promote cultural and economic ties and active interchange between Japanese and Americans for mutual understanding, benefit and enjoyment. The oldest Japan Society in the United States, founded in 1904, it serves as a bridge and programming nexus for a network of individuals, cultural and academic organizations, and business and financial firms, linked together by a strong interest in Japan and a shared recognition of the importance of the U.S.-Japan relationship.

Overview

When: 3 April 2016

Where: Symphony Hall, Boston, Massachusetts

Who: The Fukushima Youth Sinfonietta: more than fifty students from ten high schools in Fukushima, Japan

Who else: Musicians from Boston-area orchestras and schools. Soloists include Panos Karan (piano), Zach Tarpagos (flute), and Tetsuji Honna (conductor)

Repertoire: Barber: Adagio for Strings; Mozart: Flute Concerto in D major K314; Rachmaninoff: Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor Op. 18; and other works.

What is significant about this project: This is a two-week project, with rehearsals and international music workshops in Fukushima and Boston, culminating in a concert in Boston’s Symphony Hall, one of the world’s most renowned music venues. It is a very special opportunity for a group of young Japanese people who have suffered all the problems and dangers of Fukushima since the disasters of 2011 to show how music has been their lifeline, helping them to survive catastrophe, to recover through courage and determination, and ultimately to thrive. The Fukushima Youth Sinfonietta was established essentially by the students themselves, determined to overcome the challenges of their post-tsunami lives through the strength of music and communal activity. Their leadership skills have already been demonstrated in impressive ways. Using the unique transformative power of music, they have taken command of their lives and have led their communities in international initiatives that will no doubt bring ongoing benefit both to themselves and to their communities for many years to come.

The Fukushima Youth Sinfonietta has been a model of resilience, strengthening the communal resolve of their city, and inspiring other disaster victims throughout Japan and the world. The experience of these young Japanese musicians will touch the hearts of American young people and wider audiences everywhere, and will demonstrate the power of music to heal and empower people in need.

What is this pledge for: £5,000 will go towards covering costs for the FYS performance at Symphony Hall and rehearsal costs in Boston during the week preceding this major concert.

What is this pledge NOT for: international travel, meals, communications, artist fees or any operating expenses or overhead for the Japan Society of Boston.

Read more about the Fukushima Youth Sinfonietta at: http://fystoboston.blogspot.com/

Photo by Miko Tanaka (mikotanaka.com)
Photo by Miko Tanaka (mikotanaka.com)

NOTES ON FUKUSHIMA & THE FUKUSHIMA YOUTH SINFONIETTA 

By Panos Karan

Pianist Panos Karan is the founder of Keys of Change, a British non-profit that has been supporting the Fukushima Youth Sinfonietta since it was established in 2011. He has traveled and performed in Fukushima many times since the natural disasters of March 11, 2011 devastated much of northeastern Japan.

About Fukushima

Fukushima is a prefecture of Japan about 200 miles Northeast of Tokyo. The area along the coast was affected heavily by the earthquake and tsunami, in March 2011, the biggest that ever stroke Japan. The greatest disaster, however, came after an explosion of a nuclear reactor in an electrical power plant, and a subsequent radiation leak. An area of 30km radius from the plant was evacuated and an exclusion zone was created, closing this part to the public for 30 years. As a result, more than 150,000 people were displaced. People in towns immediately next to the exclusion zone have since been living under the threat of radiation poisoning, with children and young people being the most vulnerable. For example, children at elementary schools are not allowed to play outside during the breaks, in fear of contamination through the air or the earth.

The word Fukushima has a coldness that is hard to explain. People look at you half pitiful and half fearful when the word is pronounced. This is the place where an invisible threat ruined lives in ways that cannot be measured, for example a town of 70,000, which was spared from the earthquake and the tsunami is left with 10,000. Homes that are still standing, were left behind in a hurry, locked away in an exclusion zone, waiting for their residents to return in 30 years.. There is a psychological side effect that is pressing on the core of the identities of its citizens. Human beings put aside, feeling they are conveniently forgotten. It is hard to move forward and feel the progress of time, when progress is measured in 30-year intervals.

I had the chance to visit the nuclear exclusion zone last year, an area closed to the outside world for the next 30 years, which felt like walking on gravestones. Time stopped, the town became a shadow of a memory, as if someone pressed "pause". Everything was left behind untouched, like the visitors' book in a monastery, with the last entry on 11.3.2011.

Photo by Eloise Campbell (campbellpicks.com)
Photo by Eloise Campbell (campbellpicks.com)

 My previous visits to Fukushima

I have traveled many times to Tohoku. I came for the first time in August 2011, six months after the earthquake, and played impromptu recitals for survivors living in emergency shelters. More trips followed in 2012, with many performances in evacuation shelters, schools, and clusters of temporary housing units, as well as joint concerts and musical collaborations at several high schools. During my last trip in 2012, other European musicians travelled with me to Fukushima (Raul Jimenez and Zach Tarpagos), and we spent about 10 days working with young musicians and rehearsing for a joint performance. Travelling again with Zach Tarpagos the following spring, we visited new schools and performed two concerts in collaboration with students from six different schools. And we continued to visit evacuation shelters and temporary housing communities, performing for thousands of people who had been displaced from their homes and listening to their stories of loss and struggle.

An impromptu piano recital at an evacuation shelter, August 2011. (Photo: Tariq Zaidi, tariqzaidi.com)
An impromptu piano recital at an evacuation shelter, August 2011. (Photo: Tariq Zaidi, tariqzaidi.com)

 What a banality to say that in Fukushima I found my purpose as a musician! But it is true. It’s not about ego or pianistic self-indulgements, loud applause or triumphant ovations in grand concert halls. Let the smile of a single student from Fukushima, living through more than most of us can grasp, teach us why we play music: a smile that is enough to touch one’s heart forever and to give meaning that lasts a lifetime.

After a performance at Fukushima (Photo by Miko Tanaka, mikotanaka.com)
After a performance at Fukushima (Photo by Miko Tanaka, mikotanaka.com)

 Everybody in Fukushima had his or her own unique, powerful, beautiful way of showing gratitude. Yet I felt guilty accepting it, because for me the greatest reward was an audience ready to listen, with souls open to the music. A part of me stayed in Tohoku, still aching with fresh wounds, and selfishly I took a part of Tohoku with me: the dignity, the generosity, the kindness of the people there, sharing their hearts with the world and hoping that the world will not forget them.

Panos Karan meets residents of a temporary housing accommodation in Kesennuma in 2011. (Photo by Tariq Zaidi, tariqzaidi.com)
Panos Karan meets residents of a temporary housing accommodation in Kesennuma in 2011. (Photo by Tariq Zaidi, tariqzaidi.com)

Why is this important?

There is something raw about the universal language of music and all the messages it carries. "We are here. You are not alone. We are together. We want to communicate. We want you to feel better. We want you to know that we care.” All this spoken in a few musical phrases, without a translation and without words. Playing a piano concerto with students from Fukushima was one of the most inspiring moment of my life as a pianist. Rehearsing together for several days, I had the opportunity to talk with them about speaking their emotions through music and the difference between rehearsing and performing. I saw how hard they were trying, how they were improving, how they were using expression to say what words couldn't. And then the priceless smiles of a 12-year old students, who feel all this and more, without saying anything. Students that know more about the messages of music than professional musicians. They are brave to play in concert what they have just learned in a rehearsal one hour ago. The advanced teach the beginners and they all come to school early and stay behind late to rehearse, by themselves, without teachers, simply because they want to. They try as hard as they can to speak out their emotions with music, to say what words could never say.

Curtain call following a joint concert in Fukushima, October 2012. (Photo: Miko Tanaka, mikotanaka.com)
Curtain call following a joint concert in Fukushima, October 2012. (Photo: Miko Tanaka, mikotanaka.com)

First Encounter with the Fukushima Youth Sinfonietta

By Peter Grilli

Peter Grilli is President Emeritus and Senior Advisor of the Japan Society of Boston. A lifelong music lover, he organized the project to introduce the Fukushima Youth Sinfonietta to America.

Tension and excitement were running high as I rushed toward Tokyo Opera City on Thursday evening, August 20, 2015. It was the day that the Fukushima Youth Sinfonietta would finally make its long awaited Tokyo debut. I had flown all the way from Boston to Tokyo that same day, and had landed at Narita Airport only two hours earlier. Stopping briefly at a nearby hotel to shower and change, I was now hurrying through the crowded streets of Shinjuku toward the concert hall. It was rumored that the Empress of Japan would honor the orchestra by attending this evening’s concert – but she had been ill during previous weeks, and it was not certain that she would be able to attend.

Panos Karan rehearsing with the Fukushima Youth Sinfonietta in March 2014 (Photo by Miko Tanaka, mikotanaka.com)
Panos Karan rehearsing with the Fukushima Youth Sinfonietta in March 2014 (Photo by Miko Tanaka, mikotanaka.com)

Savoring the excitement of the moment, many thoughts kept flashing through my mind about this fresh young ensemble of Fukushima teen agers, which had been created by two Greek musicians, pianist Panos Karan and flutist Zach Tarpagos, whose London-based charity Keys of Change had reached out to help the people of Fukushima in the immediate aftermath of the terrible earthquakes, tsunami, and nuclear disaster that had devastated northeastern Japan on March 11, 2011. Through long hours of dedicated practice and rehearsing, the Fukushima students had developed their musical abilities as an orchestra and had brought renewed confidence and communal cohesion to their city. With coaching and continuous support from the musicians of Keys of Change, they had offered frequent public concerts at home in Fukushima, and had won international acclaim the year before at a concert in London at Queen Elizabeth Hall. In Japan and abroad, the Fukushima Youth Sinfonietta had become a symbol of Tohoku’s resilience and an emblem of Japan’s recovery. Tonight I would be hearing my friends Panos and Zach perform live with this brave young orchestra for the very first time! The Fukushima kids had worked long and hard preparing for this concert, and their moment in the spotlight had finally arrived. Many of their friends and supporters had also worked hard to raise the funds needed to present this concert, to publicize it and sell tickets, and they – like me -- were now crowding into one of Tokyo’s finest concert halls to witness the fruits of their labors. The two young Greek musicians and other European colleagues from Keys of Change had made countless trips to Fukushima over four years and had spent the previous three weeks in the city tirelessly rehearsing with the orchestra. Conductor Tetsuji Honna had flown from Vietnam, where he is Music Director of the Hanoi Symphony Orchestra, and had spent the previous few days in Fukushima leading the FYS through the difficult repertory that its members had selected for their Tokyo debut.

Two young French horn players, rehearsing with the Fukushima Youth Sinfonietta, Tokyo Opera City, 2015. (Photo by Ryusei Kojima)
Two young French horn players, rehearsing with the Fukushima Youth Sinfonietta, Tokyo Opera City, 2015. (Photo by Ryusei Kojima)

The crowd of concertgoers flowing toward the hall reassured me. Only month ago, I had heard that a mere handful of tickets had been sold for this concert, and friends of the FYS feared that the earnest young musicians from Fukushima might be greeted by a tiny audience in a near-empty hall. At that point, a group of Tokyo friends and I had swung into action, contacting everyone in our data-bases and social-media networks, and urging everyone we knew to order tickets. Determined not to “paper” the hall with people accepting free tickets, our urgent message to everyone was “You must attend this concert – but we’re not inviting you. Buy your own tickets!” Clearly, many had responded to the call. The crowd streaming toward the hall was large. All the myriad pieces of this massive jigsaw puzzle of an event were finally falling into place!

Entering the lobby of the Concert Hall of Tokyo Opera City, I was immediately greeted by my good friend Hideya Taida, a businessman with a long and distinguished international career and a lifelong passion for classical music. Taida-san had been the FYS’ principal ally in organizing this concert and had worked tirelessly to insure that it would go well. When we heard that ticket sales were slow, Taida-san had immediately pulled together a group of volunteer colleagues to assist in publicizing the event. He also had recruited several professional musician friends from the Japan Philharmonic and Toho Conservatory to coach the Fukushima musicians and to join them in rehearsing and performing. Having played the violin since childhood, Taida-san is a fine amateur violinist who occasionally is invited to the Imperial Palace to play chamber music with the Empress, herself a highly skilled pianist. It was Taida-san who informed Her Majesty about the Fukushima Youth Sinfonietta, and it was thanks to him that she accepted an invitation to attend tonight’s concert. He was as thrilled and as gratified as I to see the crowds of people entering the hall. “Yes, Her Majesty is definitely coming!” Taida-san whispered in my ear, “And you will be seated next to her!” This came as a delightful surprise. I knew that the protocols were complicated, and to be seated next to the Empress was an amazing honor. Since the concert was about to begin, there was little time to discuss the details. In a few whispered moments with Taida-san and representatives of the Imperial Household Agency, I learned that Her Majesty would arrive quietly during the intermission, and that Mr. Taida and I had been appointed to greet her and escort her to her seat at the center of the first balcony. Thankfully, Taida-san, who is far more experienced in such matters than I, would be with me and would be seated next to Her Majesty as well. At that moment, chimes and buzzers were announcing the start of the concert so there was no time to fret or worry about the proprieties of greeting an empress. I simply rushed upstairs to the first balcony, waving at friends greeting me as they hurried to their seats.

Her Majesty Empress Michiko attending the concert by the Fukushima Youth Sinfonietta, flanked by Hideya Taida and Peter Grilli; Tokyo Opera City Concert Hall, August 20, 2015. (Photo: Kyodo News)
Her Majesty Empress Michiko attending the concert by the Fukushima Youth Sinfonietta, flanked by Hideya Taida and Peter Grilli; Tokyo Opera City Concert Hall, August 20, 2015. (Photo: Kyodo News)

I had no time to wonder how well the young orchestra would perform, or worry that they might disappoint their imperial guest. I barely even had time to look the orchestra of Fukushima teenagers whom I knew only from photographs and videos. As soon as I sank into my seat, conductor Tetsuji Honna strode forcefully across the stage, leaped onto the podium and summoned the orchestra to attention. Launching energetically into the opening chords of Glinka’s Overture to Ruslan and Ludmila, the orchestra proclaimed confidence and vigor. It is the perfect piece for an unknown orchestra to open its program. The music is triumphant, loud and positive. There is no room for hesitation in those opening measures, and the Fukushima players played them brilliantly, signaling instantly that they were up to virtually any musical challenge. I sank back into my seat, relieved, thrilled, and totally delighted in the knowledge that this was going to be an evening of wonderful music-making!

The rest of the program flowed seamlessly, and beautifully. Flutist Zach Tarpagos, one of the original musicians who had helped establish the Fukushima Youth Sinfonietta, performed Mozart’s Flute Concerto in D Major (K 314), and followed that piece with the spirited final movement of Bach’s Suite No. 2 in B minor (BWV 1067). Zach conducted and performed the flute solos in both pieces, and the well trained FYS string players followed his lead flawlessly. It was clear that the orchestra members were devoted to this European virtuoso who had made repeated trips to Fukushima to coach and encourage them.

The first half of the program concluded with the solemn and haunting Valse Triste by Jan Siblieus, performed with beautifully spun out sound by the young instrumentalists. They were conducted in this section by the Indian violinist and music teacher Sanjib Modal, who had traveled from Kolkata to join this concert. A hallmark of the mission of Keys of Change, the British charity that had helped establish the FYS and had mentored it ever since, is to conduct music projects in areas of severe poverty or social distress. Sanjib Modal had established a music school in the poorest slums of Kolkata, and had collaborated with Keys of Change on several projects there. Now he was visiting Japan to work with the young musicians of Fukushima. When Empress Michiko entered the concert hall at the end of the intermission, the entire audience of nearly 2000 people rose to greet and applaud her. It is customary for such applause to greet the entrance of a member of the Japanese imperial family, but this evening it was exceptionally long and enthusiastic. Her Majesty had recently been ill and this was her first public appearance since her recovery. She modestly acknowledged the audience’s applause at first, but when it continued for five or six minutes, she began to wave and smile in obvious appreciation of the audience’s warm greeting. As we settled into our seats, she asked me about the origins of the orchestra and its relationship to Panos Karan and Zach Tarpagos, the Greek musicians who had helped create it after the troubles of 2011. She herself had visited the devastated areas of Tohoku many times in recent years, constantly striving to console and encourage the victims there. As a pianist herself, the Empress fully appreciated the healing powers of music, and expressed personal gratitude for the efforts of foreign musicians to help the people of Tohoku. She was looking forward, she said, to going backstage after the concert to speak with the young Fukushima musicians and their mentors from abroad. Soon Panos Karan strode onstage with conductor Honna to perform the Piano Concerto No. 2 by Rachmaninoff. By now, his reputation for helping the Fukushima Youth Sinfonietta had spread through the audience, which welcomed him with extended applause. The audience listened to Panos’ powerful performance of this challenging concerto with rapt attention. I could feel the intensity of Her Majesty’s concentration as she listened to this music that she knew well. As the slow lyricism of the concerto’s gorgeous second movement unfolded, with the duo solos of flute and piano, I noticed her slowly take a handkerchief from her purse and quietly dab her eyes. I too began to choke up, deeply moved by the beauty of Panos’ piano accompanied by the fine flute playing of a young girl in the orchestra, and also by the Empress’ response. I will never forget that moment of sheer musical beauty and profound emotion. At the concert’s end, the audience erupted into rapturous applause, and with a continuing ovation summoned the orchestra and soloists back onstage for one encore after another. There were tears of joy onstage and throughout the hall. I wondered what the musicians who had already suffered so much in their young lives were feeling as they gazed out into the cheering audience. They had survived and now there could be no doubt that – through music -- they had prevailed! Rejoicing in their triumph at that moment, I resolved inwardly to do everything I could to help introduce the Fukushima Youth Sinfonietta to the world.

The Fukushima Youth Sinfonietta receives a standing ovation (Photo by Ryusei Kojima)
The Fukushima Youth Sinfonietta receives a standing ovation (Photo by Ryusei Kojima)

Risks and challenges

No particular risks to project completion are expected. The main challenge will be reaching out to the Boston audience, which have access to various musical performances, and selling seats for the April 3rd concert at Boston's Symphony Hall. Thankfully, we have the generous support of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the Consulate General of Japan in Boston and other various groups with interest to strengthen musical & cultural ties between Japan and the Greater Boston area. Other challenges may arise relating to logistics for a large traveling group but we are confident that our large network of volunteer groups within the surrounding communities along with your financial support will ensure a smooth and memorable trip for these young musicians from Fukushima.
This project has already received significant support from the Japanese and American governments and from the "US-Japan TOMODACHI Program" of the U.S.-Japan Council. There is no risk that the project will be cancelled.

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  1. Select this reward

    Pledge £10 or more About $13

    As a sign of gratitude, a commemorative digital photograph* of the Fukushima Youth Sinfonietta, together with soloists and conductor from the concert at the Symphony Hall in Boston on April 3, 2016.

    *Note: All digital photos to be delivered via email or other means of electronic delivery mechanism.

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    Above awards included PLUS a commemorative digital photograph album* of the Fukushima Youth Sinfonietta members visit in Boston from March 26 - April 4, 2016.

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    Above awards included PLUS 1 ticket** to the Fukushima Youth Sinfonietta concert at Symphony Hall

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    Above awards included PLUS 2 balcony or orchestra tickets** to the Fukushima Youth Sinfonietta members concert at Symphony Hall + a personalized digital video* of the performance.

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    Above awards included PLUS 2 VIP orchestra tickets* to the Fukushima Youth Sinfonietta members concert at Symphony Hall AND invitation to exclusive pre-concert VIP reception at Symphony Hall to meet the orchestra members and accompanying musicians AND a personalised digital video* of the performance.

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    Above awards included PLUS 4 VIP orchestra tickets** to the Fukushima Youth Sinfonietta members concert at Symphony Hall AND invitation to exclusive pre-concert VIP reception at Symphony Hall to meet the orchestra members and accompanying musicians AND a personalised digital video* of the performance.

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    Pledge £5,000 or more About $6,395

    Above awards included PLUS a private “home concert” featuring Panos Karan - concert pianist and founder of the Fukushima Youth Sinfonietta - along with several accompanying musicians. Location of residence is limited to the Greater Boston area and piano required to be onsite. Specific date & time between March 27 - April 1 to be determined.

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Funding period

- (30 days)