Sony chief leads orchestra at Carnegie Hall

May 13, 1993

Norio Ohga made believe he conducted; the orchestra made believe it followed

Above: Norio Ohga, second from right, poses with Barbra Streisand and Dolly Parton and Neil Diamond, left, as singer Billy Joel, right, looks on following the concert.

How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice. How do you get to conduct at Lincoln Center? Money, money, money. Norio Ohga, president of Sony Corp., conducted members of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra before a sellout audience at Avery Fisher Hall last week [May 13, 1993].

It was a bit like a baseball fantasy camp for someone who once had aspirations of becoming a classical musician.

“I wasn't nervous at all,” Ohga said.

For his U.S. debut, Ohga picket a program of Schubert's Unfinished Symphony, Beethoven's Symphony No. 7 and the overture to Johann Strauss Jr.'s Die Fledermaus. He said his encore choice of John Philip Sousa's The Stars and Stripes Forever was a message.

Diamond, Parton, Streisand and Ohga

“I wanted to show the United States should be strong,” Ohga, 63, said in Japanese while hugging violinist Midori.

Sony, rebuffed in its attempt to rent the New York Philharmonic, gave more than $100,000 to Lincoln Center to stage the benefit, and rival Warner Music gave $100,000. Tickets cost $50-$100, and the audience included Barbra Streisand, Billy Joel and his wife, Christie Brinkley, Dolly Parton, Tony Bennett, violinist Isaac Stern and pianist Yefim Bronfman. Proceeds went to the Met, the New York Philharmonic, the New York City Opera, the Juilliard School and several other groups.

The 78 musicians were called “Members of the Metropolitan Orchestra” in the program, and included 30 Met regulars plus freelancers. “He made believe he conducted, and we made believe we watched,” said one string player, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

Streisand with Ohga