The Chairman of Leicestershire County Council, Peter Winkless, Reverend Gregory, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am delighted to have had the opportunity to attend the UK-Japan Music Society's Christmas Concert and to join you at this reception, hosted by Leicestershire County Council. I am most grateful to the UK-Japan Choir and other artists for heart-warming music through their magnificent performance. My wife and I have really been put in the mood to enjoy the festive season!
It is ten weeks since I took up my present post. Nonetheless, I have been able to visit several cities and regions in the UK. Indeed, just a few weeks ago I was in Leicester for the launch of the Leicester Japan Festival. That was a very successful event, jointly organised by the Leicester & Leicestershire Japan Society and the Embassy, with the valuable assistance of De Montfort University. On that occasion I had the pleasure of meeting Mr and Mrs Gregory for the first time.
This dedicated couple has done a tremendous amount to foster cordial ties between the Japanese and British peoples for a number of years. They founded the UK-Japan Music Society soon after the Japan Festival in 1991 and have seen it grow and prosper over more than a decade. Among their notable achievements, they have arranged exchange visits between Japanese and British choirs, resulting in mutual inspiration and the formation of many warm friendships. I have great respect for their hard work and devotion in pursuing their mission. It is relatively easy to launch a new initiative but far more challenging to keep up the momentum as times and circumstances change.
I understand that, among the various notable milestones in its history, the Society played a key role at the time of UK98 in Japan by presenting a pre-Festival UK98 Concert in the Queen Elizabeth Hall. The concert helped to publicise that important initiative taken by the British Government. More recently, during Japan 2001, the UK-Japan Music Society presented a most successful Special Concert in the Queen Elizabeth Hall, featuring a new commission by the talented Japanese composer Akane Nakanishi and Bach's masterpiece, Christmas Oratorio . On a more sombre note, last May the Society held a commemorative concert here for the late Ambassador Oku, who lost his life during his mission in Iraq.
My appreciation also extends to Leicestershire County Council for its continued support of the Society, which has been based in Leicester for 10 years. The Council's backing amounts to a well-merited seal of approval.
The UK-Japan Music Society and its superb choir have acquired a deserved reputation for high standards and imaginative performances. This must have something to do with the regular practice sessions throughout the year ? not just rehearsals for specific events. However, the Society could not have achieved everything it has without the valuable support provided by a host of sponsors and grant-aiding organisations. I would like to thank all of these bodies, together with the many dedicated individuals involved, for all of their hard work and commitment to a very worthy cause.
Music is often cited as a wonderful means for uniting people from different ethnic and cultural backgrounds, without regard to national boundaries. It brings people together, building friendship and fellowship. Today we have had the privilege of observing this marvellous process in action. I have no doubt that, with continued support from the Embassy, local authorities, sponsors, friends and dedicated individuals, the UK-Japan Music Society and its annual Christmas Concert will go from strength to strength in the years to come, thereby serving to deepen mutual understanding between the Japanese and British peoples.