In early December 2023, I (Kath Russell, Director of Development) travelled from Manchester Airport to Osaka with the Mayor of Greater Manchester, Leader of MCC and the Japan Consulate along with over 30 business and academic leaders. The GMCA trade mission also partnered with a wider Northern Powerhouse trade mission which was overseen by the Department for Trade and Business. The Hallé was the only cultural organisation to be featured as part of this significant GMCA / MCC / Northern Powerhouse trade mission to Japan and we sat alongside Manchester City Football Club as cultural pillars of Manchester and were referenced in every speech that the Mayor made during the trip.

The mission was a huge success across many headings and began in Osaka with the completing of a Memorandum of Understanding, a step towards finalising the twinning of Manchester and Osaka. The civic signing was followed by a major event hosted by the Mayor of Osaka. I met with the team at the Osaka Symphony Hall and the British Embassy who are involved in delivering the UK Pavilion at the Osaka Expo 2025. The mission was heavily focussed on the Expo with an expected ‘Manchester Week’ to be part of the celebrations at some point between March and September 2025. Our CEO, David Butcher joined the mission as we moved to Tokyo where we were able to spend valuable time with Kahchun Wong, the Japan Philharmonic and his team. Kahchun was guest of honour at a reception hosted by the British Ambassador at the beautiful British Embassy at the end of the mission. David and I also met with the British Council in Tokyo and the team behind Visit Britain at the Embassy. The mission finished with an open rehearsal at Suntory Hall where Kahchun treated over 20 members of the mission to a 45 minute rehearsal with the Japan Philharmonic. Many delegates referenced this as a highlight of their trip.

On 9 January 2024 we were able to replicate the Suntory Hall event by inviting all of the mission delegates to a rehearsal at Hallé St Peter’s to mark Kahchun’s arrival in Manchester to rehearse the orchestra before the Hallé tour to Spain. It was a wonderful, warm and positive event with many of the delegates joining us for drinks afterwards alongside regular Hallé Patrons and Sponsors and all costs were supported by our Major Sponsors, CMS. It was a really lovely way of marking the mission and picking up connections for the long term.

There is no doubt that the trip has generated new contacts and opened up a wide network of businesses and as such proved to be a major success for the Hallé in a number of ways which now need properly exploring. New potential corporate supporters are being approached and discussions on possible partnership have already begun. The leaders of the Department for Business and Trade in the North are helping us to continue broadening our network and we have been able to pick up positive conversations with former sponsors. Other really positive connections have been made with MIDAS and Marketing Manchester with lots of partnership projects under discussion. The GMCA are keen for the Hallé to take part in the Osaka Expo in 2025 as a Manchester representative and we are eager to find ways in which we can engage. Both David and I are on a planning team and will be working with the Mayor and Leader on a number of initiatives to link Japanese and Manchester culture. In addition to raising more sponsorship for core support, we are also hoping that all of this will help us to build the contacts and the momentum we need to establish and fund a tour to Japan and the Far East.

Overall, this exercise was a major step for the Hallé following many years of trying to become part of this sort of initiative with the aim of using our international credentials to raise new and important friends and supporters both private and public. The support we have had from both the GM Mayor and Leader for our involvement in this mission has been hugely positive and extremely encouraging and bodes well across many agendas.