in musical imaging
Can purely instrumental music be used to emulate non-musical sounds, stories or ideas? More importantly, should it? Friday evening's concert by the Honolulu Symphony Orchestra featured three compositions that did just that, enchanting the audience with images that reflected an array of visual and narrative images.
When: Today at 4:00 pm
Where: Blaisdell Concert Hall
Tickets: call 792-2000
Toru Takemitsu's "Archipelago S" portrayed its subject visually as well as aurally by placing the 21 players in five "islands" around the Blaisdell Concert Hall. The spatial separation of the players added to the unusual sonic effect of this piece. Dominated by winds and percussion, the work was rich in contrasting colors, most notably the celesta, chimes, and muted brass.
Debussy's "La Mer" is one of the seminal orchestral works of the early 20th century. The composer's lifelong fascination with the sound of water in all its forms is indulged fully in this three-movement work. The first movement represents the progression from dawn to noon on the sea, culminating in an evocation of the power and grandeur of the ocean by the full orchestra.
The second movement illustrates the play of the waves through the interplay of two harps and bells. The final movement, entitled "Dialogue of the Wind and Sea," opens with simultaneous rolls on timpani and bass drum along with the thunderous sound of the contrabassoon.
The second half of the concert was devoted to Rimsky-Korsakov's perennial favorite "Scheherazade," which illustrates graphically the story of the Thousand and One Arabian Nights. The composer uses explicit imagery in depicting the sultan with a stern and menacing brass theme and the Sultana Scheherazade with a sinuous violin solo. The various episodes of the story are portrayed no less explicitly, resulting in a score of great richness and contrast.
Interspersed between sections of sweeping orchestral melodies and powerful percussive effects are a plethora of solos for individual players. In addition to Scheherazade's recurring theme, played with expressive rubato by concertmaster Ignace Jang, the work featured substantial solo turns by flutist Susan McGinn, oboist Scott Janusch, clarinetist Scott Anderson, cellist Richard Andaya, and bassoonist Paul Barrett.
The brass section played its difficult parts admirably, and the six percussionists added vivid splashes of color. Guest conductor Christopher Wilkins was clearly in his element with this piece, which he conducted from memory. The audience responded with hearty cries of "bravo" at its conclusion.
The three pieces made an excellent grouping because of their interconnections. Takemitsu's score owed much to the sonorities of Debussy, while the Debussy work contained audible thematic resemblances to the Rimsky- Korsakov. Hearing the works in reverse chronological order was like seeing a Harold Pinter play in which the causes and effects are evident only in retrospect.
E. Douglas Bomberger is a professor of music at the University of Hawaii at Manoa