Concert offers wide mood swings
It's back to the good old days, with maestro Sam Wong and yours truly taking center stage alongside the Honolulu Symphony. Sam and I should form an interesting tandem team, if headlines are any indication. "Agony and Ecstasy," the show is called, but I'm not sure if our conductor will be Mr. Agony, or will I?
» In concert: 8 p.m. Friday and 4 p.m. Sunday
» Place: Blaisdell Concert Hall
» Tickets: $12 to $65
» Call: 792-2000
Let's just view it as a chance to take pleasure in the full range of musical moods, from darkness to elation. The Prokofiev Violin Concerto No. 2, the highlight of the first half, is a good starting point. Its opening will send cold shivers down your spine. It begins with a single melody from the violin soloist, with no orchestral backup. The atmosphere is eerie, and the tension barely alleviated, when the orchestra joins in.
But classical music is never one-dimensional -- that's what I love about it. I enjoy pop songs, but they rarely include a change of mood in the middle of the tune. With Prokofiev it's the extreme opposite. Suddenly the clouds disappear, you find yourself caught in a lively run, a romantic theme, before retrieving the opening color. But not everything is obvious. There are many subtle shades. What do they represent? What if they speak differently to you than to your neighbor?
There's no right or wrong and that's the beauty of it. There's no one singing "Raindrops keep fallin' on my head" to let us know what's going on. The sensitive middle movement is reminiscent of a delicate ballet, which bears a historic parallel. The Russian composer, known for his musical "Peter and the Wolf," was writing his ballet, "Romeo and Juliet." The dance feel is present in the last movement as well, where all delicacy gives way to a robust peasant dance.
Maestro Wong will return to the podium to close out the evening with Beethoven's Seventh Symphony. Among his nine symphonies, this is my favorite. We all know No. 5, which goes TA DA DA DAA!!!, and No. 9 with the "Ode to Joy" sung by the choir. No. 7 provides equal pathos and lyricism.
Curiously, Beethoven's genius lay not in his flair for gorgeous melodies, but in his ability to expand on a single idea, especially a rhythmic one. The opening movement is centered on a simple rhythm. Its omnipresence could sound repetitive, yet under Beethoven's pen it manages to achieve a thrilling and heroic effect.
The symphony was acclaimed at its premiere in 1813 and was quite appropriate for the occasion: a benefit concert for Austrians and Bavarians wounded in battles against Napoleon. For that reason, and for its heroic character, it earned the nickname "Battle Symphony."
Ignace "Iggy" Jang
is the Honolulu Symphony's concertmaster. His column will appear on the Monday prior to each concert of the season to illuminate works to be performed. E-mail comments and questions to Jang at email@example.com