Instruments shine in enchanting 'Guide'
THIS weekend at the Honolulu Symphony, each instrument takes the spotlight as we perform Sir Benjamin Britten's "The Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra." This piece, written by one of Britain's greatest composers, was intended to introduce children to each instrument. It has become one of the world's most admired teaching pieces and rivals even Prokofiev's "Peter and the Wolf" in popularity.
In concert: 8 p.m., Friday and 4 p.m. Sunday
Place: Blaisdell Concert Hall
Tickets: $12 to $65
Call: 792-2000 or visit www.honolulusymphony.com.
Don't let the fact that it's a teaching piece alarm you. We promise there won't be a test afterward. This concert is about pure listening pleasure for people of all ages. For those new to symphonic music, "The Young Person's Guide" is a delightful work for the modern orchestra that allows each instrument to be the "soloist" for a few moments.
You'll be able to identify each instrument -- and you might be surprised at the subtleties and sounds. Regular concertgoers may even find a new favorite in the instrument family.
As we take this tour through the orchestra, we'll come to my instrument, the harp. The harp is one of music's oldest instruments, with origins in ancient Egypt. From Latin America to Africa to Europe, the harp in its many variations is a cornerstone of several musical cultures. Harps have become important symbols for the aristocracy, especially in Ireland, where the harpist was once a powerful political figure. It's also the symbol for Guinness beer!
Great composers such as Mozart, Debussy and Handel have written works for the harp, as have Boieldieu, Rosetti and Ravel. Still, the harp remains a mystery to many concertgoers. When you're in the audience, you can hear its sounds, but you can't see it very well at the side of the orchestra.
Modern harps, such as the one you'll hear this weekend, are quite large, with 47 strings on a triangular frame and seven foot pedals that adjust the tension in the strings. This allows the harpist to play in every key along with the rest of the orchestra. If you watch closely enough, you'll see that the harpist uses only four fingers to pluck. We don't use our pinkies.
With its romantic, angelic sounds, the harp is popular at weddings and special events, but it is also a commanding instrument that can generate strong, dark sounds. It weighs about 85 pounds and is approximately 6 feet tall. That's the source of the power that enables it to soar above other instruments in the orchestra.
We transport these huge instruments on special dollies and in large vehicles such as station wagons. Normally, if we're traveling and need a harp on the mainland, we try to borrow or rent an instrument.
When the orchestra reaches Variation 9 in "The Young Person's Guide," look to the left of the orchestra and listen for the divine strings of the harp.
Our "Exhilarating Glory" concerts on Friday and Sunday star pianist Jon Nakamatsu and the romantic Grieg Piano Concerto, as well as Brahm's powerful masterpiece, Symphony No. 1.
Please join principal timpanist Stuart Chafetz for "Concert Conversations" at 7 p.m. for an in-depth discussion of the night's programs and interesting facts about our guest artists. What better way to begin a fabulous evening of music?
Constance Uejio is the harpist with the Honolulu Symphony. "Crescendo" appears on the Monday prior to each concert of the season to illuminate works to be performed. E-mail email@example.com