Music learned as a youth conjures up memories for a lifetime
Carmen and I go back a long way. "Carmen Fantaisie," that is. Based on the famous opera by Bizet, "Carmen" is Pablo de Sarasate's showpiece for violin and orchestra.
» In concert: 8 p.m. Friday and 4 p.m. Sunday
» Place: Blaisdell Concert Hall
» Tickets: $15 to $65; students $10
» Call: 792-2000 or visit www.honolulusymphony.com
In 1983, Michael Jackson was all the rage. I was a teenager in Paris, and "Thriller" was "ze talk of ze town." But all I cared about was "Carmen," and when my teacher finally assigned it to me for a recital, I jumped for joy. It was probably too hard for me at the time, but I couldn't have cared less. In hindsight, isn't it much wiser to have students work on something they enjoy?
Whether you're a young student or one who never ceases to learn, you will enjoy this weekend's Honolulu Symphony season finale. Maestro Samuel Wong will rejoice with Brahms' festive Symphony No. 2, and principal cellist Mark Votapek will share his own personal story of the Saint-Saëns Cello Concerto.
It's the first concerto he ever performed: first at age 15 with the Lansing Symphony, then with the World Youth Symphony Orchestra at Interlochen. Flashbacks to that time keep appearing to him as we rehearse: running to the concert because he was late and struggling with the artificial harmonics in the hot and humid weather. Try straightening your hair in a steam room and you'll get the idea.
My own story involves being in Paris at 13, an age when going out with my friends should have been my prerogative, my "raison d'être." The problem was that I was far from my hometown, and I had no friends in Paris.
It seemed as though life as I knew it was over.
To most the city of lights is so romantic, with Ms. Tour Eiffel watching over you, beautiful French people riding their scooters with fresh baguettes in their arms, and couples kissing on the riverbank. Me? I was just sulking. I wanted to be the great Platini on the soccer field back home; I wanted to go back to my elementary school crush and tell her that I had returned. Never mind that she cared a lot more about my best friend, Jean-Claude.
"Carmen" ended up being my savior. Life as an emerging adult was challenging, with a new teacher and new environment, and I wasn't so keen on practicing scales and etudes, either. But "Carmen Fantaisie" became a refuge, a safe haven. I could lose myself playing the sweet melodies, and the time spent mastering the technical demands meant less time arguing with the outside world.
Since then I've performed the "Fantaisie" many times and in many places, from Korea to Switzerland, in Italy and the United States. But even now, every phrase sends me down memory lane, just as the Saint-Saëns does for Mark.
I remember the express train outside our apartment waking us up, the annoying neighbor with her aggravating French poodle, the looks of wonder at the fancy boutiques, the cobblestones in the avenues of Paris. More than 20 years later, those times are long gone, but Carmen and all she represents will always stay in me.
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