COURTESY HONOLULU SYMPHONY
Conductor Andreas Delfs has proved himself a master at leading the symphony with masterful precision.
Symphony’s crisis did not hurt concerts
If a concert hall tells us about the music played within, the Blaisdell Concert Hall is the right place to hear the Honolulu Symphony. A large venue with good acoustics and comfortable seats, this is the place to hear the full sound of an orchestra of quality and appreciate the subtleties of soloists' interpretations.
After several concerts scattered around town, a persistent production of Disney's "The Lion King," the beginning of a new year and a varied opera season, the Masterworks Series resumed Saturday, back where it belongs.
The symphony was able to return to the Blaisdell in December, just before a two-month break. The return has been exciting in many ways. We finally have the musicians back on a spacious stage, in a convenient venue. But most of all, there's hope that the musicians, who took a sharp pay cut at the end of the year, are returning to an orchestra that's in better economic shape.
After suffering from high expenses and low revenues, the symphony will not have to spend any more money moving from one venue to another. Then, thanks to overwhelming community support through the year-end fund drive, and to ongoing donations from many concertgoers, the administration can start to feel a bit more comfortable. And more: A state House bill seeking a direct appropriation of $810,000 to fund musicians' salaries and ongoing programming passed second reading last Monday. Finally, symphony officials are also counting on the release of $4 million in state funds authorized by the Legislature in 2006.
The financial crisis, however, has not affected the quality of the performances. In the days of the pay cut -- the first two weeks of December -- we heard excellent performances. From Dvork's Eighth Symphony to Copland's "Fanfare," from Smetana's "Moldau" to Brahms' Fourth Symphony, the orchestra was always focused and precise.
We also had high-caliber soloists. Vadim Gluzman impressed the audience with his brilliant and Romantic interpretation of Beethoven's Violin Concerto, as did Benedetto Lupo with his elegant, collected playing in Beethoven's Fourth Piano Concerto.
Last weekend, cellist Zuill Bailey displayed his technical skills in an effortless interpretation of Tchaikovsky's "Variations on a Rococo Theme." Written as an homage to Mozart, the piece sparkles with energy and wit, qualities that match Bailey's personality and technique. It was a refreshing interpretation of a super-famous piece. The brilliant cadenza in the fifth variation was particularly fun.
The variations are linked by a ritornello showcasing the woodwinds, who also kept the music bubbly. To Mozart's typical Salzburg concerto orchestra of oboes, horns and strings, Tchaikovsky added flutes, clarinets and bassoons. He gave the fifth variation's theme to the flute, and to the cello, ornamental trills. Flutists Susan McGinn and Amy Taylor worked in synchronized harmony with Bailey.
It was also refreshing to see Andreas Delfs exuding energetic command at the podium. We've seen him enough times now to confirm that precision is one of his highest priorities. In the second part of the concert, he conducted Shostakovich's Tenth Symphony, a long and difficult piece to digest. Nothing could stop him, and nothing could stop the orchestra in that rhythmic tour de force.
We will see Delfs two more times before the end of the Masterworks season: this weekend conducting an all-French concert program, and April 19 and 20 in tandem with baritone Thomas Hampson in an operatic recital.
Although the programs remain mostly on the safe, conservative side, the choice of performers is remarkable. And that is terrific news. We have never seen them in Hawaii, and that makes the concerts even more exciting.
Pascal Rog is considered a worldwide ambassador of French music, not only because he plays nothing else, but also because he plays it like no other pianist. Known for his unique touch and richness of timbres and technical mastery, he will perform Ravel's Piano Concerto.
Hampson's operatic concert also will be one of a kind. Lately heard mostly in Verdi's roles, the baritone has performed principal roles at the Metropolitan Opera -- in fact, just this week he is Don Carlo in Verdi's "Ernani" -- and recently he appeared as Germont, opposite Rene Fleming in "La Traviata" at the Lyric Opera of Chicago.
On May 3 and 4 we will hear Arthur Rubinstein's protge Dubravka Tomsic, a Slovenian pianist who has recorded more then 80 CDs. Her technical mastery and sober posture have been recognized as unique by critics. On Thursday she played in the "Virtuoso Piano" concert series in London, and after touring all over the United States, she will premiere here.
More French music, but this time choral, will be performed under the baton of the Symphony Choir's ex-conductor Karen Kennedy on April 11 and 12. French repertoire is her specialty, so we are looking forward to her return.
Ending the season in the traditional finale, concertmaster Ignace Jang will perform the delightful Concerto No. 3 by Mozart, leaving us in an upbeat mode. Hopefully by then all the orchestra's musicians will have been fully compensated for their excellent work, and no more financial headaches will disrupt next season.
Valeria Wenderoth reviews classical music for the Star-Bulletin. She has a doctorate in musicology from the University of Hawaii at Manoa, where she also teaches.