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Symphonic cannon blasts end fine season


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POSTED: Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Six indoor cannon shots cut through the night. Explosions sparked at the sound of anthems. Victory seemed very close.

That was this weekend.

But the uphill financial battle that the Honolulu Symphony has been fighting for so long is still not over. While playing the last piece of the final concert of the season—Tchaikovsky's suggestive “;1812 Overture”;—the musicians were still three months behind in their pay. But still in top musical shape, the wounded orchestra played the finale under Andreas Delfs' baton with no sign of resignation.

In an appeal to support the musicians and staff, symphony board member Valerie Ossipoff introduced the last two concerts asking for money.

A funding campaign launched to preserve the symphony is called “;Hana Laulima,”; Hawaiian for helping hands, she explained. In two weeks, $150,000 has been raised, but the campaign's goal is still far away.

It was also a time for recognition. In between thunderous ovations, Ossipoff gave leis to dedicated senior musicians: cellist Joanna Fleming (51 years with the Honolulu Symphony), violinist Duane White (39 years), violist Melvin Whitney (37 years), associate concertmaster Claire Sakai Hazzard (34 years), principal trumpet Mark Schubert (33 years), principal bassoonist Paul H. Barrett (32 years), principal bass Kirby Nunez (20 years) and the always busy director of concert operations, Kenji Stevens.

This season has been one of the best I have attended. Delfs has been creative, extremely professional and has attracted larger audiences that I can remember. With his fluency with German and Russian orchestral music, he made his concerts a unique experience.

And speaking of Russian, the last two series of concerts included only Russian music.

Two weekends ago the concert featured internationally known Russian conductor Vasily Petrenko and William Wolfram, the winner of several prestigious piano competitions. The pianist's flexible and large hands played the Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No. 1, balancing his sound with a well-rehearsed orchestra.

The last concert showcased virtuoso violinist Giora Schmidt in an energetic performance of the famous Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto. His cadence in the first movement triggered “;unconventional”; but substantiated applause. His technique is diabolic, and his expression in the second movement was clean and moving. A well-deserved standing ovation.

When I left Saturday's concert, I heard some spectators whistling the motives of selections from Prokofiev's “;Romeo and Juliet”; Suites 1 and 2, and others the Russian anthem “;God Save the Tsar”; (the winner in the evocative “;1812 Overture”;) and the French anthem “;Marseillaise”; (the loser).

Indeed the Russians won. That is, for the time being.

Although Russian and German works will prevail, next season we will hear more French orchestral music (Ravel, Debussy and Poulenc). We will rediscover Bartok, Dvorak and Britten; we will enjoy Liszt; and we will explore music of contemporary composers.

Until then, good luck to the symphony for a successful campaign and a fresh start.


Valeria Wenderoth has a doctorate in musicology from the University of Hawaii at Manoa, where she also teaches.