Symphony crowd won't let hot trio go


POSTED: Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Symphony-goers expect tradition. The classic, romantic pieces of the early 20th century are regularly performed to the delight of symphony patrons everywhere, while the music that was composed after this period remains largely a mystery.

The symphony's contemporary focus Saturday night was a pleasant surprise for the ears and mind.

And, to make things better, the first concert of the symphony season not only presented a high-quality contemporary piece performed by extraordinary soloists, but juxtaposed it with a traditional work in the first part of the concert — an interesting contrast.

Mendelssohn's Symphony No. 4, the “;Italian”; (1833), opened the evening establishing the typical conservative mode of a symphony concert.

Contrary from the previous planned program that included works from Ravel and Mussorgsky, the concert presented only Mendelssohn's symphony to contrast Bela Fleck, Zakir Hussain and Edgar Meyer's “;Triple Concerto for Banjo, Double Bass and Tabla”; in the second half of the program. The classical balance and conventional form of the symphony was delivered with refined attention by the orchestra under the baton of Andreas Delfs. But what happened after that was the real fun.

Three extraordinary soloists from different musical backgrounds came together to join their incredibly strong skills and expertise. Fleck, Hussain and Meyer are in fact well known for their unique musical and technical virtuosity.

Fleck is the greatest living banjoist and has been nominated in many diverse Grammy categories.

Zakir, trained in Indian classical music, is a world-famous tabla player who exudes energy and extraordinary control of the instrument.

And double bassist Meyer, with his relaxed demeanor and supple hands, can do anything he likes with sound, phrasing and precision.

With their skills, knowledge and ability to adapt to musical genres other than their own, the three have made the concerto a truly singular experience. Jazz, Indian classical and a little bluegrass make the concerto an interesting and thoughtful piece that opens up the horizons of sounds and genres while keeping the traditional concerto form.

Although this is not the first time we hear such diversity converge in one work (for example, Philip Glass' 1990 “;Passages,”; in which the composer collaborated with sitar master Ravi Shankar), the piece has a taste of its own. It is a sophisticated work that can please many.

Among the audience were Fleck's faithful admirers — composition students, jazz lovers, symphony regulars and curious “;world music”; listeners.

Not willing to let the artists go, the audience asked the trio for more. Unwilling to leave, Fleck, Hussain and Meyer played more, but this time, intimate and jazzy music under the spotlight. The hall felt smaller while feet were tapping and occasional shouts cheered the musicians.

The trio will be touring this fall throughout the country to promote their CD “;The Melody of Rhythm,”; a recording that is surely going to sell many copies.


Symphony's 110th season opens with hope, back pay

After a troubled financial year, the Honolulu Symphony has started its 110th season with great hopes and energy. The Honolulu Symphony Foundation has advanced $1.8 million to retro-pay the musicians and staff who, during last season, missed their salary for more than eight weeks.

The number of members of the Honolulu Symphony Society board of directors has increased to 30 from 14 with the goal of revitalizing the business. Chairman Peter Shaindlin has explained that the changes involve “;improvements in leadership, structure, operating model, transparency and fiscal management.”;

Majken Mechling was appointed the new executive director.

In attempt to balance this season's revenue, pay has been cut 15 percent across the board.


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