Star-Bulletin Features

Monday, March 8, 1999

Huang’s playing fluid


By Ruth O. Bingham
Special to the Star-Bulletin


Pianist Helen Huang, an unassuming, pretty slip of a girl in short hair and a sleeveless, iridescent blue-and-purple gown, looks and sounds like a typical teen-ager: She loves to shop, talk on the phone for hours, and hang out with her friends. She is, after all, only 16 and no different from all her friends. Except that after school she practices "only" 3-4 hours, attends Juilliard School of Music on Saturdays, and flies all over to perform with the world's leading orchestras.

Huang says her friends don't really understand what she does: "Classical music is, as we know, dying. Nobody is really interested in classical music any more that is, nobody young."

It certainly didn't seem that way Sunday, when people of all ages came to hear Huang perform with the Honolulu Symphony.

Huang was originally scheduled to perform a Shostakovich concerto, but "I didn't like to play it. It just didn't grow on me." Instead, she chose the Ravel, which she learned in one month and performed for the first time last night. She explained, "Everybody would rather hear the Ravel. It's so much fun. It's really draining constant motion, always moving."

Ravel's concerto suited Huang well: Both are unpretentious and of greater worth than might appear at first. The Ravel is not a virtuoso showcase -- even its technically demanding passages are not especially flashy -- but it does require a sensitive and fluid pianist. Huang delivered that, seemingly with ease. Her playing is as yet neither powerful nor profound, but it reveals excellent technique. Her reading of the second movement's long solo was especially beautiful.

The concert opened with the world premiere of composer Jerre' Tanner's "Postcards from Chandi." Chandi Heffner, ex-adopted daughter of the late Doris Duke and a Big Island rancher, won Tanner's composing services in a fund-raiser for the symphony.

The 13-minute symphony in three movements simultaneously depicts Heffner's ranchland on Kohala Mountain and the path toward enlightenment of Heffner's Hindu religion.

Tanner's tightly constructed symphony reflects the burgeoning romanticism of late 20th-century works. It seems to capture his subject, whom he found "to be a very serious person and dedicated to things that are important to her."

The symphony is evocative and filled with onomatopoetic devices (such as the sweeping wind), and titillating timbres.

Conductor Samuel Wong closed the concert with a solid performance from familiar German classical territory, Mendelssohn's Symphony No.3, his "Scottish." Although not as well-known as the overtures and "Italian" symphony, the "Scottish" offers Mendelssohn "fairie music" in its second movement and his usual array of colorful wind solos. With wind solos too numerous to mention, perhaps this is a good time to point out the strings' sometimes underappreciated fine work.


Honolulu Symphony

Bullet Repeat performance: 7:30 p.m.Tuesday
Bullet Place: Blaisdell Concert Hall
Bullet Tickets: $15-$50
Bullet Call: 538-8863

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