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Star-Bulletin Features

Monday, March 13, 2000

‘Rainbow’ a
fitting tribute

Bullet Pacific Rainbow: An Orchestral Ode to Akio Morita: The Honolulu Symphony with Akiko Suwanai and Naoto Otomo. Repeats 7:30 p.m. tomorrow at Blaisdell Concert Hall. Tickets $15 to $50. Call 792-2000.

By Ruth O. Bingham
Special to the Star-Bulletin


AKIO Morita, founder and chairman of Sony Corp., fostered close cultural and business relationships between Japan and the United States but was especially fond of Hawaii.

Yesterday's concert in honor of Mr. and Mrs. Morita featured the world premiere of "Pacific Rainbow: An Orchestral Ode to Akio Morita," composed on commission by prominent Japanese composer Minoru Miki and conducted by Naoto Otomo in his American debut.

Miki's composition portrayed Morita's life through a musical "rainbow" connecting Japanese themes and a Western framework in a kaleidoscope of orchestral colors. Appropriately, the "rainbow" appeared here, halfway between the two countries.

"Pacific Rainbow," in an accessible, diatonic style featuring pentatonic scales, was a fitting and inspiring tribute.

The concert offered other connecting rainbows as well. In addition to "Pacific Rainbow," the symphony presented Prokofiev's Concerto No. 1 with violinist Akiko Suwanai and Holst's "The Planets." The pieces all had strong nationalist sentiments, spanning the century (1917-2000) and the Eurasian continent, from Japan over Russia to England.

Last night's highlight turned out to be Suwanai, a superb violinist with impeccable technique, warmth, clarity, flair and remarkable artistic ease. Her affinity for Prokofiev's difficult concerto revealed her connections to Russian violin technique and she delivered Prokofiev's stratospheric harmonics with grace. As an encore, Suwanai quite literally dashed off Paganini's Caprice No. 5 in A minor with lightning precision, every note as clear as a bell. Paganini would have been proud.

Conductor Otomo offered a discrete, disciplined accompaniment in the Prokofiev, supportive but never intrusive.

According to Otomo, the Holst piece "is not really great music, like Bach, Beethoven, or Brahms, but (it is) fine music." Perhaps nationalist music can never be allowed to challenge the canon, but Otomo's conducting did not reveal that sentiment. Holding the orchestra with a tight rein, Otomo let crescendos blossom of their own power, never pushing, never letting Holst's strident, exhilarating cacophony overstep its boundaries.

Under Otomo, the Honolulu Symphony shone: entrances were crisp, solos well tailored, and ensemble clean. The brass and percussion, especially in "Mars" and "Jupiter," played exceptionally well. The horns blended beautifully, the trumpets rang out clearly, and the trombones and tubas powerfully anchored the whole.

Holst's ethereal closing was marred by the dreadful intonation of the Oahu Choral Society Women's Chorus: why couldn't they hear their pitches? Were there no monitors? The passage provided an unfortunate end to an otherwise excellent concert.

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