Star-Bulletin Features

Tuesday, April 3, 2001

Symphony ‘locals’ shine
in endearing effort

Reviewed by Ruth O. Bingham
Special to the Star-Bulletin

>> Tchaikovsky's Fifth Symphony: Repeats at 7:30 tonight at Blaisdell Concert Hall. Tickets $15 to $55. Call 792-2000.

Honolulu Symphony's current concert is a study in contrasts: perennial favorites and a little-known contemporary piece; a concise, tightly wrought work and a long, expansive fantasy; the earliest work written for chromatic trumpet and a 1995 concerto for bassoon; and two soloists, one just starting out, the other a seasoned veteran.

One of the most pleasant aspects of the varied program was the opportunity to hear the symphony's own as soloists and guest conductor.

Michael Zonshine, the new principal trumpeter from Eastman School of Music, performed Haydn's Trumpet Concerto in E-flat, on an E-flat trumpet.

Young, with the awkwardness born of mock nonchalance, Zonshine struggled with nerves and a dry mouth in the first movement, which caused several unfortunate "clams." It is a trumpeter's worst nightmare, but playing trumpet requires a special breed: one with the fortitude to carry on after playing mistakes fortissimo. And that Zonshine did.

After flautist Susan McGinn came to the rescue with a glass of water, Zonshine delivered a careful second movement and a more confident third.

Although he aborted his plan to improvise cadenzas, offering instead only a cursory riff or two, he revealed a sweet core tone, musical phrasing and controlled dynamics.

Such performances are disappointments, but hardly disasters. Zonshine demonstrated an ability to play well, and the audience applauded him encouragingly.

Bassoonist Paul Barrett, a 24-year veteran with the Symphony, closed the first half with a new concerto titled "Five Sacred Trees," composed by John Williams.

Yes, that John Williams (composer of "Star Wars," "Jaws," "Raiders of the Lost Ark," "Superman," "Saving Private Ryan" and so on), but no, not "that sound." Still well-crafted and innovative, his writing is more "serious classical" here. Yet even in the concert hall, Williams remains a master of musical effects, writing music based on images. (Note: Read the program beforehand.)

Barrett delivered an outstanding performance every note of the way. In his hands the bassoon's quirks and technical hurdles seemed to vanish, and in his quiet and unassuming way, Barrett placed the audience's focus on the music.

Of particular note were his arresting cadenza-like opening, the drifting, undulating meditation with harpist Constance Uejio (third movement) and his haunting solo over trilling low strings in the last movement. Barrett's performance was matched in quality by violinist Ignace Jang's and violist Mark Butin's second-movement solos.

Barrett's performance was marred only by a sophomoric April Fools' joke, an electronic intrusion into a tender moment in the first movement.

Chafetz, who is developing rapidly as a conductor, provided both soloists firm support. He collaborated with Barrett in a rich interpretation of the Williams and followed Zonshine carefully, even when Zonshine truncated his cadenza (nice catch, Chafetz!).

In spite of a tendency to be carried away by excitement in finales, Chafetz often chose excellent tempos. His lively but controlled tempo for Mozart's "Marriage of Figaro" overture allowed a more contoured reading than the one at this season's opera, and his usually expansive tempos in Tchaikovsky's Fifth Symphony allowed the audience to luxuriate in those famously lush melodies, so sumptuous they must be fattening.

Naming outstanding soloists in Tchaikovsky's Symphony would entail the complete list of principals, but mention must be made of clarinetist Scott Anderson's and French hornist Ken Friedenberg's fine work.

Tchaikovsky's soaring melodies are grounded in the low strings, which rarely get the credit they deserve, and they echo off the brass, which occasionally produced a thrilling "wall" of sound -- a solid, well-balanced brick wall, fortified with real power.

Hawaii's aloha was abundant for its musicians. During intermission, even people who confessed to not being fond of the Williams piece talked about how happy they were to hear "our musicians." The audience called Zonshine back for two bows, inspiring him to bestow his lei on McGinn in thanks, and gave Chafetz's Tchaikovsky one of their beloved standing ovations.

A "locals" concert appears to be an emerging, popular spring tradition.

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