Star-Bulletin Features

Anne Akiko Meyers mesmerized the audience with what seemed to be a duet performance with maestro Samuel Wong and the Honolulu Symphony.

Symphony dances
with Meyers’ strings

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

Not only talented, but beautiful as well -- so much for everyone being created equal: Renowned violinist and model Anne Akiko Meyers glided on stage Sunday in form-fitting white satin and proceeded to soar through Samuel Barber's Violin Concerto.

Meyers played with passion, especially in angular outbursts that set off Barber's famously lyrical melodies. She played the concerto as if it were a duet with maestro Samuel Wong and the Honolulu Symphony, dovetailing into their climaxes, seamlessly sharing lines. In the third movement, a tour de force in perpetual motion, her long fingers fairly flew over the firestorm, and she ended grinning, clearly pleased.

Meyers performed on a Vuillaume violin which had an exceptionally large, rich tone reminiscent of mezzo-soprano's throaty lower range.

Even Meyers' Vuillaume, however, was occasionally covered by the orchestra; after all, there is only so much one instrument can do when pitted against a full orchestra. Perhaps audiences have been spoiled by carefully mixed recordings. Perhaps some degree of covering is inevitable in live performance; it is certainly preferable to checking climaxes. On Sunday, Meyers and Wong gave Barber's sumptuous climaxes free rein.

Covering becomes an acute problem with softer solo instruments, as in Debussy's lilting, dreamlike "Danse sacrée et profane," featuring the harp. To minimize covering, Debussy reduced the orchestra to about 40 strings, allowing the harp's gentle tone to shine through. Honolulu Symphony's Constance Harding Uejio performed the Debussy on "Elizabeth," a 90-pound, 47-string double-action pedal harp. (Her description sounded rather like that of a car: a brand-new Lexus, for example, which costs roughly the same amount as the harp.)

Because harps tend to be associated with gowned ladies strumming romantically, few people realize how difficult they are to play. Uejio created a stunning array of effects while alternately accompanying, enhancing and leading the orchestra. Ironically, her polished technique and wide dynamic range made it all sound so easy.

Stravinsky followed the Debussy in a juxtaposition of two of the most distinctive 20th-century composers: Debussy, whose musical language no one could use without sounding like an imitator, and Stravinsky, whose rhythms were copied everywhere, profoundly changing 20th-century music.

Stravinsky composed his "Danses concertantes" in mosaic colors for a chamber orchestra, mostly one on a part. Its quirky, intricate rhythms and light-hearted humor set Wong to bouncing, and its spare scoring kept the musicians on their toes in a finely crafted interpretation.

The concert ended with pure fun, miles from Wong's carefully balanced reading of Mozart's "Don Giovanni" overture, which opened the concert. As one patron commented before Brahms' Hungarian Dances, "We had our cake in the first half; this must be the icing."

Tiny claps of delight rippled through the audience as Wong began, conducting the dances with abandon, filling them with dramatic extremes. Scenes of Vienna flitted through the music: waltz kings and "Hungarian" musicians, Sunday open-air concerts, strolling down the Prater, Wiener schnitzel, Kaffee mit Sahne, goulash with Hungarian paprika ...

The audience relaxed into Brahms' tunes, revealing how important familiarity is to aural pleasure, and explaining much: the power of popular music, the pull of functional harmony, the anxiety and resistance to new music. Tellingly, in a concert featuring two soloists, these orchestral works were the ones encored.

The audience fairly danced from the concert hall, animated and smiling.

Ruth O. Bingham reviews classical music for the Star-Bulletin.

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