Concert highlights
symphony changes

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

Change can be good. Or bad. Or both. Or sometimes just uncertain, perking interest and raising questions.

Orchestras, called "dinosaurs" and "museums" even by supporters, are notoriously resistant to change. But Honolulu Symphony is moving ahead: A new logo. Pre-concert mini-concerts. A new image. And new programming. Friday's program featured non-traditional fare: 20th-century music, American composers, and two guest soloists, one of them a film.

The concert culminated in a multimedia presentation surrounding a documentary film, "Then There Were None." Presented in collaboration with the Hawai'i International Film Festival and coinciding with its opening night, the film was written and narrated by Elizabeth Kapu'uwailani Lindsey Buyers.

Her story tracked the decimation of pure-blooded Hawaiians, from an estimated 500,000 in 1778 to only 8,711 in 1993. At that rate, it's pointed out, there will be none left by 2044.

The performance began with a powerful chant by kumu John Ka'imikaua, a master in sculpting vocal timbre, and two men of his halau. Near the end, the pure, clear voices of Na Leo Kuho'okahi, the touring ensemble of the Hawai'i Youth Opera Chorus directed by Nola Nahulu, rose to float sweetly above the music, the childrens' voices associated with innocence in portraying wronged Hawaiians.

Throughout the middle, the film dominated, shifting the symphony's performance of Schifrin's "Selections from Symphony No.1, (Lili'uokalani)" into the background. Schifrin's music was not composed for the film, and the juxtaposition raised interesting questions: it was difficult to tell whether the music supported or added anger to a fundamentally tragic story.

The arts have always been political, educational, philosophical and biased one way or other, an aspect that tends to make people uncomfortable. The film should have incited strong emotions. But there was no responding anger or outrage. The audience chose instead to focus on its beauty.

Three remaining pieces tracked other changes: changes brought to classical music from American musics, including jazz, popular song and musical theater, in challenging European hegemony.

Copland's "Music for Theater" and Gershwin's liltingly popular "An American in Paris" showcased outstanding solos, including several by trumpeter Michael Zonshine, Jason Sudduth in an enticing English horn melody, and clarinetists Norman Foster and Scott Anderson.

The most remarkable was also the newest, "Concerto America" by Charles Strouse, composed for second guest soloist, pianist Jeffrey Biegel, who contributed his own cadenza.

The piece was less of a piano concerto than a concerto for orchestra with piano. The ungrateful piece demanded much from the performer without granting commensurate recognition.

The concerto required facility with at least three styles besides classical: jazz, popular, and musical theater. Biegel shone in every one. But he did not receive the applause he deserved. Imagine being upstaged by music composed for you.

The symphony's changes have added a breath of fresh air. With such changes will come a shift in audience, but also new ideas, thoughts and discussions, and that is the main purpose of art, whether as high culture or entertainment.

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