Premieres are always a gamble. What we tend to forget is that every piece was once a premiere and that, in Mozart's day, concerts consisted almost entirely of premieres. Audiences went to hear new music, not old.
reflects climate of
our political world
By Ruth O. Bingham
Special to the Star-Bulletin
Now, however, the stakes are higher. The musical chaff has fallen away, leaving only exceptional works in the repertory. The comparatively few that remain ensure high quality at virtually every concert, and the drastically fewer premieres stand out in novelty. It is not that better works were composed then -- quite the contrary -- it is that premieres were common and the overall quality low: well-composed works stood out in contrast.
Imagine an art premiere analogous to those in music today: i.e., a show featuring Michelangelo, Monet, Van Gogh ... and Smith. Audiences might recognize Smith's talent more easily alongside other contemporary premieres.
Imagine also how a concert of premieres might change how audiences hear new works.
On Friday night, Maestro Samuel Wong and the Honolulu Symphony premiered Donald Reid Womack's Violin Concerto, composed for Concertmaster Ignace Jang. The performance was recorded and will be broadcast by Hawaii Public Radio.
Womack's Concerto was emotional, dramatic, intense, but not "pretty," and thus will separate those who believe music expresses beauty from those who believe it expresses the whole of human experience, which is not always beautiful.
Inspiration for this concerto came from our political situation since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. "I had no choice -- it just seeped in," Womack said, "(The concerto) reflects our times and hopefully our collective emotional state as well."
The first movement, "Cadenza -- In these times of conflict" presented a terrifying sound-world of violence and aggression contrasted with transitory moments of beauty, including a haunting duet between oboe and violin and another, more desolate, between harp and violin.
The second movement, "Canto -- In these times of sorrow" followed without pause and portrayed relentless grief, through lyrical lines devolving repeatedly into anger and despair.
And the third movement, "Coda -- In these times of change" represented hope for positive change in a wild, driven tumult that made even the audience break out in a sweat.
Reactions ranged from "Great piece!" to "I didn't care for it," and applause, although warm, revealed some uncertainty.
Womack's Concerto is a powerful work, impressively crafted, that impacts listeners on a visceral level. It was striking even among familiar masterworks; among other contemporary premieres, it might have seemed extraordinary.
Listeners were unanimous in their praise for Jang, whose technical brilliance and emotional intensity beguiled. By the end of his encore, the jazzy duet "Djangology" by Stephane Grapelli, with Womack playing string bass, Jang had the audience begging for more.
Ruth O. Bingham reviews classical music for the Star-Bulletin.
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