Symphony musicians
are masterful in solos

Symphony's Own Stars

Continues today at 4:00 p.m. at the Blaisdell Concert Hall.

Two of the symphony's own musicians are featured as soloists and the symphony performs Tchaikovsky's Sixth Symphony. Tickets are $16-$59. Call 792-2000 for more information.

The sixth concert of the Honolulu Symphony Orchestra's Masterworks season featured two soloists from the orchestra's own ranks, as well as one of the monuments of Romantic orchestral literature.

The concert opened with Eric Ewazen's "Concerto for Bass Trombone," played by Michael Szabo. The bass trombone sounds like the familiar tenor trombone in its middle and upper registers, but several loops of extra tubing activated by valves allow for additional low notes. The rumbling timbre of these pitches gives the instrument its distinctive quality.

The powerful instrument is perfectly suited to Szabo, who looks like he came straight from the football field to the concert hall. Szabo's virtuoso technique and musical sensitivity were showcased in the very accessible work by Juilliard professor Ewazen, who shared in the bows at the end.

Like many recent concert works, the concerto reflects the influence of pop styles. The use of two xylophones playing as many as eight notes simultaneously contributed some exciting colors, and the well-crafted crescendo in the first movement elicited spontaneous applause.

William Schuman's "Concerto for Violin and Orchestra (1950)" is in a much more severe style. Associate principal second violinist Darel Stark interpreted its complex rhythms with suitable intensity and seriousness. The extensive first-movement trio shared by Stark, clarinetist Scott Anderson and flutist Susan McGinn was beautiful. Stark's rhythmic precision and accuracy of intonation carried the day in the difficult second movement.

Tchaikovsky's "Symphony No. 6, Pathétique," is a piece that every music lover should experience in person. The composer believed it to be his best work, and indeed it achieves an unprecedented level of honest intensity without resorting to the schlockiness his critics decry in some of his more popular works.

The first movement is built on a single four-note motive that is initially presented in a slow introduction and then subjected to every imaginable permutation of motivic development. The final movement ends with a whimper rather than a bang, inviting speculation about connections to Tchaikovsky's own life, which ended (possibly by suicide) nine days after the premiere.

The orchestra clearly felt the weight of this great work, as concertmaster Ignace Jang swayed back and forth to urge his section to more passion. The group handled the difficult antiphonal passages between winds and strings with precision and rhythmic drive. There seemed to be some rhythmic insecurity in the rubato passages, perhaps due to the unorthodox, batonless conducting technique of guest conductor Naoto Otomo.

The symphony management gave away numerous free tickets for this weekend's concerts, which yielded a sizable and enthusiastic audience. Though not strictly "de rigueur," it was refreshing to hear spontaneous applause between movements of all three pieces.

E. Douglas Bomberger is a professor of music at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.


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