Ignace "Iggy" Jang

Khachaturian is a thrilling
turning point

Some childhood memories are so vivid, they stick with you for life. When I was 11, one such moment forever altered my outlook on classical music. I was a committed violin student by then, but always the shy and obeying kind, never too rebellious.

'Iggy Jang Plays Khachaturian'

Alasdair Neale conducts the Honolulu Symphony Orchestra:

Place: Blaisdell Concert Hall

In concert: 8 p.m. May 13, and 4 p.m. May 15

Tickets: $21, $33, $43, $51 and $64

Call: 792-2000 or Ticketmaster at 877-750-4400

One day, I heard the Khachaturian Violin Concerto and it hit me like lightning. Their music was stormy, exotic, melodic, hypnotizing, sensual and racy all together -- for all I knew at that age. It was an epiphany. From then on, I thought that playing the violin could be thrilling!

Much to my delight, my teacher eventually taught me the concerto. As years went by and my knowledge of the violin repertoire grew, I never forgot that turning point. And now, here I am, ready to relive the experience! This weekend I will present this work with guest conductor maestro Alasdair Neale and the Honolulu Symphony.

Khachaturian's Violin Concerto brings exhilarating flavors to the palate. I will always remember the graphic descriptions my teacher used: "Mon petit Ignace," Madame Elphége would say, "Play this tune like you're carrying a blade between your teeth, riding a horse in pursuit of the enemy!" I never replied. My teacher had an intimidating presence, which only exacerbated my shyness. So I would just nod, petrified. But inside, I felt the energy of the rhythms, the tension and the drive.

A week later, I played a sweet melody from the concerto. I remember her saying: "La la la laa, come on Ignace, sing!"

Now that I'm older, this melody reminds me of an exotic veiled woman performing a tantalizing dance. Occasionally, I still use these terms with my own students.

Even now, it's not so easy talking to Madame Elphége. When I visited her last year, I found myself feeling 6 years old all over again, walking to my lesson as slowly as possible. The best part was the relief once the lesson was over, and the warm "pain au chocolat" from the bakery that my mother would have for me.

Today, I am forever grateful to my teacher for encouraging me to be the best violinist I could be. And this weekend, I hope to convey all the colors from the Khachaturian Concerto that she once so eloquently described.

Nothing but a full orchestra could produce all those colors. The flutes, oboes, clarinets and brass bring hypnotizing twirls, snake-charming dances and warrior-like rhythms to the music.

Aram Khachaturian, a 20th-century Armenian composer, was deeply influenced by the folk music of his cultural heritage. The concerto's appeal and beauty provoked the composer Stravinsky to compare it with "Lokum" or Turkish Delights. Rather odd if you ask me, because Armenia and Turkey are the fiercest of rivals.

You're in great hands with Maestro Neale. Recent engagements have seen him conduct some of the world's most renowned orchestras, from New York to Stuttgart, from Sydney to Paris. The musicians are always eager to make music with guest conductors. In a way, it's like having a famous guest chef come to your favorite restaurant and cook for you. Who could refuse such an offer?

Back in the late '70s, one of the Honolulu Symphony's guest conductors was Khachaturian himself. It turned out to be one of his last concerts. Some of his most popular music was presented to a packed audience, including "Saber Dance" and the violin concerto. This weekend, I hope to make his spirit proud with a performance bound for memory lane.

Ignace "Iggy" Jang is the Honolulu Symphony's concertmaster. His column will appear on the Monday prior to each concert of the season to illuminate works to be performed. E-mail comments and questions to Jang at suggestions@honolulusymphony.com

The Honolulu Symphony

E-mail to Features Desk


© Honolulu Star-Bulletin -- https://archives.starbulletin.com