The Hawaii Performing Arts Festival (HPAF) celebrated the new year and its upcoming fifteenth anniversary season with a stellar concert featuring ukulele superstar Jake Shimabukuro. Sunday’s matinee at the Westin Hapuna Beach Resort was not only filled with riveting musical moments, but it was also an opportunity to announce HPAF’s 2019 Summer Festival and how to support the non-profit’s teaching and performance efforts.
For fifteen seasons, HPAF has continued to bring world-class music to Hawai’i Island. Their Summer Festival has established an international reputation as a premiere training and performance program for aspiring young artists worldwide. Each season, HPAF assembles an exceptional international roster of artists who offer a wide range of performances to the Big Island community.
Just before the afternoon show started, HPAF’s executive director Justin John Moniz greeted the packed house and explained that today’s concert was also a fundraiser for their 2019 scholarships. “It’s an expensive venture for students to travel to Hawaii, study, and be able to afford meals and housing… we work with them through this process,” said Moniz. “Last year we were able to award nearly $83,000 in scholarships and the more exciting thing is that we were able to support 100 percent of local students from Hawaii.”
Shimabukuro began his nearly two-hour concert by introducing Hawai’i Symphony Orchestra cellist Joshua Nakazawa who accompanied him throughout most of the show. Nakazawa, a graduate of Manhattan School of Music, played a beautiful up-right electric cello, adding a stunning richness to songs like “Eleanor Rigby” and “Piano Forte,” a tune Shimabukuro originally wrote for two ukuleles. At times it appeared the two musicians connected telepathically during intense sections of compositions, pushing each other to the peak of a solo.
Nakazawa and Shimabukuro first worked together for a 2015 Hawai’i Symphony Orchestra commissioned project by Dr. Byron Yasui. The three-part Concerto was titled Concerto for Ukulele and Orchestra, Campanella, and Nakazawa and Shimabukuro performed a small section from the complex arrangement. Shimabukuro, eyes closed, took a Zen-like moment to gather his attention before engaging his instrument.
Another chilling piece in the first half of the show was the title track for the 2017 film Go For Broke. The tune honors the Japanese-American WWII Nisei Soldiers, and starts with an eerie sound effect Shimabukuro creates on his ukulele – taiko drum-like – conjuring up images of machine gun/mortar fire in battle. After completing many of the unique songs in the set, Nakazawa and Shimabukuro did a fist-bump in celebration of each collaboration.
On occasion, the two string players brought up Paul Buckley for percussion on the cajón, a box-shaped percussion instrument originally from Peru. Buckley runs Waimea Music and is the Kahilu Theatre’s Sound Guru. He did triple duty today by running sound, lights, and laying down the groove behind Jake and Josh.
Shimabukuro began the second set with “Let’s Dance,” a song inspired by flamenco guitarist Carlos Montoya and penned while still in high school. What followed next was a blur of strumming and fret racing fingers, eeking out notes that you didn’t know were possible from the petite instrument. One of the many joys of today’s concert was watching Shimabukuro pause and flash a smile mid-marathon, bringing a smile from the audience as well.
The show ended with Queen’s legendary “Bohemian Rhapsody,” also the title of last year’s hit movie starring Rami Malek. The crowd quickly brought back the ukulele master and the musicians back for an encore. They played “The Greatest Day,” the title track for Shimabukuro’s new album, which was recorded at Nashville’s famed Ronnie’s Place studio with producer R.S. Field.
Shimabukuro always ends his shows with a positive message for students encouraging them to follow their passion, avoid drugs, and stick with it. “Don’t be afraid to work hard and be the best you can be… it takes a lot of practice, and don’t get discouraged!”
HPAF’s next concert takes place on February 12. It’s called Stradivarius! And features Martin Chalifour, Principle Concertmaster of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and Cary Lewis of the Lanier Trio. The event starts at 7 PM, and ticket info can be found here: http://www.hawaiiperformingartsfestival.org/event/stradivarius-martin-chalifour-principle-concertmaster-of-the-los-angeles-philharmonic-and-cary-lewis-of-the-lanier-trio/
Piano Forte | Blue Roses Falling | Galloping Seahorses | Selection from Concerto for Ukulele and Orchestra – Campanella | Go For Broke | Eleanor Rigby
Let’s Dance | 1-4-3 | 6:8 | Bohemian Rhapsody
The Greatest Day
Be sure to visit Joshua Nakazawa’s website: http://www.manamusichawaii.com
If you’d like to donate to or find out more about HPAF, please visit: http://www.hawaiiperformingartsfestival.org
Steve Roby is a music journalist, best-selling author, originally from San Francisco. He’s been featured in the NY Times, Rolling Stone, and Billboard Magazine. Roby is also the Managing Editor of Big Island Music Magazine.
Photo credit: Steve Roby