rom Kona to Hawi and down the Hamakua Coast, there are loyal enthusiasts of the Kamuela Phil the way there are lifelong fans for a home team. Almost everyone who loves classical and/or orchestral music has a friend or family member in the orchestra or knows someone who does. With much anticipation, the fans streamed in to catch the opener of the season, “A Hawaii Homecoming.” The person coming home was guest cello soloist, Anthony Arnone, who began his life in Honolulu. And we were not to be disappointed.
The Kamuela Philharmonic Orchestra’s beloved founder and Maestro, Madeline Schatz-Harris, built the organization from the ground up, tapping into the considerable musical talent on Hawaii Island. Today, it is not easy to get on the roster; the 45 members of the Orchestra are among the island’s best. Brian Dollinger was hired in 2016 as the second Artistic Director and Conductor. For this Kahilu Theatre concert, he put together an excellent selection of pieces that provided opportunities for all the musicians to shine.
Hungarian Bela Bartok was the Alan Lomax of Eastern Europe, or rather, the other way around: Bartok was the first ethnomusicologist, gathering folk tunes from his travels to rural areas in several different countries. He was a pioneer in bringing to light the rich trove of melodies passed down -but not written down – from generation to generation. As a composer, he often incorporated some of the melodies he had discovered.
The Kamuela Phil performed Bartok’s “Rumanian Folk Dances,” seven short instrumental pieces, originally played mostly by fiddles or shepherd’s flutes in the countryside. Typical of music from those parts of the world, within one tune there can be different passages in different keys and shifts from major to minor within a single phrase. Because the songs are short, each one had its own mood, from foot stomping vigor to ethereal pensiveness. The final “Quick Dance” was an example of the former, while Dance number three is a slow flute solo, largely repeating the same high and almost eerie theme, with simple chords underneath which, as the chords change, give the flute melody a slightly shifting affect. Susanella Noble’s flute artistry was awesome, conjuring a solitary shepherd whose music floats down a mountain in the still air.
Next came Beethoven’s Symphony No. 4. It was a pleasure to hear one of the less often performed of the Symphonies, considered by some to be an overlooked treasure. Not as grandiose as some of the other Symphonies, the 4th may be less innovative but has solid roots in the tradition of predecessor composers such as Haydn. Overall, the Symphony maintains a positive atmosphere without the build-up of tension that is usual in Beethoven; the Adagio is not sombre, but gentle in tone. Throughout though, there is an energy and almost a restlessness underlying the smooth melodies, with rippling triplets or a bass line in an iambic rhythm. As always, Sharon Cannon draws nuances from her timpani that amaze.
The audience loved the fact that at the “homecoming” of Anthony Arnone to a Hawaii venue, his parents, who had never heard him play as a soloist with a full orchestra, were in the hall. That’s the great thing about the “home team” atmosphere: there’s serious music going on, but there’s the informality of getting the parents to wave from the back of the crowd!
The Dvorak Cello Concerto in B minor is unusual in that the orchestra is not simply an accompaniment to the cello soloist. It has its own role, and sometimes the cellist serves as the orchestra’s accompanist; in the opening Allegro, the soloist does not even come in until almost half way through the section. Mr. Arnone performed in a lovely understated way, never grandstanding; executing complicated jumps, chords, trills, runs or holding full notes in the slow passages, taking his solo turns with grace, and then modestly melting into the overall orchestral sound. In the majestic first movement, a flute/cello duet breaks out, with the cello playing harmony as the flute takes the melody. In other places, the clarinet or horns exchange remarks with the cello, while the rest of the orchestra provides a subtle background. The Adagio is melancholy, and the final Allegro’s theme is a variation of the motif in the first Allegro, and the majestic quality returns as the concerto comes full circle. This magnificent piece allowed all the instruments, sometimes strings and sometimes woodwinds, to each have a turn at standing out with melodic lines, so the audience could appreciate the quality of the Orchestra’s diverse musicians.
The fans were delighted by this opener in which the beloved Kamuela Phil hit three home runs. Because it is a home team, it would be wonderful if future performances brought some of the Orchestra’s own talent to the front of the stage as soloists. In any case, the opener made the case for season tickets!
Meizhu Lui didn’t know there was any other kind of music except classical until she hit junior high! Piano and flute have been her own instruments of choice. She is now pursuing her bucket list goal of deepening her musical knowledge and skills.
All photos by Steve Roby