Concert reviews Maui Arts and Cultural Center

College students who attend classical music concerts for the first time give impressions of the concerts at the Maui Arts and Cultural Center (MACC).

Every semester I require all my music students to attend an approved concert and write a review. The review must demonstrate they actually attended the concert. They can write about the concert-going experience, their impressions, feelings, thoughts, and anything else that resonated with them and for which they wanted to share. I then select the most relevant passages from their written reviews and write a so-called “Review of reviews” on this blog.

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Hooked on dancing

Dancing makes me feel alive and free. And it also brings back many fond memories.

In the “mixers” the women line up and wait for their turn to dance with a man who leads in a dance around the room until it’s time to join the queue again. This is Maui on a Saturday evening on the parquet wooden floors of the Omori Dance Studios at the Maui Arts and Cultural Center (MACC).  In London, it was the opposite — the women were in short supply at Friday night CEROC dances, and the men had to queue for their turn.

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TEDxMaui 2013

I was introduced to a few years ago by a fellow Rotarian in the Netherlands. I’m convinced that it really is an idea worth spreading, and one that needs such a viral introduction at first. I probably would not have stumbled upon it had he not told me about it.

The value of videos on grows over time because it becomes a database of useful and inspiring presentations & performances all over the world, largely through TEDx. The way the presenters engage and empower the audience on topics that are timeless and yet timely is one reason why it will live on.

We performers have much to learn from its success.

TEDx are produced in different locations around the world. Maui started its own in 2012 with presenters somehow related to Maui or Hawaii.

On Sunday 13th January 2013, I attended the last 3 segments of the TEDxMaui 2013 production at the Castle Theatre of the Maui Arts and Cultural Center (MACC).

I was most impressed by the ability of certain speakers to convey a knowledge or skill that I had originally considered complicated in a way that made me learn and see the beauty of its simplicity. The elder explorer who taught the audience how to navigate the Pacific Ocean by the stars gave us a taste of that extraordinary craft of ancient Polynesians. The Hawaiian musician Mahala made us chuckle and laugh while he showed us the secrets of the slack key guitar, in particular, his view that each of the 6 strings represented a different instrument.

The lights were not off as typical of most performances. They were ON — because the audience was just as important as the performer(s).

Audience engagement is more important now than ever before.

My burning question was this: why was TEDxMaui able to attract a full-house at the 1,200 seat Castle Theater but not Dame Kiri Te Kanawa?

Concerts for free or nearly free

Free concerts don’t always get full-house. Publicity is what it takes. And a lot of eager students on standby.

Search for “classical concert etiquette” and you will get guides like this one and numerous others. These articles are well-written. It would be superfluous to write more about this subject. In thinking about advice for first-time concert goers, I recall how I became an avid concert goer. It began with the word FREE.

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Piano and slack key guitar: Daniel Ho and George Kahumoku, jr

George Kahumoku, Jr’s Wao Akua CD features instrumental solos. Daniel Ho produced the CD and will appear on 15th Dec 2011 at the Masters of Slack Key Guitar Show at Maui Arts and Cultural Center.

Everyone on Maui knows who George Kahumoku is. Uncle George, we call him. He led the parade in this year’s annual Maui County Fair, possibly the largest event on the island. He is director of the new Institute of Hawaiian Music.

Yesterday I interrupted Uncle George’s slack key guitar class at Maui College to ask him to sign a copy of his recently Grammy-nominated CD “Wao Akua.” I told him that Robert Bekkers was arriving next Thursday.

“I’ll be playing at the MACC that evening,” George said. “I have a couple of interesting guests….”

I didn’t hear the rest of his sentence, for I was already trying to figure out how to make it to that concert. I had been to that concert once before. George has different guests on every show each month.  I mentally calculated that I’d have to leave campus earlier than originally planned to pick up Robert from the airport and drive back to see Uncle George’s 7:30 pm  Masters of Slack Key Guitar show.

“Are you going to eat something afterwards?” I asked. It was as if getting together was more important than the concert. That’s how musicians relate. Hungry musicians have to eat. The first time Robert and I went to the concert, we did not join George and his guests for the post-concert dining out. We had only just met. It was Thursday 10th March 2011, the eve of the tsunami.

When I returned home last evening, I checked out George’s CD. Wao Akua means the forest of the Gods in Hawaiian. It’s a simple CD with 24  instrumental solos, either written by George Kahumoku himself or his rendition of traditional melodies. The small print in one corner says it’s produced by Daniel Ho — Daniel Ho Creations, copyright 2011.

Who is Daniel Ho?

Why does his name sound so familiar?

Is he a sound engineer? CD producer? a singer? a songwriter? a composer? a guitar player? a pianist?

All of the above. And more.

Tonight I saw a video clip of Daniel Ho on the piano and George Kahumoku on guitar. Piano and guitar. Piano and slack key guitar. Now that’s a combination I have not heard yet.

Watch the video of Amazing Grace with David Ho, piano and George Kahumoku, Jr, slack key guitar at the MACC

When I re-read the 15th December 2011 gig announcement, I saw that Daniel Ho is one of the special guests. It’s a show not to be missed!

What will Dame Kiri sing on Maui?

Dame Kiri Te Kanawa will sing a variety of arias, art songs, and folk songs to please a diversified audience in Maui in her first performance in the Hawaiian islands. Anne Ku compares music to food and guesses the programme selection.

My non-music friend expressed his reservations in going to see Dame Kiri this Saturday evening.

“I have never gone to opera or classical concert. I don’t have the appreciation you have for classical music. Will you be disappointed if I don’t understand or be able to enjoy it to the depth you do?  You’re an academic when it comes to music. Is there someone more worthy to go with you?”

Dame Kiri in Maui, 1st October 2011 at 7:30 pm Castle Theatre
Dame Kiri in Maui, 1st October 2011 at 7:30 pm Castle Theatre

Actually I can think of many people who can’t wait to be asked to go with me to see Dame Kiri. One soprano in Amsterdam already wrote an unsolicited “I’m so jealous! Dame Kiri and then daiquiri on the beach!” There are three sopranos on the island that I would dearly like to enjoy the evening with: one upcountry, one in Kihei, and one in Lahaina.

While it’s “safe” to go with someone who already sings and enjoys classical music, I occasionally like to make a social outing of it such as with a friend who may never attend such an evening without my invitation. I might then be taking a risk going with someone who knows nothing about music. But then, how did I begin? How will classical music appreciation expand beyond the incumbent? It’s up to the existing fan base to introduce it to others.

Classical music is an acquired taste. Opera even more so.

A German friend introduced me to opera in London when I was 30 years old. He took me to Holland Park to see one of the most popular and accessible operas, Mozart’s Cosi Fan Tutte. I was more affected by the audience and the outdoor venue than what was going on stage. He tried again with Janacek’s less accessible Kat’a Kabanova which sealed my lack of affinity for a decade. When I was assigned to write a short chamber opera by my composition teacher, I forced myself to go to opera. After reviewing seventeen operas, I daresay I love opera.

In my “Opera for First Timers,” I suggested to go to a concert of opera highlights. This is precisely what I expect of Dame Kiri’s Hawaii debut this weekend. Her concert is not an opera. The programme is a mixture of the best arias from famous operas and other kinds of works such as art songs and folk songs. There is enough variety to whet the appetite of anyone who is not an opera aficionado.

It’s the same with food. When you’re new to Chinese cuisine, go experience dim sum. When you’re new to Spanish food, go for tapas. There are equivalent Mediterranean mezes, Indonesian rice tables, Korean kim chi, and conveyor belt sushi and sashimi.

Korean food in Little Korea, Manhattan, May 2011
Korean food in Little Korea, Manhattan, May 2011

Dame Kiri’s concert this Saturday in Maui is not exclusively opera. I repeat. It’s not an opera. It’s a variety show, a taste of the best of everything, and those pieces that have stood the test of time and distance. It’s not just her voice but also how she expresses herself when she sings. That’s what I shall look forward to.

While I have no idea what exactly she will be singing, I’d like to postulate that she will sing the following — many of which are my favourites.

  • Mozart:“Ach, Ich Fuhl’s” from Magic Flute, “Ah! chi mi dice mai” from Don Giovanni, “E Susanna non vien! … Dove sono” from Marriage of Figaro
  • Handel: “Lascia ch’io pianga” from Rinaldo
  • Puccini: “O mio babbino caro” from Gianni Schicchi, “Vissi d’Arte” from Tosca, “Un belle de vedremo” from Madame Butterfly
  • Folk songs from England: “O Waly, Waly,” “Oliver Cromwell,”  “Scarborough Fair,”  poetry of Emily Dickinson: “Why did they shut Me out of Heaven? Did I sing – too loud?”
  • Folk songs from South America: of Granados and the Argentine composer Ginastera

Thomas Purviance on Franz Liszt

Thomas Purviance introduced Franz Liszt through his music and life via portraits and stories at the McCoy Theatre at the Maui Arts and Cultural Centre in Hawaii on Sunday 10 April 2011.

Liszt Bicentennial, the raison d’etre

2011 is the 200th anniversary of the birth of Franz Liszt (1811 – 1886). The American Liszt Society lists various conservatories that are celebrating the bicentennial. The New England Conservatory in Boston salutes Liszt with seven concerts featuring all piano majors in its Lisztomania marathon.

Coincidentally, it is also the year of the International Franz Liszt Piano Competition which occurs every 3 years in Utrecht, Netherlands, where I have been living since 2006. The winners get to tour the world until the subsequent competition. As audience, you attend the semi-finals and finals not to understand and appreciate Liszt but to experience piano playing at its best. You sit and watch young pianists devour Liszt repertoire with stunning virtuosity. The Liszt menu varies by the day, and die-hard Liszt aficionados (a.k.a. Lisztians) never tire of it.

Having hosted a Liszt prize winner twice and listening to him bringing out the most from my Steinway grand, I thought I knew Liszt until I heard Thomas Purviance at the Maui Arts & Cultural Centre (MACC) yesterday.

Legacy of Franz Liszt

On Sunday 10th April 2011, Purviance presented Liszt as a person —with a slide show projected to the big screen. He greeted the audience as a storyteller, introducing Franz Liszt as a pianist, composer, teacher, and benefactor. He contrasted Liszt with Chopin, whose 200th anniversary preceded Liszt’s by a year. While Chopin played in salon concerts, Liszt preferred public concert halls. While Chopin wrote almost exclusively for piano with great perfection and mastery, Liszt’s music extended far beyond the piano but not everything was perfect.

After this introduction to Liszt via Chopin, Purviance played the Etude de Concert no. 3, also known as Un Sospiro which means “a sigh.” My Finnish friend had introduced this piece to me in London. It was nice to hear it again. I could easily have mistakened it for one of Chopin’s works because of the distinctive melody floating on the wave-like arpeggiation beneath. It was  a good opening piece to those of us less familiar with Liszt. Below: Thomas Purviance playing Un Sospiro in the Czech Republic.

[Un Sospiro PDF score]

Paganini made a huge impression on Liszt. After hearing the violinist perform in Paris in 1831, Liszt decided to do the same for the piano by extending what was technically possible for the piano and establishing new standards of performance. Liszt took 6 of Paganini’s original caprices and turned them into a volume of work for the piano, entitled Grand Etudes of Paganini, S141, of 1851. Embedded in this are new innovations for piano playing.

Purviance demonstrated the alternating octaves in the beginning of Paganini Etude no. 2 in E-flat before executing the piece beautifully.

[Paganini Etude no. 2 in E flat PDF score]

The Années de Pèlerinage (Years of Pilgrimage) contain some of Liszt’s finest works, inspired by his years in Switzerland and Italy. Purviance chose Vallee d’Obermann from the first pilgrimage (to Switzerland). The melancholic mood is entirely different from the romantic mood of the next piece, Sonetto 123 del Petrarca from his second pilgrimage (to Italy).

[Vallee d’Obermann, no. 6 in volume 2: PDF score]

Finally, Purviance gave an example of Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody no. 12, lesser known of the 19 piano solo works based on Hungarian gypsy tunes. Through this format of slide show, lecture, and performance, Purviance showed his knowledge of Liszt and repertoire and shared his love of the music he selected in this programme.

[Hungarian Rhapsody no. 12 PDF Score]

The audience leapt to give a standing ovation. But something was amiss. Hungarian Rhapsody No. 12 is not like the No. 2 which has become famous through use in cartoons and Hollywood films. How should an all-Liszt concert end?

Purviance read our thoughts.

He said, “When I gave this concert to some friends, they asked, ‘haven’t you forgotten something?’ ”

Without further ado, he sat down and rolled out one of Liszt’s most famous and eternal pieces — Liebesträume (Dream of Love).

[Liebesträume PDF Score]

After the concert

Later I learned from a fellow listener that Thomas Purviance gave a concert of all Chopin works in 2010 in the same location — similar format. This integrative approach of introducing the composer through his works, portraits, and influences fared well with the audience, for you get to understand and appreciate the artist.

Whose birthday is it next year to get the Purviance touch? I only got as far as getting a business card from Thomas Purviance in the back stage. But his card had nothing to do with music!

A one-off opera production in Maui: Elixir of Love

Producing an opera is one of the most expensive projects in the classical music world. One-off productions do not benefit from economy of scale. Concert performance, doubling up, and piggy-backing a gala dinner after an opera are ways to reduce cost and increase attendance. Maui Pops Orchestra and Olinda Chorale collaborated with San Francisco Pocket Opera to produce Donizetti’s Elixir of Love on Maui on 13 March 2011.

Producing an opera is one of the most expensive feats in classical music, for it requires soloists, choir (often), orchestra, costume, choreography, stage prop, and more. The singers don’t just sing, they must also act or overact. Without economy of scale, one-off productions are even more expensive. These are only a few of the reasons why opera is so expensive. Some opera companies, particularly the touring kind, reduce their essentials to a minimum. In the extreme, an opera can be performed with just the singers and an accompanying instrument such as a piano or guitar.

When I first heard about the opera “The Elixir of Love” coming to Maui, I could scarcely believe it. What an ambitious endeavor to fly the singers from San Francisco to Maui, never mind paying members of the chorus and the orchestra in Maui! And to do all this just for one performance? There must be serious opera lovers in Maui besides myself, I concluded. Opera on Maui is extremely rare. In fact, I daresay, classical music performances are already rare on this island. Will opera lovers be flying from other islands to see this show?

Gaetano Donizetti’s (1797 – 1848) famous comedy opera “L’elisir d’amour” also known as “The Elixir of Love” opened on Sunday 13th March 2011 afternoon at the Castle Theater of the Maui Arts and Cultural Centre.

Cleverly translated into English by Donald Pippin, the founder and librettist of the San Francisco Pocket Opera, “The Elixir of Love” is a funny story about a magic love potion and a love triangle.

Sunday’s concert production of “The Elixir of Love” was a collaboration of the seven members of the San Francisco Pocket Opera (the narrator Donald Pippin, 5 soloists, and the executive director Dianna Shuster), the expanded 22-member opera ensemble of Olinda Chorale and Friends, and the Maui Pops Orchestra conducted by James Durham. All the soloists and most members of the chorus were dressed in period costume, acting with stage props but no stage set. The rest of the chorus sat on the main stage with the orchestra behind the actors.

Whereas Elton John’s concert sold out within 2 days to warrant a second concert in February 2011, the 1,200-seat Castle Theatre was far from full for the opera. Earlier in the week of Elton John’s concert, Hawaiian Youth Symphony’s concert with local talent Uncle Willie K was nearly full, with free entry. Tickets for Elton John ranged from $25 to nearly $300. In contrast, the opera was far more affordable, tickets from $15 to $55 each.

Why a one-off production? It was difficult to fill 1,200 seats.

Not that L’elisir d’Amour is not a famous opera. The aria “Una Furtiva Lagrima” (a furtive tear) is perhaps one of the most famous bel canto arias of all time. Every world-famous tenor has sung it: Domingo, Pavarotti, Carreras, Bocelli, Caruso. Even sopranos like Izzy and violinists like Joshua Bell have taken the heart-wrenching melody as their own. I heard it before I knew it came from Donizetti’s opera. After attending the opera, I listened to every single version of “Una Furtiva Lagrima” on youtube. It is THAT addictive.

Lee Strawn’s performance as Doctor Dulcamara was excellent. He was the perfect quick-get-away con artist. But it was the peasant Nemorino played by Charles Michael Belle that we were most sympathetic for, particularly when he sang “Una furtiva lagrima.” Was it deliberate that Belle shaved his head for this role? He could tear his hair out, he cries. Baritone Jason Sarten as Sergeant Belcore immediately pries of his bald despair. View the clip below for another performance of soprano Heidi Moss as Adina singing in original Italian.

I recognised fellow Rotarian and tenor Paul Janes Brown initially as one of the peasants and later as the notary summoned to marry Adina and Belcore. Doubling up is another way to manage the economics of an opera production.

Unlike in London and Amsterdam, where I hardly ever meet anyone I know at the opera, I was pleasantly surprised to count around 5 people I’ve met before. Although I did not stay for the gala dinner that followed, I thought it was a most enjoyable afternoon, definitely something I’d offer discounts to the 4,000 students of Maui College across the street.

[UPDATE 23 March 2011, official review published in Le Bon Journal:]