Review: How to Play Ukulele, a complete guide for beginners

Hot off the press, Dan “Cool Hand Uke” Scanlan’s new book, lightweight paperback and nicely designed, is full of tips and advice gleaned from the author’s sixty years of playing and teaching the ukulele. In that time period, the author has undoubtedly encountered all sorts of questions, for playing an instrument isn’t just about playing. Adults like to ask questions. It takes an experienced teacher to explain the answers without taxing the brain and intimidating the beginner.

Continue reading “Review: How to Play Ukulele, a complete guide for beginners”

Advertisements

Review: classical guitar concert at UH Maui College

by Tyler Millard

The University of Hawaii Maui College hosted a classical guitar concert — as part of the 16th Annual Benjamin Verdery Maui Guitar Class. This event had three of the finest classical guitarists perform for our community: Ian O’Sullivan, Aaron Cardenas, and Christopher Mallett. The concert was held in the ‘Ike Le‘a Lecture Theatre in room 144 on UHMC campus, on Friday July 10, 2015 at 3:00 pm. Continue reading “Review: classical guitar concert at UH Maui College”

Extracts from Reviews: Morgenstern Trio

Extracts from piano students’ reviews of a concert on the theme of death

After the concert, I asked to be led to the back stage to meet the three musicians of the Morgenstern Trio from Germany. I remarked that the program was not one about “destiny” as the cellist indicated in his speech but one on “death.”  I added that it was refreshing to hear serious music — one that was unamplified. Here on Maui, I explained, we hear a lot of “happy” music that’s always amplified. We get a lot of background music, too.

Continue reading “Extracts from Reviews: Morgenstern Trio”

Reflection of string quartet concert of Sarn Oliver et al

A post-concert reception is just as important as a pre-concert talk. The first and last piece of the concert cannot be exchanged with the same effect of the performance.

After attending an Ebb & Flow Arts concert, more and more I find myself unable to write a review about the entire performance.

From a pragmatic point of view, the concert is very unlikely to be repeated at the same venue, in the same format, or by the same performers. Each program is unique. What purpose does a review of a one-off concert serve? A validation for the performers, composers, and the producer? A reminder for those who attended? A snapshot for those who missed the concert? A video recording would perhaps do a better job.

To put it mildly, a review will not do justice to the live performance of Saturday 10 August 2013 on Maui. Neither would a video recording. But I shall “reflect” so that I can remember and share.

A concert of what I call “music of our time” is oddly also music that is unfamiliar to the general public who are accustomed to hearing amplified familiar sounding music. On Maui, occasions to hear unfamiliar music are not only few and far between but also extremely rare, such that every concert fetches a full house. Sadly one would have to repeat the experience several times to fully appreciate the music and the nuances.

Last evening’s string quartet concert at the new creative arts center of Seabury Hall, a high school at nearly 2,000 feet above sea level, is no exception. The concert goer’s journey begins with the drive uphill, a steep and curvaceous ascent towards the famous Haleakala. Despite it being my second visit to this private institution, I was still awed by the fairytale, fortress-like environment — the manicured lawn and gardens, architecturally designed buildings and interiors, all along the path from the parking lot to the A’ali’ikuhunoa Creative Arts Center. The hall, which opened in September 2012, is very modern and open, reminding me of the newer concert venues in the Netherlands where the inside and outside are almost seamlessly interfaced.

I highly recommend getting there an hour early for the pre-concert talk. Although the half-hour talk by Ebb & Flow Art’s founder and artistic director, Robert Pollock, and one or two members of the performing musicians is optional, it generally helps to prepare yourself for what to listen for and understand the choice of music and its programming. Selecting music and putting the pieces in an optimal order is an art. Before seeing the program notes, I could only guess at the possible ways to arrange the order of the compositions: chronological order, reverse chronological order, or alternating tempos (fast, slow, fast, etc). The art of programming for a concert surely deserves a blog post or an update to an earlier research on a related topic.

As a member of the privileged audience, I am reminded that a free concert like this is not to be taken for granted. Someone has to come up with the concept, get the funding to bring the musicians here and publicize the concert. The choice of music is not a coincidence but a deliberate undertaking.

The concert of August 10, 2013 featured two world premieres, compositions by the first violinist Sarn Oliver, and one Hawaii premiere, the rich romantic String Quartet #1 (1946) of George Walker, the honorary president of Ebb and Flow Arts. The string quartet opened with Igor Stravinsky’s Three Pieces from 1914, a work I consider a warm-up, for it was dominated by other more powerful and memorable pieces as time wore on. It’s not uncommon to begin a concert with a warm up or a short overture to introduce what is to come. To swap Stravinsky with the last piece in the program, Shostakovich’s String Quartet #8, would be obviously wrong. But I could imagine Sarn Oliver’s UnderTow for electric string quartet as the last piece, for it made me want to dance. Nonetheless, ending the concert with Shostakovich’s most famous string quartet brings a finality to the evening. String Quartet number 8 is hailed as autobiographical with the initials of the composer, translated into the German letters D,Es,C,H and retranslated into the notes D, E-flat, C and B, a melancholic motif which is repeated throughout the five movement work.

The function of a post-concert gathering is quite different from that of a pre-concert talk: to meet and get to know the musicians. It is perfectly acceptable to stay after the performance, walk back stage to greet and meet the musicians, thank and congratulate them, and even provide some feedback. As a concert producer and performer, I would insist that the audience stay and mingle, for they bring the perspective I long to hear in my preparation for the next concert.

How would I summarize this concert? The highlights for me were the spectacular, modern venue; George Walker’s String Quartet #1, Sarn Oliver’s electric quartet piece, and Shostakovich’s String Quartet #8. In fact, these are the three works I’d like to hear again.

Ebb & Flow Arts present North South East West Festival 2013

Seabury Hall, Makawao
August 10 @ 7:30 pm

Chamber Music from San Francisco

Sarn Oliver, violin
Mariko Smiley, violin
David Kim, viola
Sebastien Gingras, cello

Tree Pieces (1914) – Igor Stravinsky

Transparence and Transcendance ** (2013) – Sarn Oliver

String Quartet #1* (1946) – George Walker

UnderTow** for electric string quartet (2013) – Sarn Oliver

String Quartet #8 (1960) – Dmitri Shostakovich

Kiri Te Kanawa in Hawaii

Reflecting on the concert of Dame Kiri on 1st October 2011 in Maui, Anne Ku reminisces the pure unamplified sound of classical music she misses. The population of Maui is simply too small to attract the big stars on a regular basis. What else is there?

For those of you that are curious what Dame Kiri sang in her one-off concert in Maui on 1st October 2011, read this review of the same programme in Honolulu two nights earlier. I didn’t recognise any of the pieces listed except the English songs and the encore of Puccini’s O Mio Babino Caro.

The first thing she did when she got on stage was to address us and praise the hall. Clad in her full and long purple dress, Dame Kiri charmed the audience first by saying  “How lucky you are to have Castle Theatre.” We were indeed privileged to have such a world-class concert hall, fully air-conditioned with a 1,200 seating capacity. She mentioned the professionalism. Indeed the Steinway concert grand was professionally moved and tuned.

But how sad for Maui that stars like Dame Kiri are few and very far between.

In the run up to her concert at the Maui Arts and Cultural Center, I learned that the population of Maui was around 150,000. Despite millions of visitors, Maui permanent residents number half of Utrecht, Netherlands — where I had been living since 2006. It’s also half of the London Borough of Ealing. One question lurks: “can such a small population attract international stars to perform here?”

Elton John did. His two concerts were also sold out in advance. I sat across the road on the Maui College campus to hear him last February.

Can we tap the millions of tourists to support a unique genre like classical music or even operatic music?

There are too many other activities that tourists would do — for free. The weather. The beach. The surf. The ocean. The mountains. Tourists have already paid dearly in $$ and time to get here. At $75, Dame Kiri was more expensive than hanging out on the beach.

Conclusion: there are too many competing activities to attract visitors while the permanent population of Maui is too small to attract the big stars.

What about classical musicians that are not famous? Can they draw an audience?

This past April, I turned pages for the opening concert of the annual Maui Classical Music Festival. It was well-attended by ticket holders. In its 30th year, the festival continues to draw a full house in various locations. But it’s just one week per year!

What does it take to have high quality classical music on this island? It is so rare that one attendee of the Dame Kiri concert in Maui asked me, “Does she have a microphone?”

I am aching to write about the pure sound of classical music, unfiltered and unamplified. Or I should say the RARE sound of such pure music. I would have to fly to Honolulu to get it live.

Live recording of concerts on CD

Listening to live recording of a concert is different from that of a studio recording.

Releasing CDs of live recordings of concerts is a scary thing. You can’t edit the recording of a concert like you can of studio takes. It has to sound live — the way the music has been performed. There will be mistakes. There will be audience intervention such as coughs and background noise. A live recording is never perfect, but it is live.

When we decided to make CDs out of live recordings of two concerts, we joined other musicians in embracing this brave new world.

As concert producer, reviewer, promoter, and now talent scout, I get CDs in the post and as gifts. On tour, it’s not been possible to listen to these CDs in optimal acoustical surroundings. I have no stereo system in the rented apartment in Maui where I’m taking a sabbatical from my usual existence (in the Netherlands).

When I received a package from Italy recently, I was astonished to find just how powerful the Vatican radio broadcast recording was from my laptop. It’s the bicentennial of Franz Liszt’s birth and music festivals celebrating his music are springing up everywhere. Coincidentally the International Liszt Piano Competition is also held this year in Utrecht, where I normally live.

Pianist Leonora Baldelli’s interpretation of Liszt is sizzling on the Vatican radio broadcast CD that I received. Soprano Alessandra Benedetti joins her from track 6 onwards, not music of Liszt but of arias from operas of Mozart, Puccini, Rossini, and Verdi. Such a powerful voice Benedetti has! Such powerful playing of Baldelli! I have yet to meet either musician, but I feel I already know them from the live recording. More than anything, listening to their music reminds me of how much work and dedication it is to produce something so magnificent.

Million dollar view in Cortona, Italy July 2007
Million dollar view in Cortona, Italy July 2007 (click to get Tuscany tour)