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