Heels & Picks: Fleck rocks the Concert Hall

Dec. 10, 2013 | 0 Comments

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BY ERIN SMITH / Special to the Star-Advertiser

Six degrees of separation may be a true phenomenon. So may six degrees of Kevin Bacon, but that’s another blog post.

Certainly, my trip Saturday night, Dec. 7, to the Blaisedell Concert Hall to see Bela Fleck and the Hawai’i Symphony Orchestra felt like the culmination of a chain of events that lead to my boyfriend and I attending the show.

Bela Fleck. (Courtesy photo)

Bela Fleck. (Courtesy photo)

Here’s the breakdown: 15-time Grammy Award-winning banjo virtuoso Bela Fleck has often performed as a guest artist with jam/pop/rock tour-monsters, Dave Matthews Band. My boyfriend “T,” short for “Trouble,” has seen Dave Matthews Band play 42 times. (The only other artist he’s seen perform more often is me.)

I ran into Dave Matthews one night on Maui when he ended up staying where I lived. Now, I live on Oahu. And Bela Fleck came to Oahu last weekend to play with the HSO.

Can you include islands in the six degrees of separation game? No matter, I just did.

While drinking games and barroom conversations are light-hearted fun, the incredible talent of Bela Fleck is serious business. Often credited with creating an entirely new voice for the banjo, Fleck has taken his instrument to the forefront of innovation, constantly pushing boundaries and assimilating the banjo into genres of music where it has rarely been heard before. This kind of stylistic innovation has earned him an astonishing 30 Grammy Award nominations in more categories than any other artist in history.

When we took our seats in the orchestra section of the Blaisedell Concert Hall, I was transported back to my childhood — one which included a good 10 years of Suzuki violin lessons. I played in many little orchestras and string quartets, local competitions in Canada and the like. My first violin, given to me at the age of four, was a cereal box with a ruler taped to it so us mini-virtuosos could learn to hold it properly.

Consequently, I have always found orchestral music haunting. It gives me the type of ache that gets in your bones, and, if you let it, carries you outside of your surroundings and deep into your imagination. Or to another place in time evoked by the music being performed.

Fleck sat front and center, just beyond guest conductor Michael Stern and flanked by the Hawai’i Symphony Orchestra players. With smooth shifts between orchestral overtures and slick banjo solos, Fleck worked with the orchestra like a well-oiled machine on what one can only assume was very little rehearsal time. He’s one of those performers who is so good at his instrument; he makes it look as though it’s easy to play a banjo like that.

Let me assure you, it’s not.

The author, right, and her boyfriend at the Blaisdell Concert Hall on Saturday, Dec. 7. (Courtesy photo)

The author, right, and her boyfriend at the Blaisdell Concert Hall on Saturday, Dec. 7. (Courtesy photo)

“The Imposter” was performed on Saturday and was composed by Fleck. Perhaps a nod to a stranger in a world not his own, not unlike a banjo player sitting front and center in a symphony. It’s clear Fleck understands the music and genre he was writing for with this piece. Not only did it seem perfectly natural to have a banjo in the mix, all the nuances of a great orchestral piece – deep quiet dark spots where the cello is king, swelling waves of joy and intrigue, crescendos and powerful space – were all present.

A word about the Hawai‘i Symphony Orchestra. In the words of Kermit the Frog, another one of my favorite banjo players, “It’s not easy being green.” It is also not easy being the HSO. They are a fantastic, world-class orchestra, and they’re right here in our city! Yet it is always a financial struggle to keep the arts afloat.

With several events during the year, often with guest performers, ticket sales alone are not enough to fund the orchestra and keep it running. Donations are appreciated and used to make sure Honolulu is keeping up with the Jones’, as they say, in terms of the artistic avenues our city has to offer. The first, and most important thing we can all do (and it’s fun!) is to buy tickets to their concerts.

If you’re taking that sexy, brainy girl from accounting on a first date, why not save line-dancing at Nashville’s for another day and wow her with a creative, interesting date to see the HSO destroy Beethoven’s 9th? It will go over well, trust me.

The goal is to keep the Hawai’i Symphony Orchestra in business. That way, Juno Fleck, born this year to Fleck and his wife, banjo whiz Abigail Washburn, can follow in his father’s footsteps and perform in Hawaii.

Here’s to attending that concert in 2033!

To see the Honolulu Symphony’s schedule and to buy tickets, click here. And don’t forget to donate!
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Erin Smith is a singer and guitarist who performs as a solo artist and with Maui-based Na Hoku Hanohano Award-nominated band The Throwdowns. Born in Canada, she moved to Hawaii in 2004 and now resides in Kailua. Contact her via e-mail or follow her on Twitter.

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