Brahms away with the Symphony

Nov. 27, 2014 | 0 Comments In the Star-Advertiser Friday Print Edition
Guest conductor Andrew Constantine, who leads orchestras in Indiana and Pennsylvania, will conduct Brahms for his first appearance in Hawaii. (Courtesy Hawai‘i Symphony Orchestra)

Guest conductor Andrew Constantine, who leads orchestras in Indiana and Pennsylvania, will conduct Brahms for his first appearance in Hawaii. (Courtesy Hawai‘i Symphony Orchestra)

BY STEVEN MARK / smark@staradvertiser.com

This weekend’s Hawai’i Symphony Orchestra concert features artists who represent a legacy of great artistic tradition.

Guest conductor Andrew Constantine, who currently leads orchestras in Indiana and Pennsylvania, has worked with Leonard Bernstein and spent a year studying with the great Rus\0xADsian maestro Ilya Musin.

‘CONSTANTINE CONDUCTS BRAHMS’

Hawai‘i Symphony Orchestra with Andrew Constantine, guest conductor; Michael Ludwig, guest violinist

» Where: Blaisdell Concert Hall
» When: 4 p.m. Sunday
» Cost: $32-$90
» Info: (808) 946-8742, hawaiisymphonyorchestra.com

Bernstein, he learned, had a special “aura.”

“He never dialed it in,” Constantine said. “He was always exhausted after a performance, and rightly so.”

His biggest influence was Musin, who is known for developing the first comprehensive system for conducting with the hands.

“His whole language of conducting was constructed around the notion that for every musical message you want to convey, there’s a physical gesture that will work for it,”\0x2008Constantine said.

Constantine studied with Musin after winning a conducting contest, which he humbly called “a fluke,” and said the lessons were a revelation.

“My very first lesson, he wanted me to conduct Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony,” Constantine said.

“Instead of using a pianist, he had me do it from memory, so there was no score, and utter silence.”

FOR\0x2008HIS first appearance in Hawaii, Constantine will conduct Brahms, who struggled with his legacy as Beethoven’s successor.

Brahms took 14 years to create his First Symphony.

“He struggled to emerge from the shadow of Beethoven, which is why this symphony had such a long gestation period,” Constantine said.

“There’s a lot of parallels made between the theme of the last movement and Beethoven’s (Fifth Symphony),”\0x2008Constantine notes. “That’s a bit fatuous in some respects. Brahms himself said, ‘Any idiot could see that.’ He was more paying homage to Beethoven than plagiarizing.

“I particularly love the opening of this symphony, because of the pounding of the timpani and the feeling of this latent energy. …

“It’s like when you watch the engines starting up on those great space rockets. The countdown, the engines would go and these huge balls of fire would come out, and slowly and with the amazing feeling of weight of gravitas, this colossal structure would begin to rise from the ground.”

VIOLINIST\0x2008MICHAEL\0x2008LUDWIG, who had leadership positions with orchestras in Philadelphia and Buffalo, N.Y., before venturing out as a soloist, also draws inspiration from his teachers.

Ludwig was taught from the beginning by his father, Irving, a violinist for the Philadelphia Orchestra who was trained in the Rus\0xADsian tradition.

“The schooling was very disciplined in terms of the sense of purpose and how one approaches the instrument,” Ludwig said. “Nothing is done without meaning and significance and without a real keen understanding of why we do the things that we do. …

“Vibrato is a great example of having complete control to create different colors and different sounds, so you don’t have just one kind of vibrato, but you can manipulate it with many different speeds and levels of intensity.”

Ludwig will play Sibelius’ violin concerto, a classic in the violin repertoire — and one within which he sees plenty of room for artistry.

“It’s the lyricism that really lends itself most to spontaneity,” he said.

“I’m a big fan of saloon singers — I love Frank Sina\0xADtra, Tony Bennett, Dean Martin, Perry Como, those kind of singers. When you listen to them, I always have the sense that they’re singing in the most spontaneous fashion. …

Yet, “If you listen to a Sina\0xADtra recording, and you listen very carefully to what he’s doing, you realize that doesn’t just happen by chance. It was prepared and studied ahead of time, and then at some point he would have had the framework to create those inspiring moments.”

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