Symphony partners circus with classical music
BY STEVEN MARK / firstname.lastname@example.org
Hawaii events are often presented with a theme along the lines of “celebrating the past, recognizing the present and looking to the future.”
This weekend, Honolulu’s major classical performance organizations, Hawaii Opera Theatre and the Hawai‘i Symphony Orchestra, fulfill that mission in spades. They’re both offering a full slate of performances, a rarity in and of itself, since the opera usually requires the services of the symphony and both usually require use of Blaisdell Concert Hall.
‘CIRQUE DE LA SYMPHONIE’
» Where: Blaisdell Concert Hall
Hawaii Opera Theatre is reaching out to younger audiences with “Siren Song,” a modern opera based on a “ripped from the headlines” story from the 1980s that will have special resonance for Hawaii audiences of today. The opera requires only a small ensemble rather than a full orchestra, and HOT is giving it a hip, urban twist by staging it in a Kakaako warehouse.
The symphony, meanwhile, has found a winning formula in pairing a pops-oriented program with a classical program. This week it’s “Cirque de la Symphonie,” featuring spectacular circus acts performed to live classical music, and “Russian Masters,” a traditional classical concert that nonetheless will offer plenty of pyrotechnics at the hands of flashy young pianist Natasha Paremski.
Here’s a look at the programs:
‘CIRQUE DE LA SYMPHONIE’
Aerialists, jugglers, balancing acts and strongmen will fill the Blaisdell stage — and the air above it — on Friday.
“It’s a real blast,” said guest conductor Stuart Chafetz, who’s led sold-out “Cirque” concerts on the mainland as well several movie-music concerts here. “Being able to have visual artistry and great classical music is a great combination. They’re so good, so virtuosic, it’s almost mind-blowing what’s going on.”
One of his favorite acts is strongmen Jarek and Darek — Jaroslaw Marciniak and Dariusz Wronski — otherwise known as “the gold guys” because of their costumes. The duo will perform feats of strength and balance to Sibelius’ rousing tone poem, “Finlandia.”
“They have it timed out perfectly to ‘Finlandia’ so they know exactly when to do their activities,” Chafetz said. “It’s really amazing coordination. To watch them do their thing to the music is really mind-boggling.”
Another favorite is aerialist Christine Van Loo’s solo routine to Saint-Saens’ dramatic “Danse Macabre.” Van Loo is a seven-time national champion in acrobatic gymnastics, a discipline in which athletes perform gymnastics in pairs or in teams to musical accompaniment.
“I just love performing to that song,” she said. “I do a vertical rope act to that song. I just feel like that music really suits that act really well, and I’m able to have so much fun with it. I’m really able to get into character with it.”
With all the acrobatics and aerobatics going on, as well as the music, audiences members might find themselves wondering whether they’re at the circus or a concert. Van Loo said that at the beginning of a show, the audience is often confused about when to clap.
“We can hear what they’re going through and feel that, but pretty soon into the show they start clapping wherever and we feed off of that,” said Van Loo, who tries to make eye contact with audience members even when dangling 30 or 40 feet above them.
Aerial performers like her also have to be wary of stage dimensions — Van Loo’s duet partner, aerialist Alexander Streltsov, once concluded his act by landing on the podium next to the startled conductor.
One hopes that won’t happen to Chafetz, who, for his part, will have his hands full trying to keep the musicians in line.
“It’s really funny to watch the orchestra,” Chafetz said. “You hope that they’re sort of watching the podium, but they’re not. They’re watching the artists, so a lot of the times their eyes will go up because they’re watching the artistry. It’s truly mesmerizing. It’s hard not to watch.”
The symphony musicians also face the challenge of working through 16 different pieces by 12 different composers, including Bizet, Mendelssohn, Strauss, Khachaturian and others.
“All of these pieces are familiar in some shape or form,” he said. “Whether (audiences) know it or not, they’ve always heard it, and it always puts a smile on their faces.”
Pianist Natasha Paremski performs the famous “Rach 3,” Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3 in D minor, the piece popularized in the film “Shine.” It stands as one of the most daunting works in the repertoire, but the 27-year-old Paremski is well armed to tackle it.
Paremski, who emigrated to the United States from Russia at age 8, draws on her Russian heritage to provide performances that have had critics raving about her power and emotional import. She was brought up in the Russian school of piano performance, having studied with Russian emigre teachers in the Bay Area and, later, New York.
» Where: Blaisdell Concert Hall
“There’s a huge emphasis on technique and virtuosity, but as a tool in the larger goal, which is to make great music,” she said. “You spend a lot of time on technique, hand position, body position … and specific exercises that were incorporated into the piece you were playing.”
She was inspired to become a concert pianist — not just a musician, but a touring concert artist — after hearing the great Russian pianist Evgeny Kissin as a youngster. It was a drive that led her to learn “whatever the heck I wanted to” at a young age, like a Brahms piano concerto at age 14.
“I had my mind set on certain pieces, and there was nobody who was going to stop me,” she said. “I was always very goal-driven.”
Rach 3 is known for its haunting, gentle opening theme and its technical challenges, which have scared off many artists, including the pianist for which it was originally composed.
“The first movement is one of the ingenious expansions on a very simple melody,” Paremski said. “In all of piano literature, it is one of the most interesting and amazingly poignant ways of starting with just one seed and expanding it into this nuclear explosion.”
As for the challenges, Paremski said the piece is not as difficult as it seems, though her impressive chops might have something to do with her view.
“When you first try to sight-read it, forget about it,” she said. “But the more I played it, the more it seemed to be very pianistic. … Eventually it laid so well under my hands that I could actually let go of the brain memory and let a lot more of the muscle memory take over. And then it became a real joy to play.”
The concert also features Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 5 in D minor, a work famous for pleasing artistic circles as well as the dogmatic apparatchiks of Soviet Russia. Conducting will be Victor Yampolsky, who studied in Moscow and Leningrad before emigrating to the United States in 1973.