Composer Jon Magnussen grew up on Kauai, and even though he went on to study and compose in New York and Paris, the call of the islands was always strong. As a composition student, he even wrote a work featuring island themes and performed it at schools.
So when Magnussen was asked to compose something for the Spring Wind Quintet, an ensemble that performs as part of the Chamber Music Hawaii series, it was only natural to find a good local legend to tell. But he had one constraint.
"I’m writing a story for a wind quintet, so I had to find a wind theme," he said.
His work, which premieres the next two weekends, is based on part of the legend of Paka’a. Wind figures prominently in the story of the clever youth from Kauai who outwits local fishermen to win his favorite fish and the respect of the community.
Magnussen, who will narrate the story in performance, plans to have the work performed in schools and hopes that it inspires listeners’ interest in traditional Hawaiian culture.
CHAMBER MUSIC HAWAII — SPRING WIND QUINTET
Where: Paliku Theatre, Windward Community College
When: 7:30 p.m. Monday
Info: 489-5038 or www.chambermusichawaii.com
Note: The program repeats 4 p.m. Oct. 10 at the Doris Duke Theatre, Honolulu Academy of Arts
The complete tale of Paka’a is an epic collected by Kauai writer Frederick Wichman, Magnussen said. It provides "a really terrific insight into old Hawaii — how it was in pre-contact Hawaii … and how government worked back then."
Magnussen has enjoyed tremendous success since leaving the islands after high school to study at Cornell University, going on to study at Juilliard and the National Conservatory of Music in Paris. Groups such as the American Ballet Theatre and the Washington-based Shakespeare Festival have commissioned works from him, and he has conducted performances of his work in places such as New York and the 2002 Winter Olympics.
He returned to the islands after 20 years away to raise his children here and to direct the Honolulu Symphony’s music education program.
"I was so impressed with the work the musicians were doing in schools," he said. "I thought I’d write a piece of music that sort of married these two interests, one of education in the schools and the other of storytelling. You know, everyone loves a good story."
A TRANSCRIPTION of Bach’s "Prelude and Fugue in G Major" by quintet bassoonist Marsha Schweitzer will also be featured on the Spring Wind Quintet program. She said Bach’s music — often described as "perfect" because of its harmonic and melodic consistency — works remarkably well when performed by this atypical combination of instruments.
"The contrapuntal voices work very well with the different colors of the wind quintet," she said. "You can hear the individual voices of the instruments very distinctly in that combination."
Schweitzer has transcribed seven Bach works for wind quintet, and she and her colleagues have usually been the first to play them. This particular transcription, however, has already premiered nationally, having been picked by a Norwegian ensemble to perform on National Public Radio.
"It’s always a thrill when another group decides to do your work," she said.
Also on the program are works by two French composers, George Onslow and Jacques Ibert.
Spring Wind Quintet players are Claire Starz Butin on flute, James Moffitt on clarinet, Jonathan Parrish on horn, and Schweitzer.
Oboist Brad Shimizu, band teacher at Hawaii Baptist Academy and a graduate of the New England Conservatory of Music, replaces Scott Janusch, who recently departed for a job on the mainland.