Five years after teetering on the edge of oblivion, Hawaii’s classical music scene appears to have turned the corner, with the 2015-2016 season promising to entertain and enchant while providing revenue to sustain the performing arts groups.
The Hawai’i Symphony Orchestra, emerging from the bankruptcy of the Honolulu Symphony Orchestra in 2010, is building its fan base with new programming, new venues and a new performance schedule. Its season features a plethora of powerful young pianists, international opera star Sumi Jo and violin virtuosos familiar and fresh.
Meanwhile, Hawaii Opera Theatre reversed a long slide in subscription sales with last year’s innovative stagings of works like "Siren Song," "The Flying Dutchman" and "Sweeney Todd." Its upcoming season will provide a touch of operatic magic, with Mozart’s "The Magic Flute" launching the opera season in October, to be followed in the springtime by Benjamin Britten’s "A Midsummer Night’s Dream," based on Shakespeare’s romantic comedy set in an enchanted forest.
No one would say the job is done, but the Hawai’i Symphony Orchestra seems headed in the right direction after business leaders and supporters stepped in to stop the post-bankruptcy exodus of musical talent. The orchestra was reorganized, renamed and transformed into a statewide institution for symphonic music. Its Halekulani Masterworks series has maintained its appeal to traditional fans, drawing sellouts for Vivaldi’s "Four Seasons" and Jake Shimabukuro’s performance of Byron Yasui’s "Campanella" ukulele concerto last season. Entertainment-oriented pops events like movie-music nights have attracted large, enthusiastic new audiences. The orchestra also reached out to the community with free concerts at Kailua Beach Park.
The Hawai’i Symphony Orchestra is planning to live up to its re-branding by performing on the neighbor islands this season, and will give music lovers on Oahu even more opportunities to attend concerts, expanding its season to 14 from 12 weeks.
The Masterworks series features 12 programs, six of which will be performed twice, on a Saturday and Sunday. That will be another test for the symphony. In its inaugural season four years ago, it performed most of its programs twice, but only the Sunday concerts, a tradition in Hawaii, drew well. The other concerts, scattered throughout the week, drew poorly.
Symphony Executive Director Jonathan Parrish hopes to avoid that with regular Saturday concerts.
"I suspect some Sunday people will come on Saturday, and hopefully we’ll attract a lot of new people for Saturday," he said. "Maybe neither night will be totally full, but still, I’d rather have two three-quarters houses than one sold out."
Financially, the new orchestra appears to have stabilized, coming within 5 percent of its budget the past two years after finishing with a large deficit its first year. Fundraising drives have surpassed their goals, resulting in more than 500 new monetary gifts. The budget for the 2015-2016 season is about $4 million.
Even with the new costs associated with the expanded schedule, the orchestra is on firm enough financial footing to hold auditions, filling four of eight open positions. "We’re in the process of rebuilding the orchestra," Parrish said. "Up until now it’s just been sort of patch holes and find people for one year, or sometimes it’s been concert by concert."
Musically the symphony has provided plenty to enjoy, and the 2015-2016 season should be no different. Concertmaster and violinist Iggy Jang kicks it off with the tango-inspired music he adores, soloing in Astor Piazzolla’s "Four Seasons in Buenos Aires." Jang conducted some of it recently in Honolulu, and if he plays the violin with the knee-dipping, swooping gestures he used as a conductor, it will be quite a show.
Other highlights of the Masterworks series include five prize-winning young pianists: Van Cliburn International Piano Competition gold medalists Vadym Kholodenko (2013), Alexander Kobrin (2005) and Olga Kern (2001); Cliburn silver medalist Joyce Yang (2005); and 2010 Naumburg International Piano Competition winner Soyeon Kate Lee.
Lee, Kholodenko and Yang are known to piano lovers here. Lee gave a delightful dance-inspired recital here in 2012, while Kholodenko produced insightful and engaging renditions of Chopin last year. Yang has been impressive in solo, chamber music and concerto performances, with her 2013 performance of Tchaikovsky’s first piano concerto earning a rock-star reception.
Kobrin, a thoughtful performer, will also give a solo recital here in November, courtesy of the Hawaii Music Teachers Association. Kern, one of only two female gold medalists in the history of the Cliburn, will play concertos by Tchaikovsky and Prokofiev. That’s not surprising, because her musical roots trace back to the great Russian masters: Kern’s great-grandmother played with Rachmaninoff.
Violin lovers will be pleased by the return of two iconic violinists, Cho-Liang Lin and Midori — the latter performing at the orchestra’s spring gala — and the debut of young firebrand Tessa Lark, a 25-year-old Kentuckian who plays bluegrass as well as classical music. She won the 2012 Naumburg International Violin Award and was the silver medalist in the 2014 Indianapolis competition, the best finish by an American-born violinist in that contest’s history.
Other Masterworks concerts offer a nod to diverse programming. Guitarist Pablo Villegas, celebrated as the successor to guitar legend Andres Segovia, will perform Spanish music, and Scottish percussionist Colin Currie will play a percussion concerto by composer Jennifer Higdon. Currie’s recording of the Asian-inspired work won a Grammy for best new contemporary classical recording in 2010.
"There’s always a spot in the season for something unusual, some instrument or concerto that we don’t see all the time," Parrish said.
The orchestra will be led by the usual complement of fine conductors, from familiar faces like Artistic Director JoAnn Falletta conducting the season opener and traditional holiday "Ode to Joy" to newcomers Scott Yoo and James Feddeck. And its pops season will have a fun assortment of movie and pop music, including a Judy Garland-inspired event.
Hawaii Opera Theatre is humming along nicely after last season’s expanded season, which featured four operas and attracted new fans. Joining "Magic Flute" and "A Midsummer Night’s Dream" in the 2015-2016 lineup is Verdi’s "Il Trovatore," and HOT Executive Director Simon Crookall said the company might add a fourth, small-scale production to the schedule.
That possibility stems from last season’s presentation of "Siren Song," which was staged in a Kakaako warehouse. Crookall said he was "really delighted" with the production.
"We managed to change people’s perceptions of what opera is," he said. "It’s not just big scale, on a big stage, miles away, with a huge orchestra and a large cast. You can do opera in an intimate setting."
With subscription purchases for the upcoming season already surpassing last year — the first increase since the 1990s, Crookall said — HOT has managed to expand its traditional base of "mature" audience members with outreach programs aimed at younger audiences. Its Tuesday pre-performance parties at the Honolulu Club attracted partygoers who like to dress like opera characters, and some have formed a group aimed at expanding the under-40 audience.
"Opera should be the hip thing to do," Crookall said. "Look at what we do on stage. It’s incredible."
That said, the upcoming season will be "slightly more traditional" than last year’s but will offer plenty of fun and artistry, he said.
Mozart’s "The Magic Flute" is "a quirky work" with "some really beautiful music," he said. HOT will use a colorful production developed by the Arizona Opera which is described as "fun and very family-friendly." The fact that the production will be done in English will no doubt add to that.
The appealing young cast will feature French-Canadian tenor Antonio Figueroa (Tamino), Korean soprano So Young Park (Queen of the Night) and American soprano Talise Trevigne (Pamina) making their HOT debuts, with youngsters from the Hawaii Youth Opera Chorus getting a shot on stage.
HOT has never done a Benjamin Britten opera before, even though the great British composer has 21 listed in the Opera Database and is considered a significant contributor to the genre. HOT decided to do his "A Midsummer Night’s Dream" because it’s such an "iconic play," Crookall said. "It’s a really, really beautiful score. It’s very evocative of the forest and the fairies, and it’s got this gorgeous texture."
The opera, a HOT production, will give opera fans the rare chance to hear a countertenor in a lead role: Daniel Bubeck as Oberon. The cast includes newcomers Anne Carolyn Bird (Tytania) and Katharine Goeldner (Hippolyta), and island favorite Jamie Offenbach (Theseus). HOT Artistic Director Henry Akina will direct, and the set will feature visuals by videographer Adam Larsen, whose work added immeasurably to last season’s "Siren Song."
"Il Trovatore" also will be a HOT production. It’s noted for the famous "Anvil Chorus," familiar to many from cartoons and Marx Brothers movies, as well as its soap opera-like plot. Crookall is especially enthusiastic about his guest soloists.
"The tenor, Carl Tanner (Manrico), is really one of the best in the business," he said, "and then Michelle Johnson (Leonora) is an amazing force."
The cast also features Michael Chioldi (Count di Luna), who was so threatening as Scarpia in "Tosca" two seasons ago, and fan favorite Victoria Livengood (Azucena).
Crookall, now in his third year here after seven years as CEO of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, said HOT has "more than surpassed my expectations in terms of the quality and range of what we do."
"I’ve been an opera lover all my life, and I’ve been to operas in all kinds of places, and to find opera of this quality in the middle of the Pacific Ocean is extraordinary, I think. We bring amazing singers to town, we have great conductors, we have extraordinary productions. And combine that with incredible local talent. The chorus astonishes me every time."
Honolulu’s two chamber music organizations will provide a nice change of pace from orchestra and opera productions without any decline in quality. Some highlights from Chamber Music Hawaii, which features local musicians, include University of Hawaii piano professors Jonathan Korth and Thomas Yee as guest artists in September and November; 1997 Cliburn gold medalist Jon Nakamatsu with the Spring Wind Quintet in January; and the Onium Ballet Project performing new works at the Paliku Theatre in February.
The Honolulu Chamber Music Series, which brings visiting artists to Hawaii, is relocating its concerts to Orvis Auditorium on the UH campus after playing the past few seasons at the Doris Duke Theatre. Korth, president of the series, is especially happy to be bringing back Kurt Muroki and Zoe Martin-Doike, two former Hawaii Youth Symphony members who have thrived at performing chamber music on the mainland.
The series also plans to host violinist extraordinaire Sarah Chang in the spring.
HAWAI‘I SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA
Saturday concerts 7:30 p.m., Sunday concerts 4 p.m. Blaisdell Concert Hall. Subscription: $175-$828. Single tickets: $34-$92. Hawaiisymphonyorchestra.org or 380-7784
» Pines of Rome, Sept. 26-27. JoAnn Falletta, conductor; violinist Iggy Jang. Highlights: Jang plays Astor Piazolla’s “Four Seasons of Buenos Aires”; Respighi’s “Fountains of Rome” and “Pines of Rome.”
» Soprano Sumi Jo, Oct. 24-25. Jorge Mester, guest conductor. Music by Lehar, Offenbach and Johann Strauss. (Repeat performance Oct. 27 at Maui Arts & Cultural Center.)
» Guitar Hero, Nov. 15. Scott Yoo, guest conductor; guitarist Pablo Villegas. Highlights: Villegas performs Rodrigo’s “Fantasia para un gentilhombre” and Tarrega’s “Gran Jota de Concierto”; Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 10 in E Minor.
» Beethoven & Dvorak, Nov. 21-22. Michael Stern, guest conductor; pianist Alexander Kobrin. Highlights: Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 3, Dvorak’s Symphony No. 7 in D Minor (repeat performance Nov. 19 or 20 at Kauai Community College).
» “Ode to Joy,” Dec. 29-30 (7:30 p.m. both nights). JoAnn Falletta, conductor; Oahu Choral Society. Highlights: Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in E-flat Major, Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 in D Minor.
» Kholodenko Plays Prokofiev, Jan. 10. Carl St. Clair, conductor; pianist Vadym Kholodenko. Highlights: Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 3 in C Major; Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 6 in B Minor, “Pathetique.”
» Drumroll, Please, Jan. 30-31. David Alan Miller, conductor; Colin Currie, percussion. Highlights: Higdon’s Percussion Concerto; Beethoven’s Symphony No. 2 in D Major.
» Mozart & Mahler, Feb. 27-28. James Feddeck, conductor; violinist Cho-Liang Lin. Highlights: Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 4 in D Major, Mahler’s Symphony No. 5 in C-sharp Minor.
» Gardens of Spain, March 12-13. Joel Revzen, conductor; pianist Joyce Yang. Highlights: Yang performs De Falla’s “Nights in the Gardens of Spain” and Ginastera’s “Danzas Argentinas.”
» French Romance, March 20: Christopher Seaman, conductor; violinist Tessa Lark. Highlights: Lark performs Saint-Saens’ Violin Concerto No. 3 in B Minor; Franck’s Symphony in D Minor.
» Hawaii island concert, April 8 at Kahilu Theatre, Waimea. Conductor JoAnn Falletta leads the orchestra.
» Gala featuring Midori, April 10. At Hawaii Theatre; details TBA.
» Brahms 4, May 8. Conductor TBA; pianist Soyeon Kate Lee. Highlights: Lee plays Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 23 in A Major; Brahms’ Symphony No. 4 in E Minor.
» From Russia With Love, June 11-12. Victor Yampolsky, conductor; pianist Olga Kern. Highlights: Kern performs Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in E-Flat Major and Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in D-Flat Major; Rachmaninoff’s “Symphonic Dances.”
7:30 p.m. at Blaisdell Concert Hall. Subscription: $138-$403. Single tickets: $27-$79
» Disney in Concert: Tim Burton’s “The Nightmare Before Christmas,” Oct. 31-Nov. 1. Film screens to live music.
» Holiday Pops, Dec. 12.
» Disney in Concert: Tale as Old as Time, Jan. 8. Scenes from “Frozen,” “The Lion King,” “Aladdin” and more screened to live music.
» The Canadian Brass, Feb. 26.
» A Tribute to Judy Garland, March 18. Featuring Hilary Kole.
» Totally 80s, May 6. Stuart Chafetz conducts music by Michael Jackson, Sting, Lionel Richie and others.
HAWAII OPERA THEATRE
8 p.m. Fridays, 4 p.m. Sundays, 7 p.m. Tuesdays at Blaisdell Concert Hall. Subscription: $81-$360. Single tickets: $29-$130. hawaiiopera.org or 596-7858
» Mozart’s “The Magic Flute,” Oct. 9, 11, 13
» Britten’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” Feb. 12, 14, 16
» Verdi’s “Il Trovatore,” May 20, 22, 24
CHAMBER MUSIC HAWAII
7:30 p.m. unless otherwise noted. Tickets: $30-$35 (discounts for advance purchase of four or more concerts). chambermusichawaii.org or 489-5038
» Tresemble with pianist Jonathan Korth, Sept. 14, Paliku Theatre; Sept. 21, Doris Duke Theatre. Program: Shostakovich’s Piano Trio No.2 in E minor, Op. 67; Beethoven’s Piano Trio in B flat major, Op. 97, “The Archduke.”
» Spring Wind Quintet, Oct. 12, Paliku Theatre; Oct. 19, Doris Duke Theatre; 7 p.m. Oct. 20, University of Hawaii-West Oahu Library. Program: Reicha’s Wind Quintet in E-flat Major, Op. 88, No. 2; Bach/Schweitzer’s Passacaglia and Fugue in C minor; Pena’s “Movements for Wind Quintet.”
» Tresemble with pianist Thomas Yee, Nov. 9, Paliku Theatre; Nov. 16, Doris Duke Theatre. Program: Martinu’s Oboe Quartet; Faure’s Piano Quintet No.2 in C Minor, Op. 115.
» Honolulu Brass Choir plays holiday music, 7 p.m. Dec. 1, UH-West Oahu Library; Dec. 7, St. Andrew’s Cathedral (different program); Dec. 14, Paliku Theatre.
» Pianist Jon Nakamatsu & Spring Wind Quintet, Jan. 23, Doris Duke Theatre. Program: Roussel’s “Divertissement,” Op. 6; Beethoven’s Trio in G Major; d’Indy, Saraband and Menuet; Bach/Schweitzer’s Prelude and Fugue in C Minor, BWV 847; Blumer’s Sextet for Piano and Winds in F Major, Op. 45.
» Onium Ballet Project & Tresemble, 4 p.m. Feb. 21, Paliku Theatre. Program: Haydn’s “London” Trio; Golijov’s “Lullaby & Doina”; Frank’s “Leyendas”
» Honolulu Brass Quintet 40th-anniversary concert, March 14, Paliku Theatre; March 21, Doris Duke Theatre. Program: Bohme, Sextet for Brass in E-Flat Minor, Op. 30; DiLorenzo’s “Hawaiian Melodies” (Chamber Music Hawaii commission).
» Galliard String Quartet, 7 p.m. April 12, UH-West Oahu; April 18, Paliku Theatre; April 25, Doris Duke Theatre. Program: Haydn’s String Quartet in E-flat Major, Op. 33 No. 2 “The Joke”; Smetana’s String Quartet No. 1 in E Minor “From My Life”; Stravinsky’s “Three Pieces for String Quartet.”
» Tresemble, May 23, Paliku Theatre; May 30, Doris Duke Theatre. Program: Francaix’s Octet for Clarinet, Horn, Bassoon and Strings; Thieriot’s Octet in B-flat, Op. 62
HONOLULU CHAMBER MUSIC SERIES
7:30 p.m., with pre-concert presentation at 6:30 p.m., at Orvis Auditorium, 2411 Dole St. $20-$48. honoluluchambermusicseries.org.
» Zemlinsky Quartet, Oct. 18. Award-winning Czech group.
» Wei He, Jean-Michel Fonteneau and Yoshikazu Nagai, Nov. 23. Piano trio from the San Francisco Conservatory.
» Kurt Muroki and Friends, Jan. 9. Bassist from Maui and Hawaii Youth Symphony who now performs at New York City’s Lincoln Center and other major venues.
» Aizuri Quartet, Feb. 13. Former Hawaii Youth Symphony violinist Zoe Martin-Doike brings her quartet, in residence at the Curtis Institute of Music.
» Sarah Chang, March 8 (tentative). The star violinist performs in a rare solo setting.
Also: Pianist Alexander Kobrin in recital, Nov. 13, Orvis Auditorium. Details TBA. hmta.org.