Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Honolulu, HI – 1/31-2/18 Week 1

On January 31st, travel and activities related to my junior sabbatical officially began. My first destination: Honolulu, HI. The flight to Honolulu from the east coast was grueling (17+ hours!). It takes less time to get to East Asia than it does to get to Hawaii. There were a few minor delays along the way (never transfer through Minneapolis in the winter!), and I arrived about an hour late, 10:30PM Hawaii time. The last leg from Seattle was quite taxing. At this point I had already spent five hours in the air and six hours waiting in terminals, yet still had a six-hour flight ahead of me. There was mild turbulence for most of the flight, and this combined with the fact that the woman next to me took up two seats and I sat next to the lavatories, where traffic never ceased to stop throughout the flight, resulted in a sleepless six hour hiatus. I had eaten some food in the terminal before departure but still found myself hungry in the middle of the flight, so I bought a meal. I usually enjoy catching up on movies when I fly, but Alaska Airlines rents personal entertainment units for a whopping $12, and the pre-installed movies were either flicks I had seen before or really not interested in. 

My first week in Honolulu was mainly spent preparing for Don Womack’s Composition Recital, held at the Honolulu Academy of Arts on February 4th. I performed two compositions featuring the shakuhachi on this concert; a duet for shakuhachi and violin entitled 立花 (Sword Flower), and trio for shakuhachi, koto, and violoncello entitled 破天 (Breaking Heaven).

Sword Flower was a tour-de-force for the shakuhachi, and a true test of my technique and agility on this otherwise sluggish instrument. While I wouldn’t go so far as to the say that the piece was not idiomatically-conceived, some of the lines were extremely difficult to execute smoothly on the five-holed shakuhachi, and required many hours of practice for me to feel comfortable with. Still, I wish I had a seven-holed shakuhachi so that some of the meri pitches could be executed in a kari position, which would result in less embouchure adjustment and hence smoother execution of certain passage. Regardless, I felt privileged to have been entrusted with this piece, and the process of working it up to performance I feel has brought my performance skills to a new level, especially because I had an opportunity to perform with violinist Iggy Jang, who used to be concertmaster of the Honolulu Symphony.
Rehearsing Sword Flower with Iggy Jang
These are the program notes of the work:
–The title comes from the name of the shakuhachi maker and player for whom the piece was written as a gift. Looking for a title in honor of Tachibana-san, I took characters from different words that are not normally combined and put them together to create a new word (a particular poetic license to which Japanese well lends itself). The characters literally mean “sword” and “flower,” and the piece itself reflects this duality, as the first half is sharp, angular and violent, in contrast to the quiet and graceful second half. Originally composed for shakuhachi duo, tonight’s performance is for shakuhachi and violin.–
Breaking Heaven was a more atmospheric and dramatic work. The challenge for me in this piece was finding balance amidst the undulating koto ostinati while blending imperceptibly with the violoncello. Additionally, there was an extended solo passage for the 2.4, A管 long shakuhachi, which I found challenging to play because of the sluggishness of my 2.4. As always, it is so difficult to describe music in prose, so I think I’ll leave it to the composer himself:
–The title refers to the seeking of balance amidst disruption and inevitable change. It is about finding a balance of natural harmony between the familiar and the unknown, which must, at some point, become the (new) familiar. Throughout much of the work the koto presents a gently undulating figuration over which the shakuhachi and cello sing long-breathed lines. Tension gradually builds and discord enters as “Heaven is slowly broken.” In the middle section the instruments struggle for amity, exchanging various ideas, sometimes in accord, sometimes in opposition. The final section sees a return to the opening material and a settling into a new balance in the “broken Heaven.”–

After one of our rehearsals, I asked if I could look around the museum, and what do you know? I was in luck, as it was a free day at the museum. When I was a student at UH Mānoa I was a student member of the Honolulu Academy of Arts and lived just a ten-minute walk up the road, so it was quite nostalgic to stroll through the exhibitions again. I really like the way the museum is designed. Like many architectural spaces in Honolulu, it takes advantage of Hawaii’s idyllic weather and combines indoor and outdoor spaces as part of the experience of visiting the museum. There are a number of courtyards with outdoor sculptures for example, and the museum cafe is open-air. This is a photo of perhaps my favorite courtyard in the museum complex:
Stone pond courtyard at the Honolulu Academy of  Arts
This week has been exceptionally busy. During the three years I spent at UH Mānoa (2002-2005), I can’t recall a week that was this packed with cultural events and things to do. Actually, Don Womack presented two concerts of his works at the Honolulu Academy of Arts,  one on Wednesday, February 2nd as well, and the pianist who performed Lunacy (2010), Ron Levy, gave a masterclass the next day at Orvis Auditorium and a piano recital in the evening. The first half of the concert featured works based on the theme of ‘water,’ so of course Debussy was represented, but he also played waterfall(s) (2006) by Don Womack and Iwa (1983) by Byron Yasui, among other works. The first half of the concert was long enough to be an entire program itself, but I decided for the second half to hear the original version of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition (1874). Simply stunning! Held on February 4th, Womack's second concert was the one that I performed on. Sword Flower did not go as well as it did in rehearsal, but the energy was there and the audience seemed to appreciate our performance. We even received a curtain call! I especially enjoyed Blue Ridge Dreams (2007), "a collection of short pieces suggested by imagined experiences along the Blue Ridge Mountains of the Southern Appalachians."
Regan (l) and Womack (r)

This week I also had a rare opportunity to view art from North Korea, as the East-West Center at UH Mānoa is hosting an exhibition entitled Touching the Arts and Minds of the People: North Korean Art on Paper until May 8th, 2011.
One of the more solemn moments this week came on Saturday, February 5th at 5:00PM, as hundreds of UH students, faculty, and members of the community gathered to celebrate the life of Frances Mammana. Evidently, she passed away on January 27th after a 9-month battle with ALS. Frances and I spent some time together in spring 2006 when she was studying in Okinawa under the auspices of the Akihito Scholarship. She came up to Tokyo for a few days to meet the Emperor and Empress of Japan and we enjoyed exploring the city together. I've always admired her youthful spirit and vigor. The Kenny Endo Ensemble led off the evening activities, followed by everyone gathering in a huge circle, holding hands, and observing a moment of silence. Dinner was served, and I dedicated a solo shakuhachi performance of Tamuke to her.

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