While visiting Vienna’s historic Lichtental Church in the 1990s, Maui Chamber Orchestra conductor Robert Wills had an epiphany about the value of small classical groups.
“I did a concert tour of Europe with a church choir,” Wills explains. “We were in Vienna and were scheduled to do a Schubert Mass at the church that Schubert wrote it at. If you go in the loft where it was written, you couldn’t put 30 people in there. You can go to a concert hall now and hear it done with 120 singers and an orchestra of 60, and it’s all wrong. It’s supposed to be smaller and more intimate, and your tempos can be brighter and it affects everything.”
Flash forward a couple of decades and Wills is thrilled to realize his dream of finally presenting the debut of a new chamber orchestra on Maui.
“It’s been a long time coming,” he says. “I was very involved in classical music in Minneapolis and St. Paul. When I came here eight years ago, people said, ‘You have to start something.’ We started with Mozart’s ‘Requiem,’ and it was very successful. That’s when I knew we were on to something. It’s evolved over the past five years, and now it’s given birth to this orchestra. We already have the (Maui) Pops, and they do a marvelous job, but they are not doing Schumann piano concerts and Bach and Mendelssohn. So I thought let’s give it a shot and see if people want to come.”
On Friday evening at the Historic Iao Theater, “The Birth of an Orchestra” program will feature four popular works – Mozart’s Overture to “The Marriage of Figaro,” Faure’s “Cantique de Jean Racine,” Vivaldi’s “Gloria” and Mozart’s (“Jupiter”) Symphony No. 41.
“We wanted to include the chorus (the Maui Masterworks Chorale), so we’re doing the Vivaldi ‘Gloria,’ and the Faure ‘Cantique de Jean Racine,’ which is also a choral piece,” Wills explains. “And we wanted to pick something that the audience would really enjoy, so we have two Mozart pieces.”
“Jupiter” is the largest and most complex of Mozart’s symphonies. His last work, it was composed while he was impoverished and in ill health. Wanting to create something revolutionary, Mozart employed five different melodies simultaneously in the symphony, making it a challenge for any orchestra.
“It was 1788, he was penniless and near dying, and he was at the height of his composing powers,” Wills notes. “It’s not a simple piece, but the players are very excited about it.”
All four works in the program have seeped into popular culture through movie soundtracks. The famous “Figaro” overture opens the classic Eddie Murphy comedy “Trading Places,” and pops up in “Zombieland” and the original “Willy Wonka and The Chocolate Factory.” The joyous “Gloria” can be heard in the Oscar-winning “Shine,” while the “Cantique” helped build tension in “Babe.” And Woody Allen paid tribute to Mozart, embellishing “Annie Hall” with a movement from Symphony No. 41, and including it in his “Why is Life Worth Living” list in “Manhattan.”
“We have a chamber orchestra with some great adults and some exceptional high school and college players,” Wills says. “We have a season planned, and we’re going to do it at the Iao Theater where we can create a feeling of intimacy.”
As part of Friday’s concert, Wills will host a “Conversations with the Conductor” 90 minutes prior to the performance, where he will examine the final movement of the “Jupiter” Symphony.
Future orchestra events include fall concerts Oct. 10, 11 and 12, and winter concerts Dec. 19, 20 and 21. The October concerts will feature Mendelssohn’s “Fingal’s Cave” Overture, Handel’s “Water Music” Suite No. 1, Vaughan Williams’ “English Folk Song Suite” and Beethoven’ Symphony No. 6. The December concerts will include Corelli’s Christmas Concerto, Bach’s Brandenburg No. 4, Williams’ Fantasia on “Greensleeves” and Parry’s “Ode on the Nativity.”
“I hope we will continue into the future,” says Wills. “I want us to be here 10 years from now, long after I’ve turned over the baton to somebody else. My greatest hope is that it’s not just a one- or two-year deal. We have a great foundation, and we know the audience is there. So now it’s just a matter of, can we deliver good quality stuff? I think we can, and I think our audience will grow.”
The Masters of Hawaiian Music series at the Napili Kai Beach Resort will present a special tribute to the late Grammy-winning legend Dennis Kamakahi at 7:30 p.m. Aug. 14.
David Kamakahi, who performs with the Hoku Award-winning trio Waipuna, will present some of his father’s songs. The show will include performances by George Kahumoku Jr., Richard Ho’opi’i, Kevin Brown, Da Ukulele Boyz, Sterling Seaton and Wainani Kealoha. Proceeds will benefit the family of Dennis Kamakahi.
Reservations can be made by calling 669-3858 or by visiting www.SlackKeyShow.com.
Maui’s Napua Greig and Kuana Torres Kahele from Hawaii Island star in a new Pixar animated short film, “Lava,” which will premiere Aug. 22 at Japan’s Hiroshima International Animation Festival.
“I was honored to do this project with my hula brother and longtime friend Kuana Torres Kahele,” Greig announced on Facebook. ” ‘Lava’ is a sweet love story between two volcanoes. I’m so excited.”
Greig plays the voice of the female volcano, while Kahele plays the male role. And both Hoku Award-winning musicians sing the film’s theme song.
“Lava” is scheduled to open in American theaters in June of next year, playing before the Pixar feature “Inside Out.”
Ebb & Flow Arts will close its 15th season Sunday at Seabury Hall’s A’ali’ikuhonua Creative Arts Center with a free concert by the New York City-based trio Vox n Plux.
Featuring soprano Elizabeth Farnum, William Anderson on guitar/mandolin and guitarist Oren Fader, Vox n Plux has been widely acclaimed. The New York Times noted: “Ms. Farnum possesses a honeyed tone that sailed gracefully,” and Guitar Review praised: “Anderson and Fader are expert chamber musicians with a perfect sense of timing, virtuosity and a sensitivity to nuance.”
Their program will include recently commissioned works composed by Laurie San Martin, Richard Festinger and Stephen Blumberg (who will be present at the concert). Also on the program are works by Charles Ives, Harold Meltzer, Robert Pollock, William Anderson and others. The program comprises several text-settings. Poems by James Joyce, Robinson Jeffers and others will be printed in the concert program.
The performance will be at 5 p.m. Sunday at the school’s arts center. Admission is free. A pre-concert discussion will be held at 4 p.m.
Charley’s presents Phil & The Blanx featuring drummer Bud Gaugh from Sublime, along with roots reggae band Dubfounded at 10 p.m. Friday. Admission is $10. All the musicians will also play Diamonds Ice Bar and Grill in Kihei on Saturday night.
More jazz is coming our way with the 4th annual Maui Jazz & Blues Festival taking place at the Royal Lahaina Resort, Duke’s Beach House and Hula Grill in Kaanapali between Sept. 4 and 8.
Musicians performing include keyboardist Les McCann, saxophonist Donald Harrison, trombonist Steve Turre, saxophonist Javon Jackson and Zydecko accordionist Cory Ledet.
Tickets for the Royal Lahaina Resort concert Sept. 6 are $40 for general admission and $80 for VIP. Tickets and a full schedule of events are available online at www.mauijazzandbluesfestival.com.