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Baldwin alum back home for Maui Classical Music Festival

Event marks 40th anniversary with week of concerts at three historic churches on Maui

Musician Kurt Muroki, who was inspired by a violin concert at Lihikai Elementary School as a boy, will return to the island to perform in the 2022 Maui Classical Music Festival, which kicks off Friday. Photo courtesy Kurt Muroki

Kurt Muroki was a sixth-grade student at Lihikai Elementary School when he experienced an epiphany. Attending a concert by some Suzuki method violinists, he felt inspired and knew he was destined to pursue a classical music career.

“They came to Lihikai and played on the stage, and the performance really hit me,” Muroki recalled. “I said, that’s what I want to do. That was it. From that moment on, I knew what I wanted to do in life, and I’ve never looked back. It’s what I’ve always wanted to do.”

Muroki, a Baldwin High School graduate, is returning to Maui to perform at the 2022 Maui Classical Music Festival that starts Friday and runs through May 20.

A professor of double bass at the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music, Muroki won the Honolulu Symphony Young Artists competition and was the first bassist to win the New World Symphony concerto competition. Graduating from the prestigious Juilliard School of Music, he went on to perform with The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, Brooklyn Philharmonic, Tokyo Opera Nomori and New York City Ballet, as well as collaborate with members of the Guarneri, Juilliard, Tokyo and Orion quartets, and Ensemble Wein-Berlin.

Muroki also cites attending concerts at the former Kapalua Music Festival, which later became the Maui Classical Music Festival, as an early inspiration.

Clarinetist Yoonah Kim is one of the many artists who will perform during the Maui Classical Music Festival’s “Fortieth Festival Finale” at 3 p.m. on May 20 at the Keawala‘i Congregational Church in Makena. Photo courtesy Yoonah Kim

“I was influenced by Kapalua Music Festival back in the ’80s and early ’90s,” he explained. “If it wasn’t for the Suzuki players and the Maui violinists and getting to play with the Maui Symphony, and the Kapalua Festival with world-class music-making coming to Maui, forget it.”

Presented in historic churches around Maui, the festival opens at 7 p.m. Friday at Makawao Union Church, with a “Verve and Virtuosity” program featuring works by Gliere, Bottesini and Dvorak.

The “Viennese Splendor” program at 7 p.m. Monday at the Keawala’i Congregational Church in Makena features music by Mozart, Schubert and Brahms.

The musicians then travel to Hana’s Wananalua Congregational Church at 6 p.m. Wednesday for a “Hana Community Concert” of works by Mozart and Dvoark.

A “Romantic Excursions” concert featuring works by Schumann, Brahms and Dvorak is scheduled for 7 p.m. May 20 at Keawala’i Congregational Church.

The church will also host the “Fortieth Festival Finale” at 3 p.m. on May 22 with performances of music by Bassi, Mozart, Chopin, Grieg, Saint-Saëns and Schubert.

Musicians performing include violinists Benny Kim, Fabiola Kim and Sarah Oates; cellist Amir Eldan; pianists Yaron Kohlberg and Anna Polonsky; clarinetist Yoonah Kim; violist Yizhak Schotten; and pianist Katherine Collier. Schotten and Collier have been the Maui Classical Music Festival’s music directors since its inception 40 years ago.

“It’s amazing coming back home,” said Muroki, who will first play Bottesini’s “Grand Duo Concertante for Violin, Double Bass and Piano,” with Fabiola Kim and Polonsky on Friday.

Known as the “Paganini of the Double Bass,” Bottesini premiered his “Grand Duo Concertante” in Paris in 1880. A close friend of Giuseppe Verdi, he had been chosen by Verdi to conduct the premiere of his opera “Aida” in Cairo in 1871.

“Bottesini was an instant star because he was a violinist first,” Muroki noted. “He was a fantastic musician, very elegant and lyrical. This music is very difficult for me.”

Dvorak’s “Bass Quintet in G, Op. 77” on Wednesday in Hana and May 20 in Makena features Muroki with Benny Kim, Oates, Schotten and Eldan.

“It’s probably the most difficult chamber music that Dvorak wrote,” Muroki said. “It’s really quite complicated, a monumental piece. One of my favorites.”

The festival closes with Schubert’s “Quintet for Strings and Piano in A, Op. 114,” known as “The Trout Quintet.” One of the most famous of all piano quintets, “he wrote it in less than three weeks,” said Muroki. “What an incredibly interesting piece. I love the Trout and the Dvorak quartet.”

Besides his acclaimed classical performances, Muroki has also played with Sting, The Who and Peter Gabriel. He backed Sting on the CBS’ “The Early Show.”

“A couple of months later I played an all-Bach program and Sting was in the audience,” he recalled. “He introduced himself, ‘Hi, I’m Sting.’ We had a nice chat. He loves Baroque music.”

Muroki played with the Juilliard Orchestra backing The Who’s Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend at a Carnegie Hall concert, and with Gabriel on the “Late Show with David Letterman.”

Among laudatory reviews that Muroki has received, The Washington Post praised: “The highlight was a Rossini Duo for cello and bass. Cellists are known for their technical agility, but bassists are rarely challenged this way, and Muroki made it sound astonishingly easy.” The Boston Globe noted: “The performance of Schubert’s ‘Trout’ Quintet, which closed the concert (with double-bass player Kurt Muroki joining the ensemble), was just about flawless.”

The 2022 Maui Classical Music Festival is presented Friday through May 22. Suggested donation is $30 for adults and $10 for students for each concert. A complete schedule is available at www.mauiclassicalmusicfestival.org.

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