Our island is known for its many and varied winds, coming down from the mountains and in from the sea. And now, a lovely wind from Kona! Roland Maurer, the world-class oboist, can now be heard by anyone anytime.
Roland played oboe and bassoon professionally, taught music, and conducted symphonies, operas, and chamber music groups in his native Switzerland. He then attempted to “retire” to Kona; but music, he says, was an “addiction.” Fortunately for us, it was a habit he found impossible to kick. For a number of years now, many of us have enjoyed his Ohrlando’s Chamber Ensemble performances in intimate settings in Kona and Waimea. You could get up close and personal with Roland, his wife Ursula Hess who plays the harpsichord and piano, and other guest wind artists playing flute, recorder, or clarinet, drinking wine and eating hors d’oevres, just as people must have done when chamber music was played in rooms in people’s homes in the 18th and 19 centuries, in convivial settings among friends.
Enter COVID-19. No more “up close.” However, beginning on April 12 (seen above), Ohrlando has a wonderful solution: every Sunday at 5:00 PM, they live-stream a performance from their own chambers on YouTube. It is only for half an hour, which is a perfect amount of time. Since I live on the Hamakua Coast and find it difficult to travel to Kona for their concerts (although I have done so), I love this option!
Roland often introduces us to composers who are less well known and gives us fascinating information about them or their music before he performs their work. For example, did you know the “Cappricio” comes from the word for “curly-haired?!” On the first two Sundays, April 12 and 19, we got Baroque beyond Bach. Irish Baroque? Thomas Roseingrave was from Dublin and lived roughly in the same years as Bach; he studied in Italy and was most influenced by Scarlatti. The most famous Irish composer of that period and one familiar to those who love Irish music was Turlough O’Carolan, who composed traditional folk music, but some of it bears the influence of Italian baroque. There was more interchange of musical ideas across the continent than I imagined. For this piece, Roland played the oboe d’amore, which has a lower and richer tone than the regular oboe. Their April 19 concert (seen above) also featured a Scottish Baroque composer, William McGibbon; his Sonata in imitation of Corelli could just as well have been written by an Italian.
While Ohrlando favors the Baroque period, music from other periods are also in the repertoire. In their April 26 (seen above) performance, they gave us a delightful series of dances from the 19th and early 20th century, a period when there was a rising interest in the musical traditions of ordinary people. Moritz Moszkowski was a Polish pianist, but he is most famous for his Spanish Dances; Roland, who expertly arranges pieces for the oboe, gave a rousing rendition. Next came the Mazurka from Leo Delibe’s ballet Coppelia, a dance almost martial in character which got our toes tapping. Hungarian Leo Weiner was new to me, but this was my favorite piece of the evening. For this, Roland got out his saxophone, which was perfect for the highly accented and rhythmic Gypsy dance, with almost jazzy ornamentation. Franz Lehar’s Merry Widow waltz always puts the listener in a playful frame of mind, and Johann Strauss’s Trisch Trasch Polka, which Roland re-named the Coqui Frog Polka, finished the exuberantly joyful program, a perfect antidote to the quarantine blues. While it is the wind instruments that are featured, Ursula’s harpsichord and piano accompaniments add zest to the mix; thank goodness they can isolate together and continue to add new pieces to bring to appreciative listeners.
Players of wind instruments must have a huge lung capacity and control of their breath; Roland can go an incredibly long time on one breath, dispatching pieces of that breath to notes with rapidity and precision; each note in long runs of 16th notes are clear and uniform, regardless of the octave or the changing dynamics. His slow passages dip and soar with emotional depth created by fluid tone color. Roland’s mastery of the oboe, oboe d’amore, bassoon, and saxophone takes one’s own breath away.
I hope that his at-home concerts will bring many more into his circle, so that when we can all go out again, his chambers will be full. Do let the wind blow in from Kona on Sundays from 5:00 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. or at any time. This Sunday, Ohrlando will feature all women composers. I can’t think of a better Mother’s Day treat!
Meizhu Lui didn’t know there was any other kind of music except classical until she hit junior high! Piano and flute have been her own instruments of choice. She is now pursuing her bucket list goal of deepening her musical knowledge and skills.