Transport Out of this World
When you enter Andy Czajkowski’s home, you are awestruck by a huge, sleek, shiny, black, single-winged object that looks like an alien spacecraft. Two human-sized beings could lie in it head to toe. It’s a Bösendorfer grand piano, and it waits to transport you to an other-worldly, deeply resonant soundscape.
This special “Great Performances” event made possible by Czajkowski’s sharing of his home and piano was a trifecta: there were songs sung by Faculty Artist soprano Jennifer McGregor accompanied by HPAF founder Val Underwood, solos by Underwood, and chamber music from the Mele Kaula Quartet which includes violinists Patrick Yim and Maxine Nemerovski, violist Daria D’Andrea, and cellist Katie Rietman.
The program began in the 17th century. Jennifer McGregor opened with three baroque Alessandro Scarlatti arias, which were probably sung by a castrato, a male singer whose voice was kept in the high ranges through the magic of, well, surgery. These singers were much revered in the world of opera, as today we revere soaring sopranos like McGregor. True to history in that it would have been a harpsichord accompaniment, the piano part was played with detached notes, detaché, since harpsichords have no pedals to sustain notes nor the ability to change the volume.
It’s a treat to hear Underwood play solo since usually, he’s accompanying the singers. In “Dance of the Blessed Spirits” from Gluck’s opera Orpheus and Eurydice, an ethereal melody emerges, with phrases that pulse between ecstasy and echo and then fade into nothingness. Despite Underwood’s mastery, I have to say I prefer it played on the flute as was the original intent since the flute’s wavering vibrato and third-octave notes can best impart the feeling of being in a spirit world.
Underwood played Chopin’s Nocturne in b flat minor with fluidity and precision. The embellishments increase and change each time the theme occurs, soaring and complex cadenzas. The mood changes in the second section with rushing arpeggios in the left hand and a simple melody in octaves played by the right, and then it returns to the first section before ending on a surprising major chord. Hugely fun was Underwood’s final solo by Argentinian composer Alberto Ginestera, based on children’s ditties. So, of course, it is playful, with simple repetitive melodies, a variety of rhythms in close succession, and at high speed. Underwood’s bright and humorous approach made us see the kids running, leaping, falling down, and losing interest as quickly as they started a new game.
The string quartet started with a chaconne, a stately dance in triple time with a sustained bass line, by 17th-century composer Henry Purcell. But their preference seemed to be for romantic era pieces, and they gave us two by Edward Elgar. As they explained to us, Chanson d’Amour (Song of Love) was a poem written by his fiancée that Elgar then set to music. The emotion in the melody is as heartfelt as one could imagine, coming from someone on the eve of their marriage, and it has a delicate charm, ending with pizzicato strings before making the final landing. In Elgar’s lovely Chanson de Matin (Morning Song), Patrick Yim was exceptional, pulling the melody out of his violin like a silken thread.
In this evening of time travel, we ended in the 20th century. Jennifer McGregor’s final pieces by George Gershwin and Kurt Weill were emotional bombshells. She gave the most powerful performance of the evening, “Surabaya Johnny,” from Kurt Weill’s musical theater Happy End. The song alternates between the character Lilian’s rapid-fire accounts of Johnny’s humiliating and heartless betrayals, punctuated with venomous spoken outbursts – he’s a “rat”- with sad and tender sections where she confesses with agonizing irony that in spite of it all, he is the love of her life. McGregor’s delivery was a punch in the gut, giving us the full range of intense and varied emotions in the song.
As the Bösendorfer spacecraft landed, transporting us back to earthly soil, we could only marvel at the adventure we had had. The Hawaii Performing Arts Festival had done it again.
About the author: 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 instruments of choice. She is now pursuing her bucket list goal of deepening her musical knowledge and skills.
Photos: Steve Roby
Performance date: 07/July/2022
A full calendar of HPAF events and tickets for all events are available by visiting https://hawaiiperformingartsfestival.org/. Tickets for Kahilu Theatre events may be purchased at https://kahilutheatre.org/ or via phone at (808) 885-6868.