Review: The other Iggy: Jang, not Pop!


Remarkable Flair
Kamuela Philharmonic Orchestra featuring Ignance “Iggy” Jang
Kahilu Theatre
March 25, 2018

I went to high school with Iggy Pop – but was always a classical nerd!

The Big Island is well-known for its vibrant music scene, with more musicians per square inch than just about anywhere, Hawaiian, rock, pop, jazz, country..… but many do not know about the amazing classical music you can find here too.  We even have our own symphony orchestra, the Kamuela Philharmonic (KPO), founded in 2004.  It has a dual purpose: it works with keiki who are musically underserved to expose them to and inspire them with classical music, and it gratifies the island’s classical music lovers. Many of the musicians have had top-notch training and professional musical careers: for example, principal flutist Susanella Noble studied in France with greats such as Jean-Pierre Rampal, and timpanist Sharon Cannon has a Music Performance degree from Temple University. This is not a small-town amateur orchestra.

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So, the Kahilu Theater was full of excited and expectant listeners on March 25, when the KPO gave its third and final concert of the season, featuring Honolulu Symphony Orchestra’s Concertmaster, Iggy Jang.   Jang, like the KPO, is dedicated to passing on his love for classical music and his expertise as a violinist to the next generation of performers.  Every summer since 2011 he has come to Big Island as the String Program Director of the Hawaii Performing Arts Festival.  Working intensively for two weeks with talented young string players from around the world is a rewarding gig, but also, as he has said, like “herding cats!”  It was wonderful to have Iggy back on our island, this time as a performer himself.

The program, “Remarkable Flair,” featured three well-known and beloved works for orchestra alone.  The Overture to Mozart’s comic opera Cosi fan tutte, K.588, is a light and playful romp, given that the opera is about “fiancée swapping.” On a bet, two men disguise themselves and try to seduce the other’s lover to test their faithfulness. Women today would not be too happy with the opera’s conclusion: that all women are indeed by nature fickle! Regardless, the music is a delight with its many easy-to-hum melodies, and the KPO performed it full-strength with over 40 musicians, producing a large quantity of sound, resonant and stirring, never jarring or just loud. The orchestra’s strong wind section often soared above and below the strings.

Edward Elgar’s Romantic short piece Salut d’amour, op. 12, featured a solo by concertmaster Ursula Vietze Koehler.  Her violin lilted the achingly beautiful melody, and the orchestra’s balanced and homogeneous sound enhanced the violin’s graceful voice without distracting from it.

Beethoven’s 8th Symphony in F Major, op. 93 is one of the lesser known of Beethoven’s nine symphonies. It has a fast tempo throughout its four movements, with no slow movement.  It contains some unusual features, like unexpected moments of silence, a shift from one key to another, a surprising held note by a single player while the rest of the orchestra is silent. This was my least favorite piece of the evening, which had a few sloppy moments; the orchestra was not as much in sync as in the rest of the program.  The tympani was important especially to the rousing finish, and Sharon Cannon’s athletic musicality took it home.

The highlight was Iggy Jang’s performance of Felix Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto in e minor, op. 64, another familiar and beloved work. Iggy showed his mastery, easily moving back and forth from the lowest notes to the highest, playing slow sections with great depth of sound, varying the volume of the high notes with complete control, drawing out a showy cadenza, and making it all seem like a piece of cake.  In fact, his technique is so effortless that (this is a small quibble), I thought that there could have been a little more “passion” in the first movement’s “appassionato,” a bit more angst.  The third shimmering movement was like a dance on tip-toes, with the orchestra perfectly providing legato contrast to the violin’s staccato at times, and at others tip-tapping along with it.

The audience was thrilled with both Iggy Jang and the KPO, under the direction of Brian Dollinger.  Even if you’re an Iggy Pop fan, you may find you also love the alternative Iggy. Go hear the KPO. You won’t be disappointed.

To learn more about the Kamuela Philharmonic Orchestra, please visit their website: 

All photos by Steve Roby. ©2018

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