Two for the Show: Ofra Harnoy and Mike Herriot


Hawaii Performing Arts Festival’s second virtual concert was a twofer. Either Ofra Harnoy or Mike Herriot would each have been worth the price of admission on their own (well, it was free but you know what I mean!). 

Canadian Ofra Harnoy started cello at the age of 6, and at 17, performed at Carnegie Hall. She has had Prince Charles, President Clinton, Prime Ministers, and many of the rich and famous as her audience.  But what most impresses me is that she came to Hawaii Island and did a fundraiser for HPAF last year with little ol’ us as the audience. And now, as part of the 2020 virtual series, she is demonstrating how in tune she is with HPAF’s mission; we love her for that.

But Hawaii returned the favor. She came with Mike Herriot, the childhood sweetheart that she re-connected with after 35 years apart, and it was at the Fairmont Orchid that they got engaged; their marriage and professional collaboration has brought her back to the world stage. Mike Herriot is a well-respected trumpeter in both the classical and jazz genres; he plays a multitude of instruments, and is also an arranger, composer, and producer. Cellos and horns are both in orchestras, but it is rare that we hear them in duets, so we were expecting the unexpected as they took the “stage” in their living room in St. Johns, Newfoundland. 

While the program was titled “Back to Bach,” they played only two Bach pieces. “Air” from Concertante in G traditionally also includes violins and harpsichord as well as cello and bass. With only two instruments, Ofra on cello and Mike on bass, the music had even greater depth: we entered another dimension surrounded by the sound of the spheres, the music stripped down to its bare essence. In the “Adagio” from Toccata, Adagio, and Fugue in C Major, originally written for organ, Ofra played solo, letting each slow note bloom and excavating its honey, combining sweetness and precision. A pre-recording of Mike playing five different horn parts complemented the fullness of the cello.

The other baroque selection was Telemann’s first Canonic Sonata for two like instruments, flutes or violins. A canon is what we commonly call a round, in which there is a single line of music; one voice begins and then a second voice joins after a bar or phrase, as in “Three Blind Mice.” The range and complexity of Telemann’s work is remarkable; this one has three movements, all in canonic form. Telemann called for two of the same instruments, so I wondered how the mellowness of the cello could be balanced with the brightness of a trumpet.  Mike explained in the question and answer that he used a flugelhorn, which has a richer sound than a trumpet, which blends well with cello. The score also had to be transposed to a lower key to accommodate these different instruments.  My own preference for this piece is still two flutes; but when there is deviation from the traditional, it’s a matter of taste as to what version you like best. The Bach and Telemann pieces are on their new album, “Back to Bach,” in which they combine string and brass to explore baroque music in fresh new arrangements, so we can all decide for ourselves.

The rest of the program included jazz, folk, and pop. George Gershwin’s “Summertime” from Porgy and Bess had cello and trumpet trading the melody, and ended with Mike in a riff that made us want to hear more of him playing jazz. In a nod to Newfoundland, we heard the folk tune “Lonely Waterloo.” In the 1980s, Ofra made an album of Beatles’ songs.  They ended their program with two of them,“Michelle,” played with a more pensive interpretation than the original, and then “When I’m 64.”  With Mike on the piano, Ofra’s cello almost spoke the familiar words, as she put in fillips like a humorous remark, and bounces like a lively exchange. 

We hope that they will still be making beautiful music together when they are 64.  Next year, second honeymoon here in Hawaii?  That would be lovely.

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.

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