Symphony conjures up scenic landscapes

By Steven Mark, (Hawaii Star Advertiser)

The Hawai’i Symphony Orchestra’s performances this weekend will conjure as much sight as it does sound. Its “Pops” concert on Friday evening features movie music, with guest conductor Stuart Chafetz presenting “Hooray for Hollywood.”

But even Sunday’s Masterworks concert features works in which the sounds refer distinctively to landscapes and images. Guest conductor David Stewart Wiley will lead the orchestra in Beethoven’s popular “Pastorale” Symphony and Alan Hovhaness’ “Mysterious Mountain,” with Christina and Michelle Naughton — twin sisters who quickly gained a reputation as the dynamic duo of piano pairings — performing Poulenc’s picturesque Concerto for Two Pianos and Orchestra in D Minor.

Wiley, who led the Honolulu Symphony 20 years ago and had relatives living here, thinks the program will be especially appropriate for Hawaii.

“As I was thinking about the magical world and beauty of Hawaii, the Hovhaness ‘Mysterious Mountain’ jumped out as the piece I wanted to suggest,” he said. “Currently I live in Virginia’s Blue Ridge, surrounded by mountains, and I’m thinking about the very different kind of beauty of the mountain rising out of the Pacific.”

Hovhaness was a prolific Armenian-American composer who spent a few months as a composer-in-residence at the East-West Center in 1962. He premiered one of his 67 symphonies here, but “Mysterious Mountain” will be getting its Hawaii premiere Sunday. Noted for its rich, colorful sounds and long melodic lines, it is probably Hovhaness’ most famous symphonic work.

“He was trying to find a musical bridge between the spiritual and mundane world in this symphony,” Wiley said.

Guest conductor David Stewart Wiley does film and TV work, and led the Honolulu Symphony 20 years ago. (Courtesy Hawai'i Symphony Orchestra)

Guest conductor David Stewart Wiley does film and TV work, and led the Honolulu Symphony 20 years ago. (Courtesy Hawai’i Symphony Orchestra)

BEETHOVEN’S “Pastorale,” on the other hand, was inspired by Beethoven’s wanderings through the Viennese woods. Its five movements are subtitled with short descriptions of scenes in the country, such as “Thunder. Storm.” Wiley said the descriptions are intended to be as emotional as they are descriptive.

“With the storm, I really try to bring out the terrifying aspects of it. When the timpani makes her first appearance there, it can be earth-shattering. We can hear this music on so many different levels. Yes, maybe it’s a representation of thunder or lightning, but also it’s the terror of being caught out in nature when a cataclysm is going on.”

Wiley composes, plays jazz piano and does work for film and television, and his musical versatility helps him take a fresh look at the classical repertoire. One result of that is that he is performing the works in an atypical order: Beethoven, Hovhaness, then Poulenc.

“We’ll hear the Beethoven as a fresh, revolutionary piece, and then after intermission the reflected majesty of the Hovhaness, and then we end the concert with the double concerto,” Wiley said.

POULENC’S double concerto was inspired by the composer’s visit to the Paris Colonial Exposition of 1931, a huge event that put the world’s cultures on display.

The 26-year-old Naughton twins have a special insight into the piece, having played it for pianist Evelyne Crochet, who performed it with Poulenc.

“This piece makes sense, given who he was,” said Christina Naughton. “He’s some kind of genius, I think, in terms of the way he juxtaposes two things you would never think work together, like elements of something from Mozart and something from Indonesian gamelan music.

“It never gets old. It comes out very differently each time, even if you’re playing with the same orchestra.”

Few teams seem more suited to handle that kind of spontaneity than the Naughtons, who have a chemistry that can only be born from biology. They reportedly don’t look at each other during performances, yet they move as one.

Born eight minutes apart, they attended each other’s piano lessons at the Curtis Institute of Music and the Juilliard School.

“It was really helpful for the people actually having the lesson to have your sister watching and somehow getting a different perspective,” Naughton said. “Also, just the lack of loneliness … knowing that there was someone at the exact same stage, who understood what you were going through — I think it helped our love of music grow even stronger.”

The twins initially planned solo careers, but after a chance invitation to perform as a duo eight years ago, they teamed up formally, producing a widely praised album in 2012.

Musically, they’ve never been competitive, but “outside of music, on the tennis court, that was a totally different issue,” Naughton said with a laugh.