Issue 11.1: February/March 2008

Small is Beautiful

story by Jennifer Crites
photo by Ann Cecil


Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven would have approved. A Galliard String Quartet concert last September paid tribute to the three founding fathers of chamber music and kicked off an auspicious milestone—Chamber Music Hawaii’s 25th anniversary season.

CMH started when five musicians from the Honolulu Symphony got together in their off time to play as a wind quintet—one of the living-room-sized orchestras that gained popularity in Europe during the late 1700s, when royalty and wealthy families hired small groups of musicians to entertain at lavish dinner parties in their palaces and homes. Even Hawai‘i’s aristocrats followed suit: In May 1890, the Royal Hawaiian String Orchestra charmed King Kalakaua’s guests during a performance in ‘Iolani Palace’s Blue Room.

“Chamber music has been seen as an elite and stuffy art form,” says CMH managing director and horn player Jonathan Parrish. But anyone who’s been to one of CMH’s concerts—where aloha shirts are the attire du jour, and cellists, violinists, et al chat with listeners between selections—knows that’s not the case. Sometimes the fans are even part of the act. “We were halfway through a program when the lights went out,” recalls Parrish, “but everyone wanted us to continue, so five members of the audience volunteered to hold flashlights on our music sheets.”

Chamber music embraces not only classical European music but also jazz ensembles, even Hawaiian trios, notes Parrish. And CMH blends Hawaiian classics such as “Aloha ‘Oe, Ku‘uipo” and “The Kamehameha Waltz,” as well as new works by Hawaiian composers into its repertoire.

This season, CMH celebrates with an anniversary bash at the Hawaii Theatre on March 21, spotlighting guest pianist Jon Kimura Parker, who twice performed at the request of Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II. An April 23 gig on the Big Island pairs CMH’s Spring Wind Quintet with guest artist Keola Beamer to premier his composition, “Malulani, ’Neath the Shadow of Stars,” for winds and slack key guitar. Black tie and rubber slippers optional. HH