Last night I attended a fiftieth birthday concert for composer Donald Reid Womack, which made me appreciate the cultural and especially the musical diversity of our life in Honolulu. Last night’s program showcased Don’s work from the past ten years in which he explored the fantastic instruments of East Asia. When I read in the program that “his compositional output consists of more than 80 works for orchestra, chamber ensembles, solo instruments, chorus and voice,” I had no idea that he was so prolific!
What was striking about the program, though, was that he combined Western instruments such as the violin, cello and piano, with Chinese, Japanese and Korean instruments, creating a mostly Asian flavor to the music. I kind of likened it to “Asian fusion cooking” which combine the various cuisines of different Asian countries. In last night’s program, the non-Western instruments included the Korean haegeum, a kind of fiddle, the Korean janggu (drum), the Japanese shakuhachi (flute), the Japanese koto stringed instrument, and the Chinese guzheng, a zither. Musically, the result was absolutely exotic and unique.
Here are more excerpts about Don from the program: The music of Donald Reid Womack has been performed and broadcast on five continents, and honored by nearly 100 awards, grants and commissions, including Fulbright Research Fellowship to Japan, two Artist Fellowships from the State of Hawai’i, and first prize in the Sigma Alpha Iota Inter-American Music Awards… His major works include a symphony, a violin concerto, a double concerto for shakuhachi, koto, and orchestra, a gayageum concerto, an oratorio for chorus and chamber orchestra, a triple concerto for shakuhachi, biwa and koto with ensemble of Japanese instruments, and a concerto for haegeum and Korean traditional orchestra. Performers of his music include the Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony, the Russia Ulan Ude Symphony, the Louisville Orchestra, the Honolulu Symphony, the Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble, the National Orchestra of Korea, the Busan National Gugak Center Orchestra, members of the Seoul National Gugak Center, Contemporary Music Ensemble Korea, AURA-J (Tokyo), Pro Musica Nipponia (Tokyo), Asian Art Ensemble (Berlin), and the Salzburg Mozarteum String Quartet, among many others.
I will never forget the Honolulu Symphony’s world premiere performance of Don’s composition, “After,” in remembrance of the Ehime Maru tragedy which occurred in Honolulu. The work was commissioned in an effort to bring together members of local government and the military with Japanese nationals. If you’ve forgotten about this 2001 incident, the Japanese fishery training ship Ehimu Maru collided with the USS Greeneville submarine. From Wikipedia, “In a demonstration for some VIP civilian visitors, Greeneville performed an emergency ballast blow surfacing maneuver. As the submarine surfaced, she struck Ehime Maru. Within 10 minutes of the collision, Ehime Maru sank. Nine of her crewmembers were killed, including four high school students.” Musically, I think this work was one of most powerful and moving musical compositions I’ve ever heard.
Joining Don in his celebration were visiting guest artists, Soo Yeon Lyuh (haegeum) from Korea, and Sean Yung-Hsiang (violin) from New York. Others included faculty guest artists Jonathan Korth (piano), I-Bei Lin (cello), and guest artists, Yi-Chieh Lai (guzheng) and Darin Miyashiro (koto).
Last night, my favorite piece of the evening was called ‘An Infinite Moment (2008)” for violin and piano, and it somehow reminded me so much of Carl Crosier’s touching performance with violinist Yuko Honda in Michael McLean’s composition “Prelude.” (Listen to a recording here.)
Here’s what Don wrote about “An Infinite Moment.” At its core, An Infinite Moment is about paradox. It is both simple and profound, transparent and mysterious. It is at once tinged with joy and sadness, and suggests both permanence and ephemerality. It breathes deeply, drawing in the air of ancient mountains, cool autumn days, the warmth of the sun, things that cannot last but will always be there. It is lyrical, soaring music that one should lose oneself in, if only briefly.
Don and his wife, violist Anna Womack, moved to Hawaii twenty-two years ago, and I met Anna almost right from the beginning when I contracted her to play the viola for Japanese weddings. She began attending LCH about the time they were expecting their first child, Reid, and has been active with the Sunday School music for years. And of course, Anna has actively played in the Bach Chamber Orchestra and does all the contracting of musicians when Mike Gorman moved to the mainland. Last weekend, both Reid and his brother, Max, played cello and violin respectively, in the Children’s Benefit Concert and were by far some of the most advanced musicians who performed.
You may remember also how beautifully Reid Womack played the cello for Carl Crosier’s memorial service. Wow! I remember when Max performed “The wheels on the bus” for the Children’s Benefit Concert ten years ago! Both boys have come a loooong way! Reid told me he’s off to college next school year!