The music by Wolff demonstrated a search for authentic Hawaiian chant and island instruments including the nose flute, warrior sticks and stone castanets. The effective use of these instruments represented a reach to pre-Western influence, even as we had a Western orchestra juxtaposed in this clash of cultures.
Woolf might have done the music this way to allow for two Hawaiian compositions–the traditional “Kumulipo” (“Creation Chant”) and “Aloha ‘Oe”–to be featured. Queen Lili’uokalani was the English translator of “Kumulipo” and the composer of “Aloha ‘Oe.” The Dresser was impressed with how seamlessly and beautifully Woolf blended “Aloha ‘Oe” into the music ofBetter Gods, making this old chestnut new to the ear.
Offering something slightly more substantial than the 20-minute pieces shown last month, WNO premiered Better Gods, an hour-long work by composer Luna Pearl Woolf and librettist Caitlin Vincent on Friday evening. The subject is the fate of Queen Lili’uokalani, last monarch of Hawaii. In 1898, Lili’uokalani attempts to repudiate the U.S.-friendly constitution inherited from her predecessor and shore up Hawaiian sovereignty.
Washington National Opera’s Better Gods brings a mostly unknown chapter in Hawaiian history onto the stage at the Kennedy Center, telling the story of Queen Lili’uokalani, the island nation’s last monarch, with dignity and high artistic values. I imagine the Hawaiian “better gods” are happy.
Ms. Woolf’s gorgeous score is underlined by the use of traditional Hawaiian chants and her score utilized authentic instruments like the nose flute, Kala’au (percussive sticks), and Ili’ili (castanets), that are native to the island. Ms. Woolf’s score also uses Queen Lili`uokalani’s famous composition, “Aloha ‘Oe”, sung in gorgeous counterpoint by soprano Ariana Wehr.
Given his commitment to connecting with his audience, Haimovitz chose a unique way to share this passion with his listeners. He has commissioned preludes to the Six Solo Suites, created by contemporary composers from diverse backgrounds and disciplines. “It’s a way to bring these suites into the 21st century,” he says, “to have living, breathing composers grapple with the materials, Bach’s musical building blocks, and find their own take on it.”
The six composers bringing contemporary vitality to Bach are Philip Glass, Luna Pearl Woolf, Du Yun, Vijay Iyer, Roberto Sierra, and Mohammed Fairouz. Haimovitz has encouraged them to draw on folk melodies, just as Bach did in his day. As we spoke, the pieces were still being written, and Haimovitz’s excitement and anticipation is contagious.
Cellist Matt Haimovitz brought a unique concert-going experience to Hamilton and Clinton on Nov. 6 – a moveable feast of Bach’s Suites for Unaccompanied Cello.