Beethoven in Hawaii

For three decades F. Judd Cooke taught at our neighboring institution, the New England Conservatory of Music, not to mention Wellesley and Yale. But his musical career began in Hawaii, where he was born, a descendant of New Englanders who went to the islands as missionaries. He became a pianist, cellist, organist, and composer. He was organist and choir director of the First Parish Church in Lexington, Mass., for 30 years. His composition ``Rogue Island March'' was performed by the Honolulu Symphony Orchestra in 1978. Here, as told to Phyllis Whitman, is his recollection of music in Honolulu rather different from the hula-and-ukulele tourist circuit. IN Hawaii when I was a boy there was not much great music to be heard. The Honolulu Symphony was at that time so much a pickup ensemble that I, a boy of 15, played cello in it; my brother, 17, played viola; and my mother played with the second violins.

Whenever great musical artists came to the islands to give concerts, everybody attended. Parents would see to it that their children went to the concerts, even if they had to take them out of school to go. Each concert was widely advertised, and all tickets sold out.

When they knew a famous performer was to arrive, people would watch for his ship to come around Diamond Head and into the harbor. Our house was up high, and we would use a telescope to see what ship was coming. It was sometimes the Taiyo Maru, a Japanese transpacific steamship with three red-and-black funnels. The artist's ship would dock at 8 or 8:30 in the morning. The concert would be scheduled for 12 noon, and the ship's departure for 5 p.m.

Before noon, Mother would go to the school to take us all out for the concert. Other parents did the same with their children. The performance would be held in the Princess Theater, the largest in Honolulu. Parents with children, businessmen and their wives, just about everyone we knew was there.

World-famous artists appeared at these concerts. The great violinist Fritz Kreisler came. A Viennese, he was elegant, handsome, and most moving. He wore coattails, with a handkerchief in the pocket of a coattail.

The young Jascha Heifetz was already a world-renowned violinist at 17. Heifetz was going through a phase in which he held his violin at a steep angle upward from his chin. He worked out of this before long, but the week after the concert, all the young violinists in the Honolulu school orchestra imitated him by tilting their violins upward.

The Russian bass, Feodor Chaliapin, sang magnificently. When it was time for him to make his first appearance on stage, a man walked on and everyone applauded, thinking it was Chaliapin. The man went to the piano and began to dust the keys. Everyone laughed. Then suddenly there was Chaliapin! The audience applauded wildly. The little piano-dusting incident had put everyone in a good mood for the concert. Chaliapin had for each member of the audience a booklet of translations of his songs, many of which were in Russian. The songs were numbered, and Chaliapin would announce the number of each song before he sang it. The audience could follow the words in the booklet. To avoid the distracting sound of rattling paper, there was a notice on each page which said, ``Do not turn the page while Mr. Chaliapin is singing.''

When I knew that the Metropolitan Opera mezzo-soprano, Margarita Matzenauer, was coming, I wrote to her. At home we had a recording of her singing Kundry's Narrative from Wagner's opera ``Parsifal.'' In my letter, I asked Mme. Matzenauer if she would sing this at the concert. She did, to my delight.

Pianist Ignace Paderewski traveled with four pianos -- big Steinway grands. They would each be sent on ahead to a different city in which he was to perform. One of them might go to Honolulu, one to Tokyo, one perhaps to Hong Kong, and one to Singapore. The pianos arrived in time to become adjusted to the temperature and humidity of the city, and then to be tuned for the performance. After the concert, the Honolulu piano might be sent on to Calcutta, the Tokyo piano to Cairo. Paderewski was very tall, and at this time also very old, a most impressive figure. It was at this concert that I first heard the Beethoven sonata, Op. 111, a very moving experience for me. By present standards, these performances were sometimes sloppy. The pianist's left hand often sounded before the right. Artists took great liberties in performing in those days.

A hunger for music in Hawaii was obvious by the enthusiasm with which audiences responded to the performances. Artists often played six or eight encores after the program, receiving tremendous applause. And the flowers! Leis were piled around a performer's neck until he could hardly see over them.

The people followed the artist's car down to the boat and saw him off. It may be that the ship waited for the performing artist to board, and then sail.

Remembering those concerts in Honolulu, I have always tried to choose good music, and perform it as well as possible. My hope was that perhaps some child hearing it would be inspired, as I was in Hawaii years ago.

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