“Holiday Card to Hilo,” the University of Hawaii at Hilo’s annual holiday concert and one of Hilo’s most beloved holiday events, is 2 p.m. Sunday at the UH-Hilo Performing Arts Center.
The theme for this year’s show is “A Season of Lights.” The eagerly anticipated holiday concert will bring together UH-Hilo’s Kapili Choir and University Chorus with the Hilo Community Chorus under the direction of Tom McAlexander, the ensemble VOICES and the Orchid Isle Orchestra under the direction of Cathy Young. Featured performers include vocalists Amy Horst, Josh Timmons, Kyra Gomes, Debra Brooks and Grace Ireland, plus pianists Cheryl “Quack” Moore and Kanako Okita.
The show’s musical director, Mark Sheffield, described it as “a traditional celebration of Christmas, Hanukkah and Hawaiian culture.”
“But it’s also designed to bring light to dark, if you will,” Sheffield added. “In the light of the days we’re living in, there’s a lot of division. And the hope is the concert can somehow bring everyone from different walks of life together and share an afternoon of hope and light.”
One of the featured pieces is “Stars,” by Latvian composer Eriks Esenvalds, whom Sheffield called “a world-renowned instrumental and choral composer.”
“You may have heard of Pythagoras and his theory of the Harmony of the Spheres — how the planets, when they’re spinning like a motor spins, they make sound but we can’t hear it because planets spin in a vacuum,” he said. “The accompaniment to this song is wine glasses, in effect, the ringing of the spheres or the stars.
“I was inspired by William Burke. He was an explorer who wrote a book, ‘Alone.’ He was in Antarctica, living in an under-the-permafrost cabin, if you will. And he got stuck there. He actually lived through an Antarctic winter. He said he went out one night, at midnight, as he was playing Mozart on his phonograph in the cabin. And he looked up at Aurora Australis. When he first went out, he said the Australis lights were hardly moving. Then, as the music began to waft out, it was almost like a dance began, between the music of Mozart and the Southern Lights over Antarctica. That just blew me away, that the vibration of sound could somehow have an effect. So I got really stoked about using the wine glasses for the accompaniment to this tune ‘Stars.’”
Another concert piece Sheffield is excited about is “Lake Isle” by Norwegian composer Ola Gjeilo, which is based on the poem “The Lake Isle of Innisfree” by Irish poet and statesman William Butler Yeats.
“He wrote a lot about the conflict between Ireland and Great Britain in the 1930s,” Sheffield noted. “I love his quote ‘and I shall have some peace there.’ Basically, he was talking about staying in a cabin by a lake. And I think all of us want that. If you stop and think, gosh, it would be really nice to have some peace. ‘And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow/Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings.
“And that’s accompanied by a string quartet, piano and acoustic guitar. It’s a really cool piece, one of my favorites.”
Also on the bill is the piece “On the Nature of Daylight” by German-born British composer Max Richter.
“It’s just a string quartet and a dance duo. Dori Yamada and Mana Hoopai is the duet. It starts the second half,” Sheffield said. “Things are pretty dark. I’m kind of pointing at the fact that days are kind of hard, but we go from dark to light in the second half of the concert. So I’m looking forward to this. It’s going to be more theatrical.”
Horst, a soprano, will perform “Song to the Moon” from the opera “Rusalka” by Antonin Dvorak, accompanied by Moore on piano.
“It’s a beautiful, beautiful song,” Sheffield said.
Lending a touch of poignancy to the concert is “Even When He is Silent” by Norwegian composer Kim André Arnesen.
“‘I believe in the Sun, even when it’s not shining/I believe in love, even when I feel it not/I believe in God, even when He is silent.’ This text was found, written on a text in a concentration camp, after World War II,” Sheffield said. “I want to point out that my eyes work great, but they’re useless without light. I can’t generate my own light. The light has to come from outside. And in this concert, I’m equating life to hope. And that better days can come because hope is a powerful thing. And so I want to point it at the difficulties that we all share as humanity. But I don’t want to leave you there. I also want to say, through the arts, that there indeed is hope.
“If there can be hope for the person who wrote that inscription — my goodness, how about the rest of us?”
Advance admission is $20 general, $15 senior citizens and $7 for youth 17 and younger plus UH-Hilo and Hawaii Community College students. Door prices are $5 extra.
Tickets are available 10 a.m.-2 p.m. today and Friday at the UHHPAC box office, by calling the box office at 932-7490 or online at artscenter.uhh.hawaii.edu.
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