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Hard-Boiled Wonderland – Palikū Theatre

October 21, 2023 @ 7:00 pm 9:30 pm

Join us for the 2023-24 season kickoff, featuring the world premiere of Michael-Thomas Foumai’s piano concerto, Hard-Boiled Wonderland. Pianist Thomas Yee joins us as featured soloist.

Palikū Theatre

45-720 Keaahala Rd
Kaneohe, HI 96744 United States
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Program Notes

Adaptation Variations

Takuma Itoh

When talking about evolution, biologists often use the musical term “theme and variations” as an analogy of how a single species can evolve to become a diverse array of species over time. With Adaptation Variations, I wanted to raise awareness of Hawai’i’s incredible honeycreepers (forest birds) which performed this theme and variations over many millennia, evolving from one species that flew over to Hawai’i to over 50 distinct species at one point–but now fewer than 20 still remain, many of which are critically endangered.

The work starts off with a brief storm before arriving at a clear melodic theme. The rest of the work is a loose set of theme and variations that use some of the various honeycreepers’ distinct features as starting points for musical inspiration: the long curved beaks of the i’iwi resulted in the glissandi section; the seed-eaters like the palila led to the percussive, rhythmic variation; the repeated notes of an ‘amakihisong or the distinctive intervals that an ‘apapane sings became rhythmic and intervallic motives throughout the work; and so on.

Hard-Boiled Wonderland

Michael-Thomas Foumai

A miniature piano concerto, Hard-Boiled Wonderland takes inspiration from author Haruki Murakami. Murakamiʻs novel Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, was a title inspired by hard-boiled detective novels and Lewis Carrollʻs Aliceʻs Adventures in Wonderland. While there is no direct connection to Murakamiʻs novel, the work unfolds in the manner of his novels, which often take the reader through a surreal and absurd journey ending sometimes without resolve. The motives and rhythms suggest characters and narratives that twist and turn through an imaginary story of wonder and absurdity.

The work was commissioned by Janet Cooke and dedicated to a warm coat.

Composer Biographies

Michael-Thomas Foumai

Dr. Michael-Thomas Foumai (b. 1987, Honolulu, Hawai’i) is the Director of Artistic Engagement and the first Composer in Residence for the Hawai’i Symphony Orchestra (HSO). His music, described as “vibrant and cinematic” (New York Times) and “full of color, drama, and emotion” (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel), encompasses an extensive catalog of symphonic music, spanning commercial arranging to the avant-garde, and focuses on the culture of his Hawaiʻi home.

Dr. Foumai’s orchestral works have been conducted and performed by Yannick Nézet-Séguin with the Philadelphia Orchestra, Lidiya Yankovskaya with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Lina Gonzalez-Granados with the National Symphony Orchestra, Sarah Hicks and the Seattle Symphony, George Manahan with the American Composers Orchestra at Carnegie Hall, Osmo Vänskä with the Minnesota Orchestra, and with Dane Lam, Mei-Ann Chen, JoAnn Falleta, Hans Graf, Earl Lee, Rei Hotoda, Anthony Parnther, Andrew Grams, and Scott Yoo with the Hawaiʻi Symphony Orchestra.

In addition, Dr. Foumai designs and hosts the HSO education series Beyond the Music; he is the program notes annotator for the HSO Masterworks series and is the principal HSO arranger for guest artists who have included Yo-Yo Ma, Jake Shimabukuro, Raiatea Helm, Amy Hānaialiʻi, and Robert Cazimero. His honors include a Fromm Foundation Grant from Harvard University, the MTNA Distinguished Composer of the Year Award, the Jacob Druckman Prize from the Aspen Music Festival, and three BMI composer awards. Dr. Foumai is currently on faculty at the University of Hawaiʻi West Oʻahu and holds multiple degrees in music composition from the University of Hawai’i at Mānoa (BM) and the University of Michigan (MM, DMA).

Takuma Itoh

Takuma Itoh spent his early childhood in Japan before moving to Northern California where he grew up. His music has been described as “brashly youthful and fresh” (New York Times). Featured amongst one of “100 Composers Under 40” on NPR Music and WQXR, he has been the recipient of such awards and commissions as: the Charles Ives Scholarship from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, Music Alive: New Partnerships grant with the Tucson Symphony, the Barlow Endowment, the Chamber Music America Classical Commission, the ASCAP/CBDNA Frederick Fennell Prize, six ASCAP Morton Gould Young Composer Awards, the Leo Kaplan Award, the American Composers Orchestra Underwood New Music Readings, the Symphony in C Young Composer Competition, the New York Youth Symphony First Music, The New York Virtuoso Singers, Maui Arts & Cultural Center, and the Renée B Fisher Foundation.

In 2018, Itoh was instrumental in creating an innovative education program, Symphony of the Hawaiian Birds, which brought over 8,000 young students to hear new orchestral compositions alongside original animations while raising awareness of Hawaii’s many endangered forest bird species.

Itoh’s music has been performed by the Albany Symphony, the Tucson Symphony Orchestra, Hawaii Symphony Orchestra, Alarm Will Sound, the Cabrillo Festival Orchestra, Ensemble Échappé, Ossia New Music, the New York Youth Symphony, Symphony in C, the Silesian Philharmonic Orchestra (Poland), the Shanghai Quartet, the St. Lawrence Quartet, the Cassatt Quartet, the Momenta Quartet, Invoke Quartet, Sara Davis Buechner, Jeffrey Jacob, Joseph Lin, Ignace Jang, Syzygy Ensemble (Australia), H2 Quartet, Kyo-Shin-An Arts, the Music from Copland House, the Varied Trio, Kojiro Umezaki, HUB New Music Ensemble, Duo Yumeno, Post-Haste Reed Duo, Pro Musica Nipponia, and Linda Chatterton. In addition, his works can be heard on Albany and Blue Griffin Records, and is published by Theodore Presser, Resolute Music, and Murphy Music Press.