Music: The Universal Language

Classical tunes in Spanish, English, French and Russian will fill the auditoriumof Kaua‘i Community College’s Performing Arts Center May 22, when artists likeAmy Shoremount-Obra and Eric Silberger take the stage.

Amy Shoremount-Obra

For the first time ever, a Metropolitan Opera soloist will perform live on the Garden Isle, and those interested in being part of the special occasion can head to Hawai’i International Music Festival’s opening concert May 22. This also marks the first time Kaua’i will take part in the third annual festival. (Previously, the event was held on O’ahu and the Big Island.)

“(Kaua’i Concert Association) is really honored to have the opening concert here,” says president Jason Blake.

This concert collaboration came about from a chance meeting six years ago, when esteemed concert pianist Monica Chung moved from New York City to Kaua’i. She imagined herself keeping a low profile amid the laid-back lifestyle of the island.

“That didn’t last for long,” Chung adds with a laugh.

The Juliard-trained classical musician soon found herself volunteering with nonprofit Kaua’i Concert Association, and started working with Blake on various projects.

Monica Chung

Then, in 2017, Chung received a phone call from a longtime friend, Argentinean bandoneon player JP Jofre, who was performing at Blue Note Hawai’i in Waikīkī.

Jofre invited Chung to join him onstage, where he performed alongside acclaimed Metropolitan Opera soloist Amy Shoremount-Obra and world-renowned violinist virtuoso Eric Silberger.

“Monica came to Blue Note and played for (Jofre’s) concert, and we all really hit it off,” says Shore-mount-Obra. “She is a superb musician and colleague.”

According to Blake, it was that personal connection between the three musicians that helped to make this weekend’s concert a reality.

Shoremount-Obra already had ties to Hawai’i — her mother-in-law lives on the Big Island — and in 2016, she and Silberger, along with pianist Carlin Ma, co-founded nonprofit Hawai’i International Music Festival.

They created the organization to provide infrastructure that would bring to the state musicians of top-notch caliber from all over the world.

Both Shoremount-Obra and Silberger first began playing music at the early age of 5. Silberger is a fourth-generation musician, and currently spends about 10 months of the year performing in Europe, Asia and the Americas. Despite the intense rehearsal and performance schedule, he says that the violin and music in general is just something that’s a part of him.

Eric Sillberger

“Being a professional violinist is not something I consciously ever decided upon, but rather something I see that is part of the expression of life,” he explains.

For Shoremount-Obra, who grew up in rural northwest New Jersey, the arts were always a big part of her life.

“I grew up performing in the theater,” she recalls. “I saw my first opera at the age of 17. It was Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress, which is a neo-classical opera about a guy who sells his soul to the devil. Needless to say, I didn’t like it!

“At that same time, I was introduced through a summer program to the operatic music of Mozart. That is what made me fall in love with opera. Mozart’s music was so divine and it was challenging and I loved that. I always say that if Mozart hadn’t lived, I probably wouldn’t have had a career.”

And quite a career it has been for Shoremount-Obra. Since 2007, for example, she has performed several productions at the legendary Metropolitan Opera. Most recently, for the 2018-19 season, she is first lady for performances of Mozart’s The Magic Flute.

Shoremount-Obra’s performance on Kaua’i this weekend will include a collaboration with Chung for four sets of songs in four languages (Spanish, English, French and Russian). The concert will also feature talented cellist Daniel Lelchuk, who currently is associate principal cellist with Louisiana Philharmonic.

“I think it is important to realize that classical music is really for everyone,” adds Shoremount-Obra. “Don’t let the foreign languages or the length of the pieces scare you. All that is required for someone listening to classical music is to listen and let your imagination take flight.

“Classical music provides everyone with an opportunity to look within themselves and to feel emotion. One song or chamber music piece can take you on an incredible emotional journey.

“All you have to do is step away from your smartphone or TV, and allow yourself to listen and be present in the moment. This is especially important for children because it allows for them to develop their creativity. Music also unites us all. Everyone, of every age, nation, race and generation.”

Hawai’i International Music Festival’s opening concert begins at 7 p.m. May 22 at Kaua’i Community College’s Performing Arts Center. Doors open at 6 p.m. Tickets are $30 for adults and $10 for children. For more information, call Kaua’i Concert Association at 245-7464 or visit kauai-concert.org.