Music fans of multiple stripes were given a treat this past June with the world premiere of professor emeritus Byron Yasui’s Concerto for ‘Ukulele and Orchestra, Campanella. International superstar Jake Shimabukuro took the stage with the Hawai‘i Symphony Orchestra, under the baton of JoAnn Falletta, to the thrill of the audience. Yasui’s exciting and intricately crafted score ranged from sublimely understated moments of delicate beauty to raucously funky, grooving lines, all masterfully and seamlessly brought together by the composer to highlight Shimabukuro’s musical touch.
One might say the piece was destined to be, given Yasui’s long history with the instrument, having played ‘ukulele himself since he was a keiki growing up in Nu‘uanu. Even as he turned his attention to composing works with a more classical orientation as a UH composition/theory faculty member from 1972 until his retirement in 2010, he always loved to play ‘uke. So it was only natural that he would become the first composer to write a serious, large-scale symphonic work featuring ukulele as solo instrument.
Yasui’s concerto will receive repeat performances this fall by orchestras in Colorado and New York. And, as for the composer himself, he’s not done either. In addition to continuing to compose new works, he’s now teaching the ‘ukulele class at UH Mānoa, sharing his love of music with the next generation of students—one of whom may go on to become the next Jake Shimabukuro… or Byron Yasui.