Fri | Aug 17, 2018

Philharmonic Orchestra takes another step to goal

Published:Wednesday | May 6, 2015 | 12:00 AMMichael Reckord
The Philharmonic Orchestra of Jamaica in performance (from left): Rafael Salazar, Darren Young and Emily Dixon.
Ellan Neil sings
The Philharmonic Orchestra of Jamaica’s Althea Neblett on the oboe.
The Philharmonic Orchestra of Jamaica’s Franklin E. Halliburton (right) conducts.
Sandra McKnight, soloist for the Jamaica Youth Chorale, sings.

Over the weekend, the two-year old Philharmonic Orchestra of Jamaica (POJ) took another step towards its ambitious goal of becoming "the premier symphony orchestra in the Caribbean". It mounted its 2015 Spring Concert Season (on Saturday and Sunday) at the University Chapel, Mona.

Titled 'Sounds From The New World', the concert featured not only the POJ, but another musical aggregation which is both older and younger, the Jamaica Youth Chorale (JYC). The Chorale is five years old, but, unlike the POJ, has a membership of persons all under the age of 25.

The dozen or so items on the programme were written by almost as many composers, not all of them from what is commonly referred to as the 'new world', so one may wonder about the title of the concert. In line with common practice, the concert began with the heavier classical pieces - in this case, excerpts from Antonin Dvorak's Symphony No. 9 in E. Minor, From the New World, and from Peter Warlock's Capriol Suite (Movements 1, 2, 5 and 6).

After those pieces - the first played by the POJ, conducted by Franklin Halliburton and the second by the string section of the POJ, conducted by viola player Darren Young - the music got steadily lighter. There was a spiritual, music from the movies, and folk music. However, the last item listed in the very informative printed programme, cleverly spanned both the classical and the popular. Jon Williams' Marley Symphony is, as the name indicates, a symphony - that is, "a work for orchestra in multiple movements (or occasionally one movement with multiple sections)" - based on compositions by Bob Marley, undoubtedly Jamaica's most popular musician.


Serenade in B Flat


The reduction in the number of musicians performing (from the full orchestra of 30-odd people for the first item, to 13 for the second) continued for item three, Serenade in B Flat by Emil Herold. A gentle, complex piece of many moods, it was beautifully played by Young, again on viola, Rafael Salazar on clarinet and Emily Dixon on cello.

The number of musicians got even smaller for the fourth piece, The Lost Chord by Arthur Sullivan. Players were Paul Henry on trumpet and Ann McNamee on organ. Henry's playing, which, because of the nature of the piece, was dominant, fell below the standard set by the previous musicians.

The JYC performed the last two items in the concert's first half. The first, a spiritual, Ev'ry Time I Feel The Spirit, featured a heart-felt solo by Sandra McKnight.

Then came O Fortuna from Carl Orff's cantata Carmina Burana, a loud, energetic composition arranged by Salazar. The JYC and the accompanying POJ were rewarded by enthusiastic applause.

During the intermission, Albert Shaun Hird, associate conductor for the concert, was asked by The Gleaner about the POJ 's recent performances. He said that the orchestra has been playing mostly outside of Kingston, specifically in Montego Bay at the parish church and hotels, in St Ann and in Mandeville.

As for the Corporate Area, he said, he was trying to get the POJ to give a free concert one Sunday afternoon at Hope Gardens, the venue of regular concerts by the Jamaica Military Band, of which he is bandmaster.

The second half opened with Hird conducting the POJ in tunes from Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Phantom of the Opera. While the desired power for the title song was in the music, the orchestra was less effective in transmitting the poignancy of the tunes, That's All I Ask of You and The Music of the Night.


warm and sincere


Guest vocalist Ellan Neil (mezzo-soprano) was warm and sincere in her rendition of Clement Bethel's When the Road Seems Rough. Her second song went in another direction. With her own adaptation of My Favourite Things from The Sound of Music, Neil sang about Jamaican activities like extortion, bandooloo, skin bleaching and the weak performances of the West Indies cricket team. The song drew the loudest applause for the night.

Four Jamaican compositions made up the final section of the concert. Peter Ashbourne's meditative piece featured a complex conversation between the oboe (played by Althea Neblett) and the rest of the orchestra.

Paulette Bellamy's bouncy elaboration of the well-known folk song Jackass a Jump An' Bray had many dancing in their seats. It was followed by Williams' Marley Symphony, but, as often happens, audience applause persuaded the musicians to deliver an encore, another Bellamy composition, a folk medley based on Coconut Woman and Under The Coconut Tree.

Allison Wallace was the effervescent, informative compËre for the concert. Among other things, she told the audience that the JYC, which has given several concerts in Jamaica and North America over the past few years, will shortly be performing in Wales.