A wonderful evening of music at King’s House
The organisers wanted a wonderful evening of music to celebrate the 90th anniversary concert of the Diocesan Festival Choir and Orchestra, so they used a simple recipe.
They chose the world's most popular oratorio (Handel's Messiah) as the main dish; supplemented it with a few truly delightful Jamaican and international religious songs; gathered together some of the best classical (or 'art') musicians in Jamaica - plus a few foreign ones - to perform them; and selected the elegant King's House ballroom as the venue for the event.
Of course, the musical repast was excellent. It couldn't have been otherwise, not when the final ingredient was added - up to nine months of rehearsals for selected musicians.
So after two hours of superb music in the beautiful hall, with its sparkling chandeliers and the majestic paintings of three monarchs on the front wall, and dignified portraits on the side ones, the audience went home happy on Sunday evening.
The audience for the repeat performance next Sunday at Kingston Parish Church should be equally happy. That historic church has its own charm.
On Sunday, emotive renditions of Lloyd's Hall's poignant Jamaica Land of Beauty and Noel Dexter's lively composition for Psalm 150 preceded a welcome by Suffragan Bishop of Kingston Robert Thompson, the chairman of the Board of Management of the Diocesan Festival Choir.
He noted the presence of dignitaries like the bishop of Jamaica and the Cayman Islands, Howard Gregory, and former Governor General Sir Kenneth Hall and Lady Hall, among others, and gave a special welcome to the four visiting guest musicians.
He also announced the establishment of a Diocesan Festival Choir Hall of Fame and said that the first inductees would be named soon.
The visiting performers are organist Dr Richard Beckford, associate professor of music and director of choirs at South Carolina State University; soprano Angela Blalock, professor of voice at Benedict College, South Carolina; and South Carolina State University music students Stephon Pierre Miller (baritone) and Jarvis Jett Jr (tenor).
Beckford accompanied the singing of the major pieces by the Festival Choir and shared accompaniment with Jon Williams (piano) and Paulette Bellamy (violin) for the shorter items. It was, for example, Dr Beckford who accompanied the soloists in the first two items after the welcome - the dreadlocked Miller in a slow, meditative Prayer, and Blalock in the spritely spirituals Ride up in the Chariot and Set Down.
Blalock, her voice apparently warmer and certainly more compelling, returned to sing the 12th item, Mozart's Exultate Jubilate, the final item in the concert's first half. Apart from the choir, Jamaican singers in the first half were contralto June Thompson-Lawson (with Who Would Imagine a King), Dawn Fuller-Philips (with Clyde Hoyte's lovely Jamaica Noel), a female sextet (with Bellamy's Mary is Rocking the Baby), and Carole Reid (with the spiritual Sweet Little Jesus Boy). Together, with the sincere feeling that all showed in their deliveries, Reid and Fuller-Philips sang Gesu Bambino (The Infant Jesus).
The first half served as the appetiser for the entree, which was the second half. Considering its overwhelmingly powerful climax, Messiah (the Christmas section presented) began in a deceptively quiet manner, with a calming instrumental overture.
After its gentle introductory section, the oratorio began to build - with the chorus And the Glory of the Lord and For Unto Us a Child is Born, for example. Then, in a sort of calm-before-the-storm structure, the alto and soprano (Thompson-Lawson and Blalock) sang comforting passages from Isaiah (40:11) and Matthew (11:28-29), about feeding the flock and giving rest to the heavy-laden, respectively.
After that comes the magnificent Hallelujah chorus, declaring, "He shall reign forever and ever ... King of Kings and Lord of lords ... forever and ever ... ." As the verses were being sung, the audience stood - following tradition, of course. But such was its combined power, the choral and instrumental music might well have otherwise pulled the listeners to their feet.
Sunday's concert at the Kingston Parish Church will reflect the Christmas spirit a bit more than the one at King's House. It's now December, after all. Thus, the first half will end with two items which were not present last Sunday, O Holy Night (sung by Jett) and Christmas Everywhere (sung by Blalock).