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Music, poetry strong combination Independence - Philharmonic Orchestra of Ja, Lynn Conservatory fuse talents

Published:Thursday | August 11, 2016 | 12:00 AMMichael Reckord
Actress Barbara McCalla reading poetry at the concert.
With Jamaica's national colours in their outfits, the children's choir performed patriotic songs at last Saturday's Independence concert at the Swallowfield Chapel, St Andrew.
Viola player Darren Young of the Philharmonic Orchestra of Jamaica joined the Lynn String Quintet for last weekend's concert.
Stephen Shaw-Naar at the piano.
Soprano Lori-Ann Burnett speaks to a fan after delivering her songs at the Swallowfield Chapel, St Andrew, on Independence Day 2016.

THE JOINT presentation by the Philharmonic Orchestra of Jamaica (POJ) and a string quartet from Florida's Lynn University Conservatory of Music resulted in a delightful Independence Day concert at Swallowfield Chapel in St Andrew on Saturday. (It was remounted the following day.

Variety was an important feature. There were contrasting musical compositions from well-known international masters (Mendelssohn, Handel, Sibelius, Mozart and Grieg) as well as Jamaicans (Paulette Bellamy and Andrew Marshall). There was singing by soprano Lori-Ann Burnett and a children's choir, and there were poetry readings by acclaimed actress Barbara McCalla.

The Lynn musicians (two violinists, a cellist and a double bass player) were led on their trip to Jamaica by the conservatory's dean, Dr Jon Robertson. Robertson is a distinguished Jamaican pianist, conductor and academic. On their second visit for the year, they came not only to perform but also assist the POJ in a two-week training camp for promising Jamaican stringed-instrument players.

Robertson told The Gleaner that on the visit, he identified "a couple of young musicians" whom he would like to offer full scholarships to Lynn Conservatory. It is accredited by the US's National Association of Schools of Music as one of the best in the country. All the students there have scholarships, Robertson said.

"There is so much musical talent in Jamaica," he stated, mentioning that he studied at New York's renowned Julliard School of Music with Jamaica's most famous opera singer, Sir Willard White. Robertson himself is a musical child prodigy. Born in Jamaica, he left the island at four years old and at nine years old, made his debut performance as a pianist at a public concert in New York.

Robertson said he sensed "an awakening coming" in Jamaica's love for playing stringed instruments and classical music in general and he wants the Lynn Conservatory to help. He intends to eventually augment the summer camp training in strings with training in brass and woodwind instruments.

He hopes to begin bringing in Lynn musicians in one of the two areas by next year, but it depends on the availability of financial assistance and sponsorship. "The conservatory pays for the air travel, but once we get here, we need accommodation and meals. If we get that, we're ready to come," Robertson explained.

Between the training that the Lynn team would give young Jamaicans at the summer camps and the training that scholarship winners would get at Lynn Conservatory, he said, "we could make amazing things happen here".

As the concert's emcee Dr Brian Heap indicated, the POJ's first two pieces - Mendelssohn's Reformation movement (Mvt 4) from his Symphony No. 5 in D major and Handel's Largo Aria from his opera Xerxes - are well known. The former is more familiar than the latter, as Mendelssohn "borrowed" the theme for the piece from Martin Luther's famous hymn, A Mighty Fortress is Our God.

For their well-received offerings of Sibelius' Andante Festivo and Mozart's Divertimento K. 136, the Lynn Conservatory quartet was joined by Jamaica's Darren Young on viola. Then came a change of artistic form, with McCalla reading two poems with much feeling - Claude McKay's Flame Heart and Edward Baugh's It Was the Singing.

Songs followed the poetry, with Burnett singing solo God and God Alone and I Saw My Land in the Morning, then being joined by the children's choir in singing the popular Jamaica, Land of Beauty. The singing brought the first half to a strong climax.

The second half saw an enhanced Jamaican presence in that after the first item - Grieg's Concerto in A minor Op 16, Mvt 1, powerfully played by Jamaican pianist Stephen Shaw-Naar and the POJ - all the compositions were by Jamaicans.

First came Bellamy's lively Waterfalls and Pebbles, inspired, Heap said, by the sights and sounds of the Dunn's River Falls. McCalla then read the nostalgic Easton Lee poem, A Pleasant Sunday Evening Concert, mainly about a country woman's rendering of the National Anthem by "singing" all the components - the lyrics as well as the music.

The penultimate item, composed by Marshall, had been specially commissioned by the POJ for the Independence concert. Titled Jamaican Festival Song Suite, it is a distillation of many of the winning Festival songs over the years.

Marshall's Festivities movement (Mvt 1) from his Run a Boat Symphony closed the concert with dance - inducing music, much of it mento. Not surprisingly, the audience expressed its appreciation with a standing ovation.