Classy concert features major Jamaican composers
The work of Samuel Felsted, the 18th-century classical musician who is both Jamaica’s first documented composer and the first known composer of an oratorio in the Western Hemisphere, will be available online as of January 2017. Facilitating access to the music by putting it in a digital form is Manfredo Zimmermann, professor of recorder and baroque flute at the Music University of Cologne.
That welcome news was given at a classical music concert featuring Jamaican composers at the St Andrew Parish Church on Sunday. Professor Zimmermann, a special guest conductor and performer at the concert, was in Jamaica courtesy of both the German and Argentine embassies, as he is a citizen of both countries.
Also performing at the concert were soloists Kimiela Isaacs (soprano), Stephen ShawNaar (countertenor) and Rosina Christina Moder (on recorder); and, as groups, The University Singers, The Pimento String Quartet; some former NDTC Singers, and the Samuel Felsted Chamber Orchestra.
Accompanists for the various performers were Paul Bicknell (organ), Roger Williams (piano), Rafael Salazar (clarinet), Archie Dunkley and Kathy Brown (keyboard), and Marjorie Whylie (keyboard and conga drum).
The expertise of these outstanding musicians was appropriate, considering the importance of the Jamaican composers being celebrated. In addition to Felsted, there were Whylie, Franklin Halliburton, Paulette Bellamy, Noel Dexter and Peter Ashbourne.
Whether by accident or design, the music selected for the concert was almost entirely joyous, and the audience – much too small for the occasion – expressed their delight during the show with enthusiastic applause and, at the end, left the church with favourable comments on their lips and smiles on their faces.
The concert opened with a lovely rendition by Isaacs of the popular patriotic song Jamaica, Land of Beauty (words by A. L. Hendriks, music by Lloyd Hall). Hall’s name came up later in the concert in, unfortunately, a less positive context.
“We need help,” Moder, the concert’s organiser, told the audience as she spoke of the need for a building to keep the work of the island’s deceased classical composers. They include Oswald Russell, Robert Lightbourne and Hall, who left eight boxes of his musical papers which, Moder revealed, were “sent to the Riverton City dump” before she could collect them.
Three of Felsted’s compositions followed the opening item. They were Tune Your Harps, Your Voices Raise (from the Jonah oratorio), sung by The University Singers, accompanied by the Samuel Felsted Chamber Orchestra conducted by Zimmermann; the third Voluntary for Organ (from Felsted’s collection of Six Voluntarys for Organ and Harpsichord), played by Bicknell, the church’s organist for several decades; and the aria Lord I Obey, from Jonah, sung by Isaacs. She was accompanied by Moder and Zimmermann on recorders, Emily Dixon on cello and Shaw-Naar on harpsichord.
Moder returned right after to play the cheerful Ashbourne composition Elena, based on the popular Jamaican folk song. The composer himself led his Pimento quartet in the next item, his bouncy medley of folk songs including Parakeet in De Garden, Linstead Market and Mango Walk.
It was then Whylie’s turn to lead an ensemble of former NDTC Singers with her own compositions. Playing keyboard and later a conga drum, she accompanied them in five pieces, including Lord, Look at Me (with soloist Howard Cooper), To Everything There is a Season, Our Father and Hallelujah.
Bellamy, too, performed with the Felsted orchestra in the playing of her charming Coconut Woman. The concert ended with the return of the University Singers to deliver three of Dexter’s beautiful compositions —Wash Day, Psalm 23 and the rousing Psalm 150, as well as Halliburton’s Ave Maria.
As a run-up to the concert, a one-day symposium hosted by Music Unites Jamaica Foundation on the life and work of one-time St Andrew Parish Church organist Felsted (17431802) had been held on November 10 at the School of Music’s Vera Moody Concert Hall, Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts.