‘World-class music’ by the Philharmonic Orchestra of Jamaica
Though smaller than the occasion warranted, the audience that turned up at Swallowfield Chapel on Saturday night for the 2018 spring concert of the Philharmonic Orchestra of Jamaica (POJ) was very enthusiastic. They cheered and applauded throughout the concert and had only favourable comments at the end.
"World-class music," was the succinct review by Noel Dexter, an internationally acclaimed composer-conductor. He was describing the POJ's presentation, but he might have also been referring to the music itself which was some of the best works by some of the world's best composers.
In the first half of the approximately two-hour-long concert, the audience was treated to: the 4th movement from Antonin Dvorak's Symphony No. 9; Op. 95 (popularly known as The New World Symphony); Jean Sibelius' Andante Festivo; Aaron Copland's Fanfare for the Common Man, and Beethoven's Symphony No. 5 in C minor, Op. 67.
The second half, which was lighter in tone, began and ended with compositions by Jamaicans Andrew Marshall's Festival Song Suite was first, ending with Jon Williams' Marley Symphony, Movement 1.
Sandwiched between these pieces was the set by the effervescent Karen Smith, the special guest performer. In keeping with the varied selections by the POJ's director, and the concert's chief conductor, Franklin E. Halliburton, Smith sang from quite a few geners. From an opera (Summertime from George Gershwin's Porgy & Bess) to a musical (My Favourite Things from Rodgers and Hammerstein's The Sound of Music), from the pop music canon (Bert Kaempfert's L.O.V.E. and Otis Blackwell and Eddie Cooley's Fever) and from Jamaican folk music. The folk selection was a Jamaica Mento Medley a collection of traditional songs arranged by the third Jamaican composer featured in the POJ season, Peter Ashbourne.
Smith's four other songs were arranged by Williams, accompanied by the POJ, and their freshness delighted the audience. The singer's fans out in abundance on Saturday night, to judge by the joyful reception Smith received when she came on stage would have heard her sing the songs before.
Among the 35 POJ members were two guests from Cuba cellist Jose Oxamendi, and French Horn player Ivaniuska Ramirez Hernandez, who were singled out for special welcome to Jamaica by the compere Allison Wallace. Humorously ladling out useful information on the composers and the performers, she was as entertaining in her role as the musicians were in theirs.
The same could be said of the conductors, Halliburton and his associate, Albert Shaun Hird, the Jamaica Defence Force's acting director of music. The former had friendly chatter for the audience; the latter danced as he conducted the POJ for Smith's songs.
Whatever might have been the atmosphere of the second and final night of the all-too-brief season, the opening night was altogether joyful.