Tue | Jun 25, 2019

Downtown's 'hottest' night

Published:Monday | September 17, 2012 | 12:00 AM
The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in performance at the Holy Trinity Cathedral, North Street, on Saturday. - Winston Sill/Freelance Photographer

Steven Jackson, Gleaner Writer

Holy Trinity Cathedral heats up with Royal Philharmonic Orchestra performance

Members of the United Kingdom-based Royal Philharmonic Orchestra (RPO) were the reason for the 'hottest' event in nearly two decades under the domed-shaped Holy Trinity Cathedral in Kingston.

The Saturday-night concert, the second of two, featured some 30 overseas string players performing with local musicians Steven Woodham, Peter Ashbourne and Shirley Thompson.

It's rare for entire sections of renowned orchestras to perform locally, which made the performance among the most prestigious since Luciano Pavarotti's concert at King's House in 1995.

Interestingly, patrons clapped following every movement rather than reserving applause for the finale(s), as is tradition. This robbed the performers of silence (important for musical timing and composure) between movements. It raised the issue of social ignorance even among the country's privileged (who paid or were given the tickets at $7,000 a pop). This eagerness to clap led one man to begin his applause a full 10 seconds prior to the end of a movement. A tip for future instances would be to reserve applause until the conductor faces the audience.

The cathedral swelled to the hosanna of violins and heat, showering patrons with sweet music and sweat. So palpable was the heat that the fanning of the audience equalled the rapid bowing of the violinists. This was so even during the rondo movement in Mozart's Serenade No. 13.

The house heats up

"You can fan but just do it to the music,"conductor Benjamin Pope joked while the audience fanned in democratic unison with half-open tops and lost jackets. Journalists on hand agreed that never had a night event been so hot. It felt more like the concert's patron Governor General Patrick Allen was being sworn in at high noon.

The source of the heat was dual: The organisers stuffed nearly 1,000 patrons into every pew and aisle. And, like a clogged river rising, the heat swelled. Second, the cathedral's avoidance of ceiling fans or AC did nothing to stop the heat. On the upside, the Holy Trinity Cathedral maintained its architectural integrity. The recently restored cathedral, with its old-world grandeur and redesigned Vatican-inspired frescos, invoked words of awe like a prayer. Why dwell on the heat? Well, the heat became the barometer of the orchestra's skill. The patrons remained in the heat of the venue to hear the harmony of strings.

They chose to stay for the three-hour set, marked by compositions from Bach to Bob Marley with music spanning the UK, Argentina, France and Jamaica.

Soloist Tamás András bent into the belly of his violin performing Astor Piazzolla's Four Seasons of Buenos Aires - Winter, the hot irony not lost on the fanning patrons. András maintained his warm tone equally throughout the theme, even while executing the sweeping arpeggios deep into his instrument's neck. The voice of his violin soared with the chorus of the orchestra. Performers of this pedigree are rare, reasoned Pope. "We are very lucky to have some incredible musicians and (he is) one of the most virtuoistic people we know," he said of András.

In the first half, Woodham's emotive style heightened during Meditation from the opera Thaïs by Jules Massenet. With eyes shut, he fiddled the tragically triumphant theme which occurs twice in the opera marking Thaïs' prayer of conversion and her death. Woodham's accidentals that mark the piece fattened into lush chords when accentuated by the orchestra.

Earlier, Woodham and teenager Naomi Reitzin wove Johan Sebastian Bach's Double Violin Concerto into an interplay of teacher and student. It's a famous piece that could have been lost in history. Bach's library of works was willed to his eldest sons but the eldest irresponsible son, Wilhelm Friedemann eventually misplaced his share of the library, according to the concert notes. The Double Concerto, luckily, survives via Bach's other son, Carl Philip Emanuel Bach.

Rhythm and polyphony

The Jamaican-inspired compositions by Ashbourne and Thompson were full of rhythm and polyphony. The pieces by Ashbourne, a lecturer at the Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts, relied more heavily on accidentals and substitutions above familiar themes than did Thompson. Indeed, Thompson is among the top-100 most influential black people in Britain, according to UK-based Evening Standard. She recorded her composition Jamaica Skies with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra for a 2003 album.

The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra has toured more than 30 countries in the last five years. Recent tours have included performances in Japan, Egypt, Russia, Spain, Italy, Germany, Azerbaijan and China. The orchestra's visit was organised by the National Youth Orchestra of Jamaica (NYOJ), a non-profit, non-governmental organisation chaired by businessman Dr Nigel Clarke with instructors including Darren Young, Alejandro Gonzalez and Rafiq Williams.

The NYOJ choir and the orchestra performed a modern take on an old English folk song that filled the walls of the cathedral more than any other piece. The haunting melody looped, gradually getting louder, above which the choir and orchestra developed a call and response.

With each loop, conductor, RPO workshop manager James Redwood, added more sonic layers until silence. "The voices were just amazing," said Pope. All proceeds of the concert will aid the NYOJ's 'Music for Social Change' programme, which provides free classical music lessons for at-risk youth. The NYOJ began its first training centre in 2009 in Kingston.

The evening's programme included: Serenade number 13 for strings in G major K 525 WA Mozart; Concerto for Two Violins in D Minor BWV 1043; Meditation for Violin and Orchestra, J Massenet; St Paul's Suite Opus 29 number two, G Holst; Jamaica Skies, Shirley Thompson (composer); Dreamland, Shirley Thompson (arranger); Four Seasons of Buenos Aires (Winter), Astor Piazzolla; Ring Games and Jubilee, and Jamaica Folk both by Peter Ashbourne.