Tue | Jun 19, 2018

Royal Philharmonic falls in love with Jamaica

Published:Tuesday | September 18, 2012 | 12:00 AM
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra composer Benjamin Pope, leads his group during a performance at the Holy Trinity Cathedral last Saturday night. - Winston Sill/Freelance Photographer
A member of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra guides students during a workshop at Kingston College in Kingston last Wednesday. - Rudolph Brown/Photographer

Audience requites the sentiment

When Benjamin Pope, composer of last Saturday evening's presentation from the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra (RPO), said, "We (the RPO members) were discussing this earlier and we are universal in our feeling that this is the best tour that we have ever been on," he wasn't lying.

Pope was not merely playing to the crowd, and the performance on Saturday night at the Holy Trinity Cathedral had points that proved his story.

Winter, from Argentinean composer Astor Piazzolla's Four Seasons, was not on the programme and came into being simply as a response to the warm welcome the RPO had been receiving.

That performance with Clio Gould, the concertmaster, performing the violin solo lead elicited the second of three standing ovations, which, interestingly, came after what was an encore.

The crowd, with 200 extra seats, including on the mezzanine level to accommodate the demand, was seduced by Pope, who introduced pieces in the second half, not part of the original plan. The wit and humour this invoked was part of the reason for the double encore and a triple standing ovation.

"The performance of members of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra on Saturday night was simply exceptional, and our patrons were left in awe," said National Youth Orchestra of Jamaica director and organiser of the event, Nigel Clarke.


Clarke also felt the honesty of Pope's comment, saying:

"They were clearly in love with Jamaica and thrilled by the reaction of the audience which, in turn, fed the audience's responses in a continuous loop of artistic brilliance and ecstatic approval, each iteration higher in excitement than the previous, until the climax of the second encore and third standing ovation when the concert, sadly for all, came to an end."

The input of 'Jamaicanness' into the mix was also very important to the three-hour love affair between performers and those watching the performance.

In fact, the first standing ovation came in response to Jamaican Peter Ashbourne's Jamaica Folk, an arrangement of favourite Jamaican folk songs, including Long Time Gal, Linstead Market, Fan Me Solja Man, and Mango Walk.

The final standing ovation came at the end of a Marley melody - which was a fusion between classical favourites, including Pachelbel's Canon in D, and string arrangements of Marley's most famous songs.

The response was as spontaneous as the arrangement that was done last week. Pope's experience in Jamaica was the inspiration.


The songs took the audience on a journey between classical music and contemporary reggae. It was a perfect grafting of genres, with the transition each time so smooth and natural, it escaped notice until after the first several bars.

Unusual for a performance of this nature, the RPO had the audience, including the dignitaries in the front rows, transformed into what sounded like a 1300+ choir swaying and singing quite audibly, in unison, the words to each of the Marley songs, and swaying to melody of the violins and violas.

The excitement of being in Jamaica, for the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, was obvious and according to one patron, "You know what was one of the best aspects of the whole thing? … The open hearts of the RPO musicians."

The performance of the RPO marked the end of a visit that was historic.

Not since the 1960s had Jamaica attracted the interest of a group of this stature, and if you were to ask those who witnessed it, never has there been such a performance to boot.

"'This was, undoubtedly, the best classical orchestral performance in Jamaica in 40 years' those who would know have said," said Clarke.

Outside of the performances, there were the workshops where the RPO infused the beauty of classical music with the virtues of hard work and having a dream.

That, for the members, was a big part of Pope's statement.