Tue | Sep 26, 2017

Orchestra sublime at Church on the Rock

Published:Tuesday | July 29, 2014 | 7:00 AM
Dr Nigel Clarke addresses the audience at last Thursday's concert by the YOA Orchestra of the Americas, held at Church on the Rock, St Andrew. - Winston Silll/freelance photographer
Soprano Ana Strachan sings with the YOA Orchestra of the Americas at Church on the Rock, St Andrew.
The YOA Orchestra of the Americas on stage at Church on the Rock, St Andrew, last Thursday.
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Michael Reckord, Gleaner Writer

Sublime music by the visiting YOA Orchestra of the Americas gave the audience at Church on the Rock, St Andrew, a joyful experience on Thursday night.

Hearing a 90-member orchestra of that quality in Jamaica was probably a once-in-a-lifetime experience for most present. As Dr Nigel Clarke, chairman of the National Youth Orchestra of Jamaica (NYOJ) and host of the YOA Orchestra, pointed out that it is very expensive to bring in a full orchestra.

Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller, patron of the event, was part of the audience occupying all but a few seats in the attractive 1,200 seat auditorium. They were treated to a judiciously chosen programme of classical and contemporary music, lasting some two and a half hours. Musical tastes being varied, different segments of the audience probably had favourite items - but there was something for everyone.

Those who love vocal music should long remember Jamaican soprano Ana Strachan's delivery of Giulio Caccini's Ave Maria, arranged by Ian Hird, and Gilbert & Sullivan's trill-filled Poor Wand'ring One (from the operetta The Pirates of Penzance).

When she appeared on stage in a shimmering silver green and grey gown, Strachan got much applause. She received more, with greater enthusiasm, when she showed that her voice was even more beautiful than her outfit.

Award-winning Canadian violinist

Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 35 featured playing by Alexandre Da Costa, an award-winning Canadian violinist with Jamaican roots. Born in Montreal and in the island for the first time, Da Costa's grandfather left Jamaica in 1935 and a great-grandfather died here in 1959.

The violinist's virtuoso playing explored his instrument's range. The orchestra accompanied him well, largely by giving Da Costa the minimal support he needed to fly high over musical mountaintops and plunge deep into the valleys of the lower notes.

The piece lasted more than half-hour, yet Da Costa performed his complex pyrotechnics without a score - unlike the rest of the orchestra. After the three-movement concerto, many gave the violinist a well-deserved standing ovation. The concerto's crescendo ended the concert's first half.

Opening the second half were the well-known chords of Ludwig van Beethoven's Symphony No. 5 in C minor, Op 67. Obeying the baton of its conductor, celebrated Mexican musician Carlos Miguel Prieto, the orchestra tackled the challenges of the powerful, intricate work and triumphed. Even more people than before joined in a standing ovation.

Since its formation in 2002, the YOA Orchestra has performed in different parts of the world and Jamaica is the final stop on its initial Caribbean tour. Previously, the orchestra was in the Dominican Republic and Haiti.

Tour difference

The Jamaican tour was different from the others in at least one respect. To perform the final item in the printed programme, Jamaican Peter Ashbourne took over as conductor and guided the orchestra through his own composition, Pass Di Ball.

The work had premiered the evening before at the YOA's free concert at Emancipation Park, attended by 2,000 people according to Dr Clarke.

A nostalgic piece for older members of the audience, the composition is subtitled 'A Jamaican Overture' and is based on four traditional Jamaican melodies.

Only 10 minutes long, the piece nevertheless encompasses several moods. Long Time Gal is cheerful and up-tempo, while Linstead Market is treated as a lament. Woman a Heavy Load, a digging song, is full of laughter - even "raucous" laughter, writes the composer in the programme notes.

The final section, based on the children's bouncy ring game, Pass Di Ball, gives the composition its name. In it, fragments of the other melodies are playfully tossed around.

Prieto closed the formal part of the concert with a medley of Bob Marley tunes, including Three Little Birds, No Woman No Cry and One Love, which had the audience singing along. The songs were cleverly punctuated with snatches of Mozart.

Then came a happy birthday song from the orchestra for Garbiel Walters, a Jamaican member of the group - and, incidentally, a past student of Ashbourne's. The evening ended with the orchestra playing Brazilian samba music while some of the members, along with members of the NYOJ, merrily waved various national flags on stage and in the audience.