Tue | Jun 6, 2023

Marvellous music at classical concert

Published:Monday | May 3, 2010 | 12:00 AM
Isiah Parnell - Contributed
Rebecca Park - File

Michael Reckord, Gleaner Writer

Four world-class musicians performed at the United States Embassy in St Andrew at that mission's 2010 Classical Concert last Thursday evening. The quality of the music delivered by some of the greatest composers was simply superb.

Most of the audience would have given full marks to both the musicians and the organizers of the concert, who included interim chargé d'affaires Isiah Parnell and Acting Public Affairs Officer Rebecca Park.

But one group of patrons in an area of the beautiful, spacious atrium, where the concert was held, would have deducted several marks from the score card of the person or persons who drew up the guest list.

Why? Because that list, unfortunately, included a young woman, who, clearly out of place among the musically sophisticated gathering, insisted on eating plantain chips from a very noisy polypropelene bag during the Beethoven sonata. Angry glares from three patrons and a whispered request from a fourth to cease and desist meant nothing to her.

She continued to crunch, snap and crackle away until the bag of chips was finished. Happily, the glass of wine she sipped later made no noise.

Enjoying the music

The evening, however, officially began with Parnell welcoming guests and urging them to "forget work and the headlines and just enjoy the music." Park then introduced the special guest performer, Ghanaian-American pianist Dr William Chapman Nyaho, who was on his second visit to Jamaica.

He first came in 2006, also at the request of the US Embassy to perform here. At that recital, he met and was so impressed by Jamaican violinist Steven Woodham that the latter was asked to partner Dr Chapman Nyaho at Thursday's concert.

The other performers were the Director of the School of Music at the Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts, Roger Williams (piano), and colleague at the school, Lori Burnett (soprano).

All the performers have had international exposure, but since the Jamaicans are well known locally, the focus of this review will be on Dr Chapman Nyaho.

Dr Nyaho studied music in Britain, Switzerland and the US, where he received his Doctor of Musical Arts degree at the University of Texas.

The recipient of various international prizes for music, he has taught at several American institutions and performed in North America, Europe, Africa, Asia and the Caribbean. He is the editor of a five-volume anthology, Piano Music of Africa and the African Diaspora, a first-of-its-kind work, published by Oxford University Press. He lives in Seattle, Washington.

Beethoven's 25-minute-long Sonata in C minor, Op 30, No. 2, for piano and violin was the first item offered by Chapman Nyaho and Woodham. It begins with a lively, complex movement and had the performers not been both good and focused, the instruments could easily have lost musical contact with each other.

In fact, so difficult was the sonata as a whole, that after the concert, Chapman Nyaho's page turner, no less a person than senior lecturer at the School of Music Ann McNamee, told The Gleaner that it was fortunate that the student of the school originally slated to turn pages, had not made it.

"A student would not have been able to manage it," she said.

The second movement, Adagio cantabile, is slower - a fact that performers are doubtlessly thankful for. For most of the movement, the violin is the primary instrument and Woodham's long, drawn out notes were soul-searching in their poignancy. Movements three and four were again lively, and the music might well have evoked childhood memories of play and laughter in bright sunlight.

Surprisingly, the audience applauded between movements. Perhaps it was a tribute to the excellence of the playing, but it takes away the musicians' control of the sectional pauses and audiences are often asked to hold their applause until the end of a piece.

The second set of performers, Burnett and Williams, provided another type of musical experience. Accompanied sensitively by Williams on the sonorous grand piano, Burnett's rich, round notes soared bird-like as the soprano delivered songs by W.A. Mozart, Alfredo Catalani and Georges Bizet. The audience as a whole would not have understood the three songs - Deh Vieni Non Tardar then Ebben? Ne Andro Lontana then Ouvre ton Coeur, respectively - but the singing was wonderful and the applause appropriately enthusiastic.

Folk songs included

The two returned after the intermission with traditional Jamaican folk songs Liza and Dis Long Time Gal, interestingly arranged by Peter Ashbourne in a way that made them not out of place in a classical music concert. Burnett brought out the sorrow of a mother (or a good friend?) for the long gone Liza, and conveyed the joy of friends meeting for the second song.

Many in the audience accepted Burnett's invitation to dance along to her singing. Naturally, they confined themselves to moving in their seats.

After a very dramatic piece, Imitation of Albeniz (he was a Spanish pianist and composer) by Russian classical composer Rodion Shchedrin, and an achingly beautiful one by Argentina's Astor Piazzolla, Chapman Nyaho and Woodham moved into very familiar territory with America's George Gershwin.

They played, again in classical music rather than show music style, three moody items - My Man's Gone Now, Bess You is my Woman Now and Summertime - and two more cheerful ones, A Woman is a Sometime Thing and It Ain't Necessarily So.

The unlisted, 'encore' piece was a sublimely beautiful Paganini composition. It provided the delicious icing on a wonderfully rich cake.