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Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Classics In June - Time Travel With Voice and Strings


The Legacy of Leila
Classics In June – Time Travel With Voice and Strings

The influence of librarians live on long after they are gone and the 8th staging of Classics in June is another legacy of the late Leila Thomas, who was given the title, Lady of the Literacy Lamp, by Observer Executive Editor, Desmond Allen.

Under the patronage of the wife of the Governor General, Lady Allen, the Stephen Shaw-Naar coordinated concert staged by the Soroptimist International of Jamaica on June 19 at the University of the West Indies chapel was not only deliciously rendered by the performers, but was a brave compilation that included music stretching across 272 years. Lone vocalist, Christine MacDonald Nevers; piano accompanists Stephen Shaw-Naar and Edison Valencia Mohome; cellist, José Carlos Oxamendi Vicet; Laurice Barnaby on flute; Steven Woodham playing both the violin and viola; and the teenage violinist, Miranda Prescod, created a show that could have the title Time Travel with Voice and Strings.

The performers - Classics In June
From left: (standing) Cellist, José Carlos Oxamendi Vicet; violinist, Steven Woodham; and pianists, Edison Valencia Mohome and Stephen Shaw-Naar. Seated: Violinist, Miranda Prescod; flautist, Laurice Barnaby; contralto, Christine MacDonald Nevers. 

The programme started with a 1711 aria by Georg Frederich Händel, and touching on chamber music, opera and concert songs to land in 1982 Buenos Aires.

MacDonald-Nevers, accompanied by Shaw-Naar and Woodham highlighted three songs by British 20th century composer Frank Bridge in her second appearance on the bill after effortlessly vocalising opera standards from Rinaldo (Lascia ch’io pianga) and Orpheo and Euridice (Che faro senza Euridice).

Barnaby opened with the sacred Ave Maria by Johann Sebastian Bäch but after a breath took the audience into a smuggler’s cave with the entr-acte music introducing Act 111 of Georges Bizet’s opera Carmen, when the lovers reach a turning point in their relationship.

The most appreciative applause came after Shaw-Naar, not in the role of accompanist, featured his own musical poem, the bright Waltz-Fantasie, from a larger composition called Three Concert Etudes (2010). The four-minute virtuoso-level piece reminded this author of a rafting journey down a tropical mountain stream with cascades and rippling brooks spaced by quietly-flowing deeper waters.

Miranda Prescod undertook the third movement from Sonata #3 by Frederick Delius, a composition that has undertones of a peaceful negro spiritual. The two other pieces during her ten-minute delivery were miniatures from Antonín Dvořák’s before he was influenced by black music from an extended visit to the USA.

The beautiful melodies of romantic French composers Jules Massenet (Meditation) and Camille Saint Saens (allegro appassionato in B minor) came under the bow of Oxamendi Vicet accompanied by Valencia Mohome.

The last third of the programme was distinctly modern and had Spanish undertones. Accompanied by Valencia Mohome, Woodham on violin undertook Russian composer, Rodion Shchedrin’s tribute to the style of Spanish composer Isaac Albéniz. Their follow-up was Milonga sin Palabras by the composer who expanded the tango beyond a dance hall phenomenon and earned it a place in chamber music, the Argentine Astor Piazzolla.

The Piazzolla playlist continued with the sad and lovely Oblivion - composed in 1982 the year Argentina was eliminated in the second group stage of the FIFA World Cup. - they won triumphantly in 1978 and infamously in 1986 (my emphasis). The tone was rightly lifted when Oxamendi Vicet joined on violincello for the finale Spring, from Cuatro Estaciones Porteñas (four Buenos Aires seasons). This is a piece that could perhaps be performed more often as the audience, thinking the musicians had ended, spontaneously applauded during a pause.

Staged for eight consecutive years, the concert series was again hosted by broadcaster, Dervan Malcolm. It had the support of concertgoers who filled the nave of the chapel. Soroptimist Loraine Barnaby delivered a tribute to the late club member, Leila Thomas who conceived the series. Leila Thomas was one of a small cadre of library professionals who, through grit and passion, helped to build the Jamaica Library Service (JLS) for most of its 63-year history. She established the St Catherine Parish Library in 1949 and lobbied for vibrant library activities in schools and communities. She later became head of the organisation. Today the JLS states that it serves 124 public libraries and provides coverage for 926 schools. She is acknowledged to have greatly contributed to the increase in literacy in the nation during the ten-years that she headed the Jamaica Movement for the Advancement of Literacy (JAMAL, now the Jamaica Foundation for Lifelong Learning).  Ms Thomas was an active member of the Jamaica Book Development Council, served on UNESCO Jamaica and was a member of the Soroptomist Club for about 40 years.
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Edited version published in The Jamaica Observer's literary magazine, Bookends, Sunday, July 3, 2011.