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Classical Jewels XI sparkle

Monday, November 27, 2017

Perfection. That’s the most apt description one could affix to Classical Jewels XI, staged at the National Academy for the Performing Arts (Napa) in Port-of-Spain on November 18-19.

Though not packed to capacity the Lord Kitchener Auditorium was filled with excellent music by host Massy Trinidad All Stars and its cast of guest conductors and artistes when the production premiered on Saturday night.

Under the baton of Deryck Nurse, All Stars showed not just why it is the reigning National Panorama, with ten titles to its credit, and World Panorama champion but why the legendary Duke Street steel orchestra won the fiercely contested 1980 Steelband Music Festival.

Subtitled From Jules to Jemmott, the programme, hosted by Raymond Edwards, opened with the well known Alfred Newman 21st Century Fox Fanfare followed by the also familiar main theme from Star Wars.

For this dramatic opening the introductory visuals of all Star Wars movies were screened as a backdrop, the words Star Wars replaced by Classical Jewels, embellished by images of Darth Vader and R2-D2. 

Flautist Anthony Woodroffe Jnr joined All Stars with its performance of Henri Mancini’s upbeat Pie in the Face Polka. A piece started as a celebration of his late father’s life and developed 14 years ago for the ensemble category of the Pan is Beautiful competition, Sule Sampson then conducted All Stars in a full-bodied orchestral interpretation of the composition Glory.

Performing solo on three brightly painted instruments, Akeil George performed Liam Teague’s Cello Vibes and was followed by another product of All Stars, Dr Mia Gormandy conducting the orchestra for Elmer Bernstein’s imposing Magnificent Seven, a cherished 1960 western on the silver screen.

To capture the mood of this number, again the backdrop was used to screen images from the movie evoking fond memories of its stars Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson and Eli Wallach. The visuals technique of screening videos during a band’s performance is a welcome and innovative enhancement to steelband stage production.

Equally astounding were father and sons— Dane, Deneilson and Daniel Gulston—as they performed John Lennon’s Imagine.

There was more nostalgia when memories of All Stars pioneering the Bomb competition, its members learning their pieces sans sticks but using index fingers, was invoked with Jason “Stumps” Lewis’ composition J’Ouvert in ah Band, a piece written since 1991. Described as a tribute to All Stars living legend Neville Jules, the piece was vocalised by Sheldon Reid, accompanied by the orchestra. As an added treat veteran All Stars panmen/composers Clive Telemaque and Dane Gulston ventured on stage to capture the mood and tone of J’Ouvert from days of yore, Telemaque ramajying on a pan tuned to replicate the sound of a ping pong of esteryear.

What was one of the night’s most exhilarating moments came next when soprano Rahel Moore joined All Stars to render Puccini’s La Boheme, conducted by June Nathaniel. This young lady’s voice is akin that of an angel from heaven.

Again conducted by Nathaniel, All Stars was impressive and majestic in its execution of Gustav Holst’s The Planets—Jupiter, Bringer of Jollity. Again a video of a galaxy featuring Earth and Jupiter was used as the backdrop.

Patrons were allowed to catch a collective breath and refresh themselves at this juncture and intermission was called as the music performed in the show’s first half was breathtaking.

Young tenor player Kobe Alleyne resumed proceedings with a laid back interpretation of Sparrow’s Mr Walker, opening for the All Stars Youth Orchestra, conducted by Kygel Benjamin. The young musicians offered Yohan Strauss’ Persian Waltz and melodic themes from Bizet’s Carmen Overture.

New Zealand violinist Eleanor Ryan was also one of the evening’s stand-out acts as she played Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons, executed in four parts.

Dane Gulston again held the spotlight when he frontlined the orchestra with his composition Sweet Bread.

Again the conductor’s podium saw a change as Nurse was replaced by Jessel Murray who conducted the UWI Arts Chorale in its delivery of a Christmas Angel Medley, rendered acapella style. Murray also conducted the Chorale and All Stars through popular Christmas number Do You Hear What I Hear? and Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance.

For its finale, Nurse again conducted the orchestra in its performance of the band’s winning 1980 Steelband Music Festival selection Franz von Suppe’s Morning, Noon and Night in Vienna.

An announcement by show host Raymond Edwards requested patrons to remain seated for Prime Minister Keith Rowley to depart but neither the prime minister nor patrons moved from their seats as All Stars morphed into its winning 2017 Panorama tune of choice MX Prime’s Full Extreme, accompanied by flag woman Rhonda Allick and a handful of costumed revellers.

Musically speaking, Classical Jewels XI was perfect, underscoring the need for Pan Trinbago, government and corporate T&T to exhume the Steelband Music Festival and use it not just as a model of pan-playing dexterity and excellence but also as a platform to enhance the biennial tourism thrust initiative and the infinite potential of our national instrument.


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