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It may be argued that famous composer the late George Gershwin and famous pan player/composer our own Len “Boogsie” Sharpe are both innovators of a new music considered as neither classical nor popular, but draws its techniques from many sources and forms of musical knowledge.
Evidence of the similarity was observed at Pan On A Higher Note 2014, staged by the Ministry of the Arts and Multiculturalism at the National Academy for the Performing Arts (Napa) in Port-of-Spain, on Saturday night, under the theme From Gershwin To Boogsie.
The programme consisted of performances by the National Steel Symphony Orchestra (NSSO), operatic soprano Jeanine De Bique, pianist Sean Sutherland, and a special appearance by Sharpe with the NSSO showcasing three of his compositions— Rain Forest (2000), Sunday Morning Funk (1999), and Pan Rising (1986).
The playbill opened with the 31-member NSSO under the baton of conductor/artistic director Jessel Murray doing Edward Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance March No 1 with its famous Land of Hope and Glory theme. Then followed an outstanding rendition of Samuel Barber’s haunting Adagio (for Strings), after which the orchestra gave spirited life to Franz von Suppe’s Overture to Poet and Peasant.
Making her debut appearance with the NSSO, De Bique introduced Gershwin’s music. Once described by the Washington Post as an artiste “of dramatic presence and vitality,” the talented opera performer used her powerful vocals to give glorious renditions of Summertime and My Man’s Gone Now, from Gershwin’s legendary opera Porgy and Bess.
Sutherland then took centre stage to deliver a fantastic display of piano artistry in offering Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, accompanied by the orchestra. The St Vincent-born artiste, who now resides in Canada, may be remembered for his superb 2011 performance with the NSSO of Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No 1.
After the interval, De Bique returned to offer the Emancipation Suite— a tripartite set of Afro-American spirituals inclusive of O What A beautiful City, Roun’ About De Mountain, and Ain’t That Good News. She closed with the Marjorie Padmore-composed national song God Bless Our Nation.
Boogsie then joined the orchestra for the performance of Rain Forest which he composed for Skiffle Bunch to compete in, and win, the World Steelband Festival in 2000. It was the first known performance of the work since then. It was scored by the NSSO, whose captain Kareem Brown, a graduate in Musical Arts at the University of the West Indies (UWI) did the editing, while Dr Jeannine Remy provided the score percussion parts.
According to artistic director Murray, in the programme notes: “The resulting work from Boogsie is tonal, and is instantly accessible with a seminal theme consisting of a series of descending scalar passages that appear throughout the work and assist in unifying it.” Boogsie then raised the roof, amazing the audience with some deft, improvisatory soloing while the orchestra’s members joyfully played through the musical scores of Sunday Morning Funk, and Pan Rising.
A pan virtuoso, Boogsie has become renowned as a composer and arranger. Gershwin was widely regarded as one of the finest composers of both popular and classical music in the 20th century. He wrote for Broadway musicals and the concert hall, creating many standards in the process.