Mon | Feb 26, 2024

Advent concert leaves audience wanting more

Published:Wednesday | December 6, 2023 | 12:12 AMMichael Reckord/Gleaner Writer
The string section of the chamber orchestra included (from left) Jovani Williams, Gabriel Walters and Paulette Bellamy on violin and Darren Young on viola.
The string section of the chamber orchestra included (from left) Jovani Williams, Gabriel Walters and Paulette Bellamy on violin and Darren Young on viola.
Rashida Nelson playing the cello at St Luke’s Church on Sunday.
Rashida Nelson playing the cello at St Luke’s Church on Sunday.
Nomali Campbell, soprano, and Caylinton Blake, bass, were the soloists in the Bach cantata.
Nomali Campbell, soprano, and Caylinton Blake, bass, were the soloists in the Bach cantata.
 Audley Davidson conducting the Diocesan Festival Choir and Chamber Orchestra last Sunday.
Audley Davidson conducting the Diocesan Festival Choir and Chamber Orchestra last Sunday.
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“Is that it!” exclaimed broadcaster Tony Patel. “It’s finished already?”

It was 6:10 p.m. on Sunday, and we were in the St Luke’s Church, Cross Roads. The applause for the annual Advent concert presented by the Diocesan Festival Choir and Chamber Orchestra had just died down. Clearly, the hour-long concert had ended too soon.

Along with the rest of the enthusiastic audience, Patel had enjoyed a pleasurable, half-an-hour performance of J.S. Bach’s Cantata No 140, Wachet auf, tuft die Stimme (Sleepers Wake) followed, in the next half-hour, by seven shorter pieces. Though from different sources, those items all possessed the lively, “praise and worship” tone of the cantata.

Patel’s expressed dismay was mirrored in other ways by the audience. Many headed for the performers and the conductor, Audley Davidson, to congratulate them; others chatted with friends and family. Nobody seemed to want to leave. After waiting in line, The Gleaner got a chance to talk to Davidson about the preparation process.

“We began rehearsals in the second week of September,” he said, “after the choir came back from their summer break.“ They chose the Bach cantata, which was specially composed for the season of Advent, Davidson continued, and decided on the first Sunday of Advent for the production.

Working with the members of the choir – “all busy professionals in their various spheres”, Davidson pointed out – meant that having combined rehearsals was challenging. One substitution he had to make was to have a flautist (Gregory Nicholson) instead of the traditional oboe player. (It’s unlikely that anyone in the audience noticed the switch.)

The cantata is based on the Parable of The Ten Virgins found in St Matthew, chapter 25. Five wise virgins and an equal number of foolish ones feature in the cautionary tale about the importance of planning for emergencies. The wise virgins have sufficient oil in their lamps to accommodate the late arrival of the bridegroom for whom all are waiting. The foolish ones, whose oil runs out, find themselves banished from the wedding feast.

Soloists in the seven-movement composition were Nomali Campbell (soprano), Quincy Etinoff (tenor) and Caylinton Blake (bass). All were in good voice and got the cheers and applause they deserved; but the concert was truly a team effort and the singing of the general choir and the instrumental accompaniment all contributed to a truly delightful evening.

Highlights for me in the cantata were its rousing choral opening, Wake Ye Maids, featuring the full power of the choir and orchestra; both Airs (Movements 3 and 6), featuring the soprano and bass soloists singing Come Quickly, Now Come and Thy Love is Mine; the strong closing movement of the cantata, with the choir singing Glory Now to Thee be Given and Livingston Burnett on the booming organ being supported by the other instruments. (The versatile Burnett was both organist and pianist for the occasion.)

In the varied second half of the programme, I particularly liked the tuneful How Beautiful Upon the Mountains by John Stainer; Keep Your Lamps Trimmed and Burning, a spiritual, with a Kingston College student playing drums; Burnett back at the piano with the choir singing the popular hymn You Are the Source of My Strength (listed as Total Praise) by Richard Smallwood; and the last two items, Wayne Hooper’s We Have This Hope and David Claydsdale’s powerful declaration by Jesus, I Am (the Prince of Peace). Davidson said that the choir and orchestra was an ecumenical group, with members from several denominations. However, he added with a chuckle, not only are there no divisive quarrels over religious doctrine, but the group is now celebrating its 99th year of existence.

That’s an indication of the musical harmony shown in the concert extending to general interpersonal relationships, and audiences should be able to get a longer 100th anniversary production next year.