Tuesday, 4 March 2014

STRING THEORY: Waters of March yields a dazzling, diverse showcase of electric talent

CLASS ACT: Ashbourne, the musical mastermind behind the newly minted UWI mini orchestra.

This is how balmy Sunday evenings were meant to be spent. The soothingly ethereal strains of the UWI Classical and Jazz Ensemble filled the Philip Sherlock Centre on the weekend, giving flight to a seductive potpourri of chamber music, Caribbean folk gems, Spanish themes and light, airy pop under the banner headline "Waters of March." Maestro Peter Ashbourne is the driving force behind this superb mini orchestra, the newest addition to the Centre's ever-expanding army of exuberantly talented performing arts outfits, and he wasted very little time in showing us just what they're about. 

With electric wizardry, a little rock n' roll and just the right touch of spunk, the young musicians made delightful work of Handel's "Water Music" minuet and Mozart's "Piano Trio in D Flat" before whipping up a memorable take on Peter Warlock's "Capriel Suite," an excellent showcase for cello, piano, violin and other strings in dazzling unison. 

The night's accolade for Most Enthralling Solo must go to virtuosic pianist Ming Cho, a South Korean prodigy whose magical finger work on Frederic Chopin's "Fantasy Impropmptu" belied her tender teenage years. For me, she's the kind of extraordinary kid who could draw packed houses to her solo recitals. 

The wow factor was only heightened when Maria-Jose Parker, a product of Spanish and Moroccan heritage, took to the keys (alongside Ashbourne on violin and Scotsman Alistaire Petrie on cello) to breathe life into a couple of Pietsola's Argentinian tango compositions delivered with a warm classical touch that left a swooning residue. Once could expect nothing less from a megawatt combination of the ilk of Ashbourne, Petrie and Parker, who for all their individual brilliance blend almost seamlessly as a trio. 

A change of pace and mood brought a spirited medley of traditional Bajan songs, scored by Ashbourne for the classical ensemble. (Among the lot, a fresh treatment of Harry Belafonte's "Day O" stood out.) Another highlight: the premiere of a laudable new Ashbourne composition, The Lignum Vitae Lilt (featurning Parker alongside cellist Joel Wright), which riffs on the Jamaican folk song "Lignum Vitae" and, more or less, captured the overwhelming motif of the evening: classical gems combined with a nod to the expansive range of Caribbean sounds.

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