The Cayman Arts Festival has now begun its summer break, but not before it presented three events in June, including its first-ever steel pan concert, the debut performance of the CAF Youth Camerata and a “Music at the Library” concert featuring the three-member band, Agouti Stew.
Held on 15 June at the John Gray High School Performance Hall, the steel pan concert was headlined by the young Trinidadian steel pan prodigy, Keisha Codrington, who was backed up by a trio of local musicians including Jeff Japal, Sean Hennings and Mark Hydes.
Codrington, who comes from a family of musicians, is known for her unique, melodious style of playing the steel pan, on which she effortlessly glides from note to note.
Cayman Arts Festival co-musical director Glen Inanga marvelled at how well Codrington meshed with the local musicians during the concert despite having practiced less than two hours together.
“This is what you can get when you have talented musicians who listen to each other play,” he said.
The concert set included renditions of a variety of musical genres ranging from jazz, soul, R&B, Soca and even pop standards by Ed Sheeran and Sam Smith. The concert also featured two solo performances by members of the University College of the Cayman Islands Pandemix steel band, Ruby Pileta and Carrie Martin.
Serving as the opening act for the evening was the John Gray High School “Dream Team” steel band, led by their teacher and steel pan virtuoso Earl La Pierre Sr. The band’s four songs included the famous opus from Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 and a rendition of Bob Marley & The Whalers “Jamming.”
Inanga noted that this was the first steel pan concert presented by the Cayman Arts Festival in its 19-year history.
“I don’t know what took us so long to have one, but after hearing this concert tonight, I’m looking forward to more steel pan concerts in the future.”
Another first took place six days later at the John Gray High School Performance Hall when the Cayman Arts Festival youth orchestra, called “Camerata,” made its debut performance.
Camerata consists of the most highly skilled young musicians who are part of Cayman Arts Festival’s afterschool programme. Some of its members also belong to the CAF Elite String Ensemble, which has performed publicly before, but the concert on 21 June was the first time the whole orchestra played together.
On hand to serve as conductor for their first performance was renowned violinist Scott Flavin, who is part of the faculty at the University of Miami’s Frost School of Music. In addition, esteemed violinist Irina Muresanu – who headlined a solo concert for Cayman Arts Festival last fall – performed two pieces with Camerata during the concert.
Both Flavin and Muresanu worked with the students in the days leading up to the concert.
“It was remarkable how much they progressed in just a few days,” Flavin said. “At one point, Irina said to me, ‘maybe we’re throwing too much at them too quickly,’ but they just ate up everything and wanted more.”
The concert was by no means an easy programme, featuring works by composers such as Edvard Grieg, Georges Bizet and Henry Purcell. Concert highlights included a performance of Johann Strauss Sr.’s “Radetzky March,” which had the whole orchestra playing loudly and the brass section carrying the melody. Even more impressive was the final piece of the evening, when Camerata backed up Muresanu’s long, sublime solo in “Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso” by composer Camille Saint-Saëns.
Inanga said he was filled with pride when he heard the piece.
“I got goosebumps listening to that,” he said. “That was an extremely complicated composition, and the students did an incredible job.”
With its 2022-2023 concert season now concluded, the Cayman Arts Festival will set its sights on the 2023-2024 season, which will mark the 20th anniversary since its establishment.