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Last chance to catch Classical Music competition
When you think of the music of Trinidad and Tobago, the classical genre is probably not the first thing that comes to mind. Natalia Dopwell, the celebrated soprano who is an active part of the Classical Music Development Foundation (CMDF), suggests that this is because we are not as aware of musical history as we should be—which is one of the reasons the foundation has just embarked on its first Classical Music competition. A non-profit born out of the realisation that the classical arts were not being given much attention locally, the CMDF has vested itself with the responsibility of promoting excellence in the performing arts, staging operas and classical concerts, and supporting gifted students, who happen to be the focus of the competition. “We wanted to meet the needs of local student musicians,” explains Annette Dopwell, one of the organisation’s founders. “It can be difficult for them to get the opportunity to hone their skills, let alone be paid for performances.”
The contest, which is expected to be held annually, is designed to fulfill a dual purpose: entrants can showcase their talent and compete for a sizeable amount of prize money.“Classical musicians are the best kept secret,” Annette continues. We have world class talent here—sopranos like Jeanine De Bique and tenors like Ronald Samm—they do so well at conservatories abroad but don’t always get the recognition they deserve locally, because the environment to support their learning doesn’t exist to the degree it should.” The foundation’s aim is to help facilitate a more active classical music scene in T&T, so that these artistes have a place to call home, personally and professionally. “The Classical Music Competition will be a good platform on which to do that,” Annette says. “It will open people’s minds. Some may think opera is about big, fat ladies wearing horns on their head, but the stories are about life.”
In collaboration with UTT’s Academy of the Performing Arts, the CMDF recently staged a production of the opera Dido and Aeneas, and the student response was, to use Annette’s word, amazing: “You could see the musicians stretching their skills; it was awesome for everyone involved.” The competition promises more of the same. “We targeted people who were actually investing in music training,” explains Natalia. “Applicants had to submit documents such as certificates from the Royal School of Music in order to even get to the preliminary stage.” Ten candidates advanced to the semi-final round on Friday night: classical guitarist Seth Escalante; cellist Traycell Frederick; violinist Chelsea Goolcharan; tenors Stephan Hernandez, Christian Joel and John Thomas; counter-tenor Kevin Yung; and sopranos Stephanie Nahous, Llettesha Sylvester and Ayrice Wilson. They confidently faced the judging panel which comprised two international judges (orchestral and choral conductor Carlos Aransay and mezzo-soprano Hilda Harris, who is on the faculty of the Manhattan School of Music) and one local (classically trained jazz saxophonist and UTT lecturer Anthony Woodroffe).
The singers were required to perform two pieces, one from the Romantic and the other from the Classical period. The musicians had to play one Sonata and one Concerto movement from the same periods. “It’s interesting,” says Natalia, “because you’re competing against everyone else, whether you’re a singer or an instrumentalist. Everybody is being judged on their proficiency and the difficulty level of each piece, so it’s a level playing field. Anyone can win.” The finals took place last night at Queen’s Hall, with the singers performing an aria and a selection of their choice, and the instrumentalists playing a different movement and a piece of their choice. Prizes were awarded for first, second and third place—US$5,000 for the overall winner, courtesy the National Gas Co; US$3,000 for the second-place performer, courtesy First Citizens Bank Asset Management; and US$1,000 for third place, donated by the Neal and Massy Foundation.
There was also an audience prize worth US$500, judged by secret ballot, and each finalist walked away with US$100, even if they did not make the top three. “Sponsors have been very generous,” says Natalia, adding that the US Embassy also played a key part in the competition by covering the cost of bringing in one of the judges from the United States. “There are so many different levels and layers to music,” says Natalia, “and this competition gives people the opportunity to appreciate something different. It’s like a whole other musical language.” If you missed Friday and Saturday’s performances, you have one last chance to see these classical artistes in action—for free—at a Masterclass with the judges, which takes place from 4 pm today at Christ Church in Cascade.
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