Chester Francis-Jackson, Gleaner Writer
SOMETIME AGO, security mogul, bon vivant and the city's leading host, Kenny Benjamin, decided on transforming the formidable gardens of his upper St. Andrew home to facilitate a garden theatre. It was to accommodate the staging of plays, musical presentation, and things generally and culturally enriching and artistic. Why? As a means of promoting the arts and the various art forms and their enriching qualities.
And so, since the commissioning of his garden theatre, Benjamin, known throughout the Caribbean for his fab dinner parties, soirees and high-
powered get-togethers, has hosted a number of classical concerts, plays, reggae stars and one-man shows, with an array of national and international music, film and theatre personalities as guest performers.
Well, last Sunday, Chicago-based soprano, the statuesque and oh-so-musically talented Claire Salomon, was the feature performer for Benjamin's series of dinner concerts. Dears, the fabulous Ms. Salomon, through the sheer strength and artistry of her oh-so-very-rich voice, gave more than adequate testimony as to just why many American musicologists and musical scholars assert that she represents one of classical music's more formidable voices, and a star definitely in the offing.
And, dears, little wonder here, as truly, Ms. Salomon is richly blessed with the greatest musical instrument known to man - a faultless voice, multi-layered and textured through training, commitment and dedication, that manages to transport those who come under its magical spell, through all the emotions known to man, and then some!
Dears, she is the niece of multi-repeat visitor to Jamaica, Chicago based real-estate baron and power player Joe English, who just recently celebrated his centennial visit to our shores. It was English who first broached the subject of his niece giving a recital or a small performance here in Jamaica. With Benjamin being the host who does the most, the introductions were made, and pretty soon plans were in place.
A B.A. graduate of the Shepherd School of Music, Rice University, Houston, Texas, Ms. Salomon discovered her love for the classical art form at the age of 17 and began voice training in earnest at one of Chicago's leading conservatories. She obtained her master's in music, under full scholarship and stipend, at Stanford University, Palo Alto, California, where she currently reads for a second degree in Italian language and literature.
So impressive was she at Stanford that she was offered an additional scholarship for further voice training and asked to perform at the university's Bechtel International Centre, where she performed operatic arias for the International Gala to hundreds of fans. While still an undergrad, she was invited to perform her own compositions for piano (she is also a classical pianist) and cello, at the Centennial Concert Series, University of Illinois, Champaign, Urbana.
She has also performed in Italy at the Nuevo Festivale di Roma, and in Siena, where she met the late renowned Bulgarian Contralto Mariana Paunova and her husband, the celebrated tenor, Stefani Algeri, who both took her under their tutelage, in preparing her for a stint with a master class for expressive and interpretive talent.
Oh, my word, what a voice! Daahlings, we are talking unrivalled artistry here, with the voice as the supreme instrument, echoing through the foothills of swanky upper St. Andrew; calming all that came under its resonance and instilling a reverence for the art form and sheer talent of the performer.
Accompanied on keyboard by the lovely Anne McNamee and on guitar by Shawn Richards, the trio made an already fabulous evening even more so as they took a welcoming audience along a fabulous musical experience that will long be remembered for its artistic brilliance and the wealthy voice of Ms. Salomon.
Opening with Merce, I dillete Amiche, from the opera I Vespri Sicilian by Giuseppe Verdi, and accompanied by McNamee, Ms. Salomon made clear that she was no dilettante but a master of her craft. And when Richards soloed with selections from Recuerdos de l'Alahambra (Torrega), there was no escaping his absolute command of his guitar, the emotive brilliance he took to his craft and the piece on hand. This made it a joy of immeasurable pleasure, as the opening salvo was rich enough rewards for the specially invited guests who braved the rains to journey to the recital.
Ms. Salomon returned with Aprile (Tosti); was accompanied by Richards for Bachianas Brasileiras (Villa-Lobos) and was in full flight by the time Richards rendered Gymnopedie (Eric Satie) and she delivered Poveri Fauri, from the opera Adriana Lecouvreur. She went into overdrive for Panis Angelicus and Summertime (Gershwin) simply closed the sale!
Dearhearts, she was ooh-so-fabulous, and we are talking diva class and style here, that not even Schubert's Ave Maria, and Vissi d'arte from the opera Tosca (Puccini) presented in regal style and aplomb, was enough to quench the thirst and fire she had awakened in her audience.
FRIENDS IN ATTENDANCE
Dears, it was all good, and then some, a point that was driven home by the thunderous applause that came from the dignitaries and friends in attendance, including Ambassador Douglas Saunders, of the Foreign Affairs Ministry, and Angela Robertson; head of the EU Mission, Ambassador Gerd Jarchow, and wife Mara Mandara-Jarcow; Spanish Ambassador Jesus Silva; Indian High Commissioner Kailash L. Agrawal and wife Kiran Agrawal; Honorary Consul of Iceland Robert MacMillan; Honorary Consul of Ghana Patrick Lynch and his fabulous wife Marguerite Lynch; legal luminary Harold Brady; Opposition MP 'Babsy' Grange, squired by Allie McNab; head of Cable and Wireless (C&W), Rodney Davis, and wife, the lovely Nadja Davis; Ron Brown and wife Valerie Juggan-Brown; head of the Jamaica Federation of Musicians, James Gill, and his wife Marina Sahkno-Gill; Mark Pritchett of the Observer; Al Niazi and wife Charmaine Johnson-Niazi; the lovely Dr. Sapphire Longmore; David Reavley, also of C&W; R. Christene King, of the Sunday Herald, Pure Class magazine; Vinay Walia and Conny Zahner; Andrew and Lydia Cherry; Claude Clements; Marcia Erskine; Keith Collister; the fabulous Lystra Sharpe; actor Munair Zacca of Royal Palm 'Sonny T' fame, his co-star of the weekly hit series, the lovely Karen 'Tiny Winey' Harriott; the charming Taquise Gordon-Smith; Chicago-based real estate power player and film and music producer Joe English, his niece and sister to the special guest artiste Ashley Salomon, in from Boston; playwright/actor/director of the award-winning play-turned-movie Runt, Michael-Phillip Edwards, in from Los Angeles; plus a number of others.