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Classical music in the Caribbean

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18.JAN.08

Beginning in the early 20th century, the Caribbean has produced a substantial number of classical musicians who have – against the odds – achieved international recognition and acclaim. The names of these trailblazers and legends are regrettably known to only a few as we in the Caribbean so often fail to honour our own, and there is little in the way of documentation of their outstanding achievements. In recent years it seems that there has been a decline in interest in the classical genre, and there are even some persons who reject the reality of classical music as a legitimate part of our heritage.{{more}}

We, alas, live in a world where the dream is of overnight success, and where the school curriculum no longer includes the immortal words of Longfellow “the heights by great men reached and kept were not attained by sudden flight”; and where we grasp greedily for that which is fleeting and virtual rather than that which is lasting and of real substance.

It cannot be gainsaid that classical training is costly and requires years of rigorous discipline, and even self-denial. It is not for the self-indulgent or faint-hearted. To succeed as a performer requires enormous strength of character, for the competition is fierce and the critics ruthless. The Caribbean for the most part (excluding Cuba) lacks the resources to maintain an orchestra – the main avenue for the employment of talented musicians. And yet…and yet, many individuals have overcome all the obstacles and made a name for themselves.

Guyana, once known as “the land of water and music”, has had a rich musical tradition out of all proportion to the size of its population. Prominent among its celebrated and accomplished musicians are three generations of the Loncke family. The current generation includes composer/pianist Patricia, violinist/conductor John and concert pianist/composer Joycelynne who has performed previously in St.Vincent. Other recognized composers are Phillip Pilgrim, Billy Pilgrim and Hugh Sam. But unquestionably one of Guyana’s most remarkable “native sons” was Rudolph Dunbar (1907-1988), clarinetist and conductor who became in 1942 the youngest person ever to conduct the London Philharmonic Orchestra, the first to conduct a Festival of American Music in Paris (1945) and the first black man to conduct the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, as well as orchestras in Russia and Poland.

Ray Luck is a part of this proud tradition of classical musicians who have achieved international renown. His recital here on January 27th is an all too rare opportunity to hear a piano virtuoso and to celebrate one of the leading lights of our Caribbean civilization.

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