The December premiere of the Classical/Pops Festival at the newly refurbished Paddock at Apes Hill Club, St. James was an auspicious occasion for the vibrant island of Barbados. Featuring a 65-plus-member orchestra conducted by Thomas Wilkins and comprising members of North America’s most esteemed symphony orchestras, the inaugural event was unlike any other premiere experienced in Barbados. A theatrical approach to classical music intermingled with the prestigious members of the orchestra created a synthesis of dynamic sound that was pleasing yet unfamiliar to even the most astute listeners of the art form. The two-day festival has been deemed a transformative success for establishing a new type of cultural institution on the island.
During the extraordinary event, Mr. Wilkins and choral director Chapman Roberts simultaneously conducted nearly two hundred orchestra and chorus members against the expansive tropical backdrop of the exclusive residential development. Among the most notable of participants were the homegrown chorus members of the St. Leonard’s Boys’ Choir and The Barbados Gospelfest Mass Choir. While the disciplined young vocalists of St. Leonard’s, directed by Andrew Lokey, are deemed the unsung champions of classical music, Adrian Agard’s mass choir has skillfully mastered the vernacular of the African American gospel tradition. Conducted by Mr. Roberts, a celebrated Broadway veteran, the joint chorus was masterful in this unique opportunity to create the seamlessly blended voice that accompanied the Classical/Pops orchestra.
Without doubt, the experience validated the high standard of excellence that Mr. Lokey requires of the St. Leonard’s choir. The impact of accompanying musicians of the highest caliber, a number with the same skin complexions as the boys, demonstrated what sustained mastery of a craft can achieve in the long run, a lesson that resonates with the students today. Likewise, collaborating with the orchestra and experiencing Mr. Roberts’ thoroughness and attention to detail was empowering for the Gospelfest choir, leaving a lasting impression. Yet by all accounts, the choirs of St. Leonard’s and Barbados Gospelfest represent the island’s immense wealth of talent, a significance that was not lost on Roberts or Wilkins. Both conductors acknowledged the world-class presentation of the choirs during the event and the desire to collaborate again in the future. Classical/Pops certainly introduced an innovative cultural experience to the island, and the hope is that as the festival continues, more local Barbadians will join international travelers to enjoy and appreciate this spectacular winter holiday experience.