Festival kicks off on high note

The Cayman Arts Festival began on a high note Friday as some of the country’s finest musicians teamed up with international luminaries of the classical stage to perform a programme of beloved works by major Russian composers.

With Grammy-winning American conductor John McLaughlin Williams at the podium, along with the artistry of renowned American violinist Elmar Oliveira, the opening night gala at First Baptist Church made for an invigorating start to the nine-day festival, which continues to Saturday.

Opening with Glinka’s perky overture to Ruslan and Ludmila, the programme moved on to Tchaikovsky’s challenging Violin Concerto in D major, with Oliveira commanding the stage with his stellar performance.

The Grammy-nominated musician didn’t simply play the violin – he made it dance. Coaxing out sounds seemingly effortlessly, his compelling, expressive performance had the audience on its feet. (It’s no surprise Oliveira is the first American violinist to win the Gold Medal at Moscow’s Tchaikovsky International Competition.)

Moving from dramatic to poetic, Oliveira’s mastery of this well-loved work proved to be the highlight of the evening, particularly his performance of the exquisite second movement, Canzonetta: Andante.

The Cayman National Orchestra, augmented by some 20 players from the Cleveland Orchestra, rose to the challenge as well, turning in a polished and spirited performance throughout the evening.

The second half began with Tchaikovsky’s lovely Waltz of the Flowers from the ever-popular The Nutcracker ballet, a lilting, fanciful work that is always a crowd pleaser.

The mood then switched with a powerful performance of Mussorgsky’s soaring Night on the Bare Mountain, which had the strings singing.

The finale brought in the talents of the Cayman National Choir for Borodin’s Polovtsian Dances from Prince Igor. The choir, under the capable direction of Sue Horrocks, captured the dynamic sound of this classical masterpiece, a fitting end to the evening.

Williams, who has appeared in the arts festival once before, made an apt choice of repertoire. While it may be familiar in other parts of the world, it’s a rare treat to hear these Russian masterpieces performed on Cayman’s shores.