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Charlotte Amalie
Tuesday, May 21, 2024


Usually, when there's classical music in Tillett Gardens on St. Thomas and at the St. John School of the Arts in Cruz Bay, it's the same artists performing a day apart. This time, different musicians will be performing at the same hour on the same day — Sunday at 4 p.m.
On St. Thomas
Tillett Gardens is the setting for a recital by St. Thomas daughter Rebecca Faulkner on piano and her Huntsville, Ala., friend, Rodena LaJuan Tharpe, on viola. In addition to being a showcase for the college students' talents, it's a fund raiser for the Scholarship Fund at the St. Thomas Seventh Day Adventist School, Faulkner's alma mater.
Faulkner, a junior at Oakwood College in Huntsville, is not majoring in music, but you would never know it by her list of artistic credits. She has been second violinist with the Oakwood Symphony Orchestra and for two years played the double second pans with the Oakwood Percussion Ensemble. She plays piano with the college String Chamber Orchestra and String Quartet and also accompanies the Oakwood Academy Concert Choir. She is currently studying under Frank Contreres, pianist of the Huntsville Symphony Orchestra. (Her major, by the way, is dietetics.)
A 1996 Seventh Day Adventist graduate, Faulkner studied piano, organ, voice and steelpan on St. Thomas. In the Arts Alive/Vitelco Classical Music Competitions, she won third place in intermediate piano in 1990, first place in advanced piano in 1991, and both first place in instrumental music and second place in voice in 1992.
Tharpe, a senior music performance major at the University of Alabama/Huntsville, began studying the viola at 5 years of age in a Suzuki children's program at Memphis State University. After her family moved to Huntsville, she joined the Metro Youth Orchestra and then the Huntsville Youth Symphony. She currently plays with the Shoals Symphony Orchestra and the Huntsville Opera Theater Orchestra and was a member of the 1999 Gateways Music Festival Orchestra in Rochester, N.Y.
Like Faulkner, Tharpe has academic back-up for another career — she's minoring in biology with an environmental emphasis.
Sunday's recital is the culmination of an idea Faulkner had when she was home for the yearend holidays and did a solo program. "I offered it to the school, and they liked it and have really pushed it," she said.
The two young women frequently perform together in the Huntsville area, Tharpe said. "We do a lot of weddings and play at churches, and we've played at a music camp," she said. Committed to a music career, Tharpe said classical is her favorite music style, and she "would like to form a string quartet someday."
Classical works comprise the first half of Sunday's program: movements from concertos by F. Seitz and Telemann, a "Vocalise" by Rachmaninoff, a "Hungarian Dance" by Brahms, an adaptation of Beethoven's "Moonlight Sonata," and Gounod's "O Divine Redeemer."
Show tunes and pop standards will be showcased in the second half — music from "The Sound of Music" and "Fiddler of the Roof," Errol Garner's "Misty" and Carl Bohm's "Moto Perpetuo." For two of the pieces, "My Favorite Things" and "Sunrise, Sunset," the young women will be joined by three guest artists on steelpan — Seventh Day Adventist students Karen Bellot, Leisha Donastorg and Keredon Williams.
Admission is $15 for most and $5 for students of any age with I.D. Tickets will be sold at the gate.
On St. John
While the sounds of a full symphony orchestra will be heard, piano is the instrument in the spotlight and the Piano Fund is the beneficiary-to-be at the St. John School of the Arts recital. Two St. John pianists will perform works by Rachmaninoff: Richard Sabonis and his 12-year-old student Jelani Nelson.
Sabonis, who teaches piano at the school as well as privately, will celebrate his 50th year of teaching piano with a performance of Rachmaninoff's three-movement Second Piano Concerto in C minor, Op. 18, to recorded orchestral accompaniment. Sunday's performance itself will be recorded live, so at the end a new CD will be produced featuring Sabonis performing as guest soloist with the orchestra. The CD will be available for purchase after the concert.
The technical precision necessary to pull this off is demanding, to say the least. With a live orchestra and conductor, the pianist has a certain leeway in timing and the conductor has the option of modifying the pace of the orchestra's performance to accommodate the pianist if need be. Playing to a pre-recorded orchestra, Sabonis will either keep time with the instrumentalists or be out of synch. He's confident, obviously, that he will pull it off to perfection.
Sabonis was born into a family of professional musicians and began studying piano at the age of 5. He enrolled in Chicago's American Conservatory of Music at 11 and continued his studies at the Chicago Music College and Roosevelt University. After a career of 35 years as a church organist and choir director and opera rehearsal pianist and orchestra member, he moved to St. John in 1991, where his daughter had resided since 1978.
The Second Piano Concerto, which made its debut as a completed work in 1901 with Rachmaninoff himself as soloist with the Moscow Philharmonic, "is ablaze with flowing romantic melodies (immortalized in pop songs as well), drama and technical brilliance, stirring orchestration and bold, dark harmonies and tonal hues," a biography of Rachmaninoff states.
As the "opening act" of the afternoon, Nelson will perform Rachmaninoff's Prelude in C- sharp Minor, Op. 3, No. 2, a standard of the classical repertoire that the composer wrote at the age of 20.
Admission is $15 for adults and free to children.
The funds raised will go toward the purchase of a grand piano for the school, which has been presenting world-class pianists in recital for years on a small upright. "We hope to have it for next season," school director Ruth "Sis" Frank says.

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