The National Symphony Orchestra arrived at Port of Spain, Trinidad & Tobago yesterday to a VIP welcome. If officials didn’t literally roll out the red carpet, they did bring the Prime Minister and the American ambassador out onto the tarmac to welcome the new arrivals before whisking them off to their hotels.
Trinidad & Tobago is celebrating its 50th anniversary of independence from British rule this year, and the NSO’s concert tonight, called “A Symphony of Pride” and jointly sponsored by the government of Trinidad & Tobago and the United States Embassy, is part of the celebration. Beatrice Wilkinson Welters, the American ambassador to Trinidad and Tobago since 2010, is a former member of the Executive Committee of the Kennedy Center and of the NSO’s board, so she had particular interest in encouraging this gesture of US-Trinidad friendship.
The orchestra will play at the National Academy for the Performing Arts, an impressive-looking theater and hotel complex in the heart of Port of Spain that opened in 2009. There was some controversy about the building, built by a Chinese firm; among other things, critics alleged that many of the details in the performance spaces were unsuitable for a state-of-the-art facility, though the project’s overseers have countered that everything is perfectly adequate.
Trinidad & Tobago proudly trumpets the steelpan as its own distinct contribution to the world’s musical heritage. On Friday, the country’s National Steel Symphony Orchestra was scheduled to join the NSO’s percussion section in an hour-long concert for young audiences.
Meanwhile, a review of the NSO’s June 13th Mexico City concert appeared in the newspaper “Reforma.” Lazaro Azar, the critic, found the reading of Berlioz’s “Roman Carnival” overture “vigorous;” thought that even a fine performance couldn’t save the Lalo cello concerto from what he feels is inherent tedium; and said Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony was the highlight of the night. His criticism: he averred that although the orchestra played with admirable homogeneity and sense of ensemble, they lacked passion — which is just about exactly the opposite of the way they’ve been playing under Eschenbach in Washington. In any case, they gave two encores, which would indicate the audience was more enthusiastic than the critic; and that, they’re certainly used to.
Edited to add: A commenter has kindly posted excerpts of two more positive reviews of the Mexico City concert, putting my Google skills to shame and showing that the tour is getting off to the kind of start one might expect. See Comments for details.