On Thursday, February 24, I attended the debut performance of the CayForte String Quartet.  This is the newest product of the Cayman Arts Festival and could be described as ‘homegrown’.  A long-awaited dream of director Marius Giana fulfilled when the group agreed to come together in September of 2021.  The night’s invitation read, ‘expect a treat, replete with a grandiose, dramatic and energetic spirit coupled with stylistic diversity’.  My senses were eager to experience this feast. But what is so special about 4 persons playing an instrument together you may ask?  To answer your question, let’s get a little technical.

What’s in a string quartet?

A string quartet can be defined in several ways. It can refer to either a type of musical composition or a group of four people who play them.  At the most basic level the musical term refers to the medium of four string instruments.  The associated musical ensemble consists of two violinists, a violist, and a cellist.  The string quartet is described as the crème de la crème of chamber music.  And many composers from the mid 18th century onwards wrote string quartets. Want to lean more about chamber music and the string quartet in particular?  You may find this article by Lumen Learning useful.

The new look of the 2022 Cayman Arts Festival

Due to the existing covid restrictions, this year’s festival will be held mostly outdoors and span a couple months.  A week ago, Cayman moved to phase 5 of its reopening stage. This brings new easements of restrictions to public gathering and mask wearing by spectators attending outdoor events.  Patrons were eager to go out again to enjoy outdoor activities.  It is our new normal and we are making it work.

The festival was opened last week by the Cayman Youth Choir with a concert titled “Harmonise the World”.   And this was their second event, held on the lawns of the National Gallery of the Cayman Islands.  It was threatened by a cloudy day and a promise of rain that did not happen, thankfully.  It was a beautiful setting for a wonderful performance.

The Artists

The CayForte String Quartet is comprised of Sarah Newman on first violin.  When asked about her love for the violin, her response is the violin found her at the tender age of 7 and never left.  She is the leader of the Cayman National Orchestra and describes her music style as sensitive, subtle, and serene.  Sarah was one of the first few people I met when I relocated to the Cayman Islands in 2019.  It was a joy to watch her in her element.

Second violinist Harriet Hennelly’s passion for began in Glasgow where she played in several regional symphony orchestras and ensembles. Since arriving in Cayman she has enjoyed playing violin in the Cayman National Orchestra and saxophone with local jazz ensembles.  She describes her music style as playful, imaginative, and engaging.

Growing up in Cuba, Violist Yoan Tamayo Garcia was besotted with the violin at the tender age of 8. His passion led him to graduate in violin and viola at the Conservatory of Cuba. He has played violin and viola in the Philharmonic of Holguin and La Camerata Romeu. Yoan is currently a composer and arranger, violinist, violist, and choir director at Cayman Islands Baptist Church.  He describes his music style as delightful, pleasing, and innovative.

Rounding up the quartet is cellist Antonio Sanchez.  With a diversity of recordings from cello to piano, Antonio explores a plethora of genres from classical to jazz to contemporary. His versatility nourishes all that he works with as Music and Worship Pastor and teacher at Elmslie Memorial Church, where he is a composer and arranger, classical cellist, music teacher, choir, and music director.  He describes his music style as peaceful, calming and captivating.

About the Cayman Arts Festival

The Cayman Arts Festival concept was formed in 2001 and incorporated in 2003.  The brainchild of piano duo Jennifer Micallef and Glen Inanga.  The usual 10-day festival will be offered in a longer format this year.  Look out for more upcoming offerings on their website and social media pages.  The next event “Jazz in Trance” is scheduled for Thursday March 3.  And tickets can be purchased HERE.

The Programme

The programme was opened by the Cayman Arts Festival Elite String ensemble. They are a proud product of the Cayman Arts Festival after school music programme. There set consisted of three pieces; Fiddles on Fire, The Trout and Dark Matter a moving piece which aptly showed off their skills and set the stage for the evening.

The CayForte String Quartet

For this, their first recital, the quartet performed pieces of the Baroque era by Handel, Bach, Corelli, Vivaldi, Telemann, and Purcell.  

The program opened with a trio from composer Georg Frideric Handel, a great choice and was well.  It was equally electrifying and contained is how best I can describe it.  You could tell that there was great chemistry with the group as they went through their set seamlessly.  I especially enjoyed the personal stories by each artist on how they connected with their instruments and the selections for the night.   

But what make a great performance for me is:

  1. Timing of the performance.  Their 55min set was not too long but long enough to make you want more when the performance ends.
  2. Variety in composition style, giving the audience a mix of fun to break up the heavier more intellectual material.
  3. Flow and intonation of the performance
  4. Clarity of the sound and distinction of the artistry of each individual instrument as well as the combined presentation.
  5. Stimulating and crowd pleasing.  You could feel the energy of the audience as they tried not to erupt in shouting and clapping too early from their favourite pieces.

Final Thoughts on the CayForte String Quartet

For a newly formed quartet they played like a longstanding group.  This may be because they are very familiar with each other and already worked together in different aspects.  You could tell they made a good marriage.  Overall, they presented fresh interpretations of the classics that was enjoyed and appreciated by everyone. 

What are your feelings towards chamber music?  And how it impacts/benefit other aspects of our lives?