Long before Columbus discovered the Virgin Islands, crickets and tree frogs dominated the musical scene on this sleepy Caribbean island. But with the recent birth of the St. John Arts Festival, classical and contemporary music entwine in harmony with nature's orchestra, in an idyllic setting.
The setting is perhaps the Festival's most unusual aspect. Two-thirds of serene, Manhattan-sized St. John, just east of St. Thomas, is designated as a national park. There are three main resorts, all attached to the park: Caneel Bay, a Rockresort with its simple yet elegant accommodations, stretches over 170 acres just outside of Cruz Bay; Cinnamon Bay campsite lies within the park's grounds; and Maho Bay Camp is at its northwest end. All three resorts are careful to respect the splendors of nature.
The Music Festival was the inspiration of Maho Bay's owner, Stanley Selengut. One evening, while Mr. Selengut was watching the sun set from his campground's open-air community center, two guitarists and a flutist, guests at the camp, gave an impromptu concert. Mr. Selengut enjoyed this experience so much that he decided to recreate it with a cultural program for the enjoyment of both visitors and residents.
The biweekly Arts Festival started in late May with a series of free outdoor concerts. At Caneel Bay, vacationers attended the gala opening in the subdued atmosphere of an 18th century sugarmill, overlooking pristine palm trees etched against an evening sky. First, tuxedoed violinists Arthur Bogin and Elliot Rosoff, joined by cellist Alvin McCall and Carol Pendleton on the viola, performed movements from Haydn's String Quartet in G Minor. Lisa Hansen, flutist , and Steve Uscher, classical guitarist, joined the quartet to play movements of Vivaldi's Guitar Concerto in G Minor. A variety of solos, duets, and ensemble pieces followed; composers included Mozart, Giuliani, Ibert, and Borodin. On the lighter side was a piece by Scott Joplin, and a special arrangement of ''St. Thomas'' for the chamber ensemble plus conga drums.
Two subsequent concerts were held at Maho Bay; the less formally attired musicians performed on a newly constructed entertainment platform, a panoramic, open-air pinewood structure perched above the forested nature preserve and turquoise Caribbean waters.
An evening blanket-concert was held at Cruz Bay Park in the middle of the island's tiny main town. Tourists, residents, children, and visitors from St. Thomas clustered the park's tiny hills for the island's first live classical concert for the public.
The St. John Arts Festival will continue through September with biweekly events at Maho Bay and Cruz Bay. The July program is set as follows:
July 5-10: Thomas Lesser of the Hayden Planetarium will lecture on the stars, and in particular on the visible lunar eclipse scheduled to occur July 6.
July 14-17: Mozart on Fifth, a trio including Richard Goldfarb, clarinet; Daniel Kelly, clarinet; Ethan Silverman, bassoon. Dressed in 18th century period costumes, the trio performs a repertoire that includes classical, ragtime, and big band sounds.
August 1-15: The Joan Miller Dance Players; modern and ethnic dance group. Very eclectic.
August 22-29: Baritone James Javore and soprano Maritha Stewart. Acompanied by a pianist and cellist.
The remainder of the 1982 Festival program is being scheduled and detailed information will be available from Maho Bay's New York City office at 17 E. 73rd Street, New York, N.Y. 10021. Telephone: (212) 472-9453.