Review: 175th/50th Anniversary Gala Concert

Behind the scenes from rehearsals

Category: Music

Holst’s Planets Suite is not an easy piece to play. Extracts from it feature as audition material for professional orchestral positions for almost every instrument. It is all the more spectacular, then, that such an impressive performance was achieved on Sunday afternoon. 

The occasion was to be the culmination of a six-month project, welcoming our professional orchestra in partnership, the Southbank Sinfonia, and tying in with the College’s commemoration of 175 years since foundation, and 50 years of girls. Unfortunately, thwarted by the snow, the Beast from the East prevented our Guests going West. 

It was therefore with some trepidation that our orchestra gathered in a Baltic chapel on Friday afternoon to do battle with that musical behemoth. 

The pupils, led by Shona Scott (NC U6), played like heroes throughout the entire process in the face of severe meteorological punishment – without the slightest hint of complaint. Marlborough College phoned in its friends to plug the gaps left by the absent Southbank, and we are grateful to all those who jumped at the chance to help us out.

Framed by some stunning creative writing by Anna Pembroke (MO U6) and Emily Symington (MM U6), sometimes forming a prelude to the music, sometimes a reflection on it, the five movements performed electrified a chapel packed to the rafters. 

Mars, the Bringer of War opened proceedings with some remarkably committed playing from the entire ensemble, with appropriately apocalyptic percussion. I expect that the brass section could have been heard from Marlborough Malaysia. This very much set the tone for the rest of the concert. 

Saturn, the Bringer of Old Age followed. An incredibly sensitive mediation, interspersed with energetic flourishes, the movement showcased the expressive cello section, topped by Darcey Goble (MM Hu)’s delicate harp playing.

Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity is perhaps the best-known section of the work, crowned by the woodwind section, and featuring the hymn tune Thaxted (a favourite of Marlborough College Chapel). 

Uranus, the Magician contrasts the playful with the fearsome – an interesting cocktail which was very much exemplified in the low brass. Molly Corfield (MM U6) is to be commended for her fearless and heroic timpani playing – it was the thread which held the entire orchestra together. The piece is written for two timpani players. She played both parts simultaneously.

Holst resists the temptation to end bombastically, instead opting for Neptune, the Mystic’s dainty and ethereal timbres. Alice Wood (MO Hu) played divinely, with a stratospheric oboe line. An offstage choir, admirably negotiating Holst’s swirling tonality and fading away into the distance, drew the concert to a close.

Such astonishing playing was justly met with a standing ovation. This was a very special occasion which will stay with the performers throughout their musical lives. They ought to be extremely proud of themselves; the school is certainly very proud of them. 

James Bartlett
Graduate Music Assistant & Trainee Teacher

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