With the instrumental ensembles quickly returning to a full programme of activities after the pandemic, it was wonderful to see the Mem Hall on Saturday evening filled again with pupils, staff, parents and members of the local community. We were treated to an outstanding concert performed by the senior orchestras of the College once again enjoying the traditional side-by-side concert with London’s Southbank Sinfonia, our professional orchestra in partnership. This is truly one of the highlights of the two-day residency, now fully reinstated after a year’s absence.
Brasser began the evening with Mazama, the lady in front of me literally jumping out of her seat at the opening bars of percussion! The native American music of the north-west United States rose in strong lines above the crisp percussion work. The many changes of tempo were beautifully precise, and the native flute sounds transported us to the Rockies and the Pacific coast.
The stage was reset for the Chamber Orchestra, who performed two contrasting pieces. Vivaldi’s Double Violin Concerto RV 578 featured as soloists Aleksandra B (U6) and Timothy P (U6), with Lucas H (U6) on the cello. All three were playing from within the orchestra, with the versatile acoustic of the hall bringing freshness to both the soloists and the ensemble. The second piece was particularly new and exciting! Romero’s Fuga con pajarillo filled the Mem Hall with Venezuelan dance as the individual string lines crossed both melodically and rhythmically. Gloriously free and neatly controlled, it’s a piece that showed the Chamber Orchestra’s playful side to great effect as they entranced the audience with their mastery of the complex texture.
Step forward the star of the evening, Emily A (U6) as bassoon soloist in Weber’s Andante e Rondo Ungarese, accompanied by selected members of the Symphony Orchestra. What a performance! Showing poise and no hint of nerves, Emily was outstanding, playing the entire piece from memory and with the most exquisite tone. The lyrical lines and the running passages were handled with skill, the phrasing and staccato equally clear, and as a masterclass in the colours of the bassoon, from its warm lyricism to its chirpy playfulness, it was breathtaking. The warm applause was rightly loud and long, and we knew we had witnessed a most special performance.
Every square inch of the stage was needed to accommodate the 80 players assembled in the Symphony Orchestra and the Southbank professionals in the final part of the evening, Mars and Jupiter from Holst’s ever-popular suite The Planets. The pulsating intensity of the strings in Mars was matched by the wind and brass and the masterful percussionists, while Jupiter provided the perfect finale, a huge sound as the “bringer of jollity” inspired the players to send the audience out into a chilly evening with “I vow to thee, my country” more than ringing in our ears. Congratulations to all involved on a memorable evening of music, and especially… to Emily!