Orchestral Gala Concert

Wednesday 22nd May 2024

Friday night’s exhilarating Orchestral and Ensembles Concert was dominated by lush, broad sounds and textures from a variety of mostly twentieth century music. The Wind Orchestra (Brasser), the Chamber Orchestra and the Symphony Orchestra conjured wide open American and Swedish spaces, hints of the Orient, as well as the greater intimacy of eighteenth century Vienna and early twentieth century West London. It was wonderful to see the members of each group playing their hearts out with such stirring music, and to such grand effect. 

First up was Brasser with the atmospheric setting of Amazing Grace by William Himes. Brasser, under the expert baton of Mr Arkwright, evoked a lofty and spacious world, enhanced by the shifting and overlapping melodic lines of the great hymn. They excelled too in the dynamic and rhythmically varied Choreography, by Robert Sheldon, which had a Copland-like moment of reflection between exciting and compelling outer sections. In spite of the complexity of the music, Brasser’s rendition was wonderfully controlled, and special mention should be made of the growing and then shrinking textures, highlighted through dynamics and a tempo that never flagged. Special mention should also be made of Jack H-S who played a splendid solo on the trumpet. 

There was a great contrast between these pieces and Holst’s St Paul’s Suite, written for St Paul’s Girls’ School on the eve of World War One for a string chamber orchestra, and played here by our strings under Ms Stagg, who helped the group to bring out the many nuances and subtleties of the beautiful music very well. There’s a gentleness to the whole, though it mingles such robust melodies with a references to dances and folksongs with its quieter central movements. At this central point of the concert, it was a real treat to hear the Intermezzo in the heart of the piece, an intense and slightly oriental-sounding piece with short solos for leaders of all the sections: these were consummately performed, with requisite mystery and charm, and one could hear a pin drop. 

That kind of atmosphere reappeared a little later in the Concert, for one of the absolute highlights: the Adagio of Mozart’s 23rd Piano Concerto, in which the Symphony Orchestra accompanied Olivia M. This piece leaves the pianist extremely exposed, and requires terrific tenderness and control in performance, and Olivia played it consummately. She gave a really thoughtful and profound rendition of the gently tragic opening melody and this set the scene for a stunning sensitive dialogue between piano and orchestra that climaxed in the profoundly moving resolution at the end. This rapturous performance was followed by Mr Dukes saying that the piece represented ‘genius at its absolute peak’. 

The concerto movement was framed by two expansive orchestral pieces, both grandly conducted by Mr Dukes: the Epilog of Larsson’s En Vintersaga, which suggested cold vast Scandinavian landscapes by its use of sustained arcs of melody and seemingly ever richer textures; and finally the overture of The King and I, by Rodgers and Hammerstein. The latter’s great show music touched an awful lot of musical bases, including pseudo-Oriental melodies, jolly waltzes and lush catchy melodies, as well as extremely grand and exhilarating tutti passages that brought the concert to a close. The Symphony Orchestra played with boldness, cheerfulness and vigour, never dragging, quite ready to punch with exciting sforzandi but also to develop long wandering melodies, and then to skate lightly. The intonation, the rhythmic awareness, and – above all – the sheer joy of the playing was admirable. 

This was a splendid concert, a worthy last hurrah for many of the Upper Sixth, and we could be proud in this showcase of our wonderful musicians. 

Christopher Moule
Head of History

Other News