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28th Music for Youth Schools Prom: second night

28th Music for Youth Schools Prom
Nov 456 2002

November 5th

Gordon Jacob's florid fanfare, played by Whitworth High School Wind Band from Cardiff, called forth nearly three hours of tremendous music-making on Tuesday. It may have been Guy Fawkes Night outside, but inside the Royal Albert Hall the memorable moments came from explosive singing talents, sparkling instrumental skills and the fiery sounds of shared celebration. The band was in London representing the largest comprehensive school in Britain. Their medley from Miss Saigon featured everything big show tunes need: deep-throated trombones, glittering xylophone riffs, a fine slow trumpet solo, raunchy saxophones and a happy sense of a special occasion.

The Maltman's Singers from Buckinghamshire were all key stage 2 girls. Their unaccompanied Skye Boat Song, like all their pieces, showed faultless clarity of diction. When it broke into two hushed parts, the effect was magical and moving. There were tongue- and lip-wrenching exercises in the accelerando of Rhythm of Life, but the girls' articulation was ready for them all. So Long, Farewell featured curtseys, waves, and bobbing and swaying with cinematic flair before high notes, effortlessly reached, brought things to a splendid finish.

The Alleyn's School Chamber Orchestra offered two movements from Anthony Hedges's Divertimento for Strings, one of the composer's less serious works. A lilting waltz provided several opportunities for Michal Cwizewicz to show to the full what being the `leader' means for a committed musician. The scurrying tune of the rondo finale began from the lower depths of the cellos and rose through the sections with fervour and an accomplished light touch, played with stylish equanimity to match the music's tumultuous bravura.

The Chapel Choir of St Margaret's School, Exeter was brave enough to communicate in foreign languages, one dead - though certainly not so musically - and one living. A jazzy setting of Psalm VIII mingled soaring melodic lines with complex and demanding syncopated chanting. Erghen Dadio, a Bulgarian folk song, was mainly in the additive metre of 78. The girls' precision was admirable, and their vocal textures here, derived from the sound of the Voix Bulgares, were a highly creditable rendering of their model. "Quam admirabile est nomen tuum" they sang - and how admirably they sang it.

Bare feet and gypsy-jazz fiddling are the special characteristics of the Isca Linea Caravan Ensemble from Newport in South Wales. They also brought inspiration from abroad into the heart of London. Sunrise, Sunset allowed this very talented octet to show how to slide with devastating accuracy into the very middle of the required notes. The solo line was decorated with cheerful extravagance. Brahms's Hungarian Dance was given the paprika-portamento treatment, and it suited the famous melody very well. The stops and starts, the slow-downs and speed-ups, the luxuriant lingering on stressed notes were a wonderful demonstration of the fact that `minor key' need not - not at allnbsp;- mean the same as `sad'.

The first half of the concert finished with a very fine Lancashire brass band, the Wardle High School Year 9 ensemble. We heard Handel for the second time this week - appropriately a section from the Royal Fireworks music - followed by a lovely version of Georgia on my Mind, in which the cornet soloist Ruth Walczak played as if she sprang from the American South rather than the English North. A slow and peaceful Salvation Army hymn led into an irresistibly energetic Darktown Strutters' Ball, which turned the audience itself into a vast percussion section, clapping in unbounded pleasure and participation.

Richard Stilgoe and Diane Louise Jordan had their work cut out as genial co-presenters, but their sterling performances were matched by those of the stage crew - efficient, tireless and discreetly invisible. They soon had everything ready for part 2, which opened with the outstanding Abraham Darby Jazz Band from Telford. Shropshire wouldn't be everybody's first suggestion as a top jazz venue; these players, some as young as eleven, tell a different story. Two works by Sammy Nestico showed them in contrasting mood: unrelenting rhythmic drive in Ya Gotta Try.Harder, and sinuous bluesy melody in Lisette. The soprano sax solo from Jane Elston was especially notable. Jump, Jive N' Wail allowed the entire band to strut their stuff with the seeming casualness that comes from complete confidence and control.

The girls from the `Original' Chamber Ensemble from Leigh-on-Sea are an equally remarkable woodwind band. Their first piece, a little number from Britten's reworking of Rossini fragments in Matines Musicales, was like a charming clockwork toy come to life and clothed in rich colours. The oboe solo of Suzie Thorn made an excerpt from Morricone's score for The Mission most memorable. Her sumptuous playing held the entire Hall in still contemplation. The finale from Gounod's Petite Symphonie is really a miniature sonata, and gave the players room to show how they could handle legato and staccato with equal delicacy.

The Aylesbury Music Centre Massed Choir in their multicoloured T-shirts rose like a vast rainbow to perform The Menu Bites Back. This happy tuneful nonsense is all about the Diners and the Food, and the conflict that arises when characters like Vindalulu (`the hottest dish in town') and Ella Salmonella are on stage. Supported by elegant dancers and tumblers and a first-rate teenage band, the children sang with a strong sense of ensemble and followed their dynamic conductor's beat with commendable attention.

The largest group was succeeded by the smallest. Freddie Smith and Phil O'Farrell from Croydon perform as Fred and Phil, top-quality buskers with a Celtic flavour. Fred's marvellously poised fiddling united with Phil's solid guitar to take us through two sets of medleys of widely varying mood. There was a constant return to Irish themes - even Pachelbel's Canon sported a shamrocky style - some full of bustling semiquavers, others withdrawing into brief meditative calm. The duo sounded as if they have been playing together not for two years but for twenty.

The night's finale came from the Birmingham School's Concert Orchestra. John Williams's score for a film featuring a well-known schoolboy wizard had lots of places for youngsters to show-case their talent - chromatic `magic' in the strings, shimmering spells on metallophone, glockenspiel and tubular bells, harmonies on five horns (all played by girls.) Then an arrangement of Lord of the Dance metamorphosed the old Shaker song into a show-piece that brought out its folkish colours in orchestral guise before moving to a noisy joyful denouement. And then Pomp and Circumstance brought the evening to an end, English tradition marking the homecoming after what had been a thrilling world tour.nbsp;nbsp;nbsp;nbsp;

Music for Youth is sponsored by:
Halifax plc
National Union of Teachers
Norwich Union
PJB Publications
The Times Educational Supplement

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