Schools Prom

Nigel Williamson

Music For Youth Schools Prom Royal Albert Hall

Every year one runs out of superlatives to describe the diversity of talent on display here. And it's equally hard to single out "the best" from the 33 different musical groups of all styles, ages and background who performed over the three nights.

Some of the performers displayed such virtuoso excellence that professional careers beckon. We seem certain to hear more from members of the Surrey County Youth Orchestra and the Dulwich College Chamber Orchestra, for example. From the latter ensemble, violinist Simon Hewitt Jones has secured a scholarship to the Royal Academy. For others, appearing at the Royal Albert Hall at a tender age will be the highlight of their musical careers. But what counts is that they all were given the opportunity and they seized it eagerly.

Nonsense is talked about the rival principles of egalitarianism and excellence in musical education. And this event proves what a fruitless debate that is. Give pupils anywhere quality tuition and decent instruments and talent will blossom. Not all can commission Sir John Tavener to write a new work, as did the Brighton Youth Orchestra, whose performance of his Ekstasis must be one of the finest the Schools Prom has witnessed in its 27 years. But take the achievement of St Aidan's Concert Band. You'd be lucky to find 70 such superbly talented players in a county or regional band, drawn from a wide geographical pool. In fact, they all attend one C of E high school in Harrogate.

Excellence can take many forms. The thrilling Ramp;B of Soul Matters from Solihull. The sparkling steel pans of the Hornsey girls' school band. The charming musical dramas of the younger groups, such as those from Longley primary school, Sheffield, or the Triangle school, West Yorkshire. Who would dare suggest that the enthusiasm, dedication and energy of these was in any way inferior to the achievement of the classical players?

Credit also belongs to the teachers, many of whom bring different groups back year after year. Several, including Chris Wormold, who coached the Smithills band, first appeared years ago as youthful performers and are now returning as directors and conductors. It would also be remiss not to mention Antony Hopkins, as good a friend as youth music has ever had. He has conducted Elgar's Pomp and Circumstance march ever since the Schools Prom started, but announced that this year was his last. It simply won't be the same.

Nigel Williamson

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Nigel Williamson

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