A gala that is asking for more;Arts;Music

19th November 1999 at 00:00
TES Scotland Schools Gala Concert City Hall, Glasgow, November 11

The Schools Gala Concert could become an established part of the musical calendar. Sponsored by TES Scotland, it was organised by the Edinburgh-based National Association of Youth Orchestras, whose brief was to programme 15 minutes of music from each of six different musical ensembles.

NAYO is well-known for the huge festival of British youth orchestras in Edinburgh and Glasgow in August, largely for serious orchestral music. For this concert the approach was necessarily different. Apart from the Lochaber Strings, who gave an exhilarating account of Purcell's Trumpet Sonata with the gifted Philip Cardwell as soloist, groups were of a more popular hue.

But within that large category the variety was immense, as was the musical accomplishment. In their vibrant orange and black uniform, the Fair City Singers of Perth sang a wordless arrangement of The Duke of Perth that was a little trite brilliant in execution. These fair girls (and boys) are to help celebrate Hogmanay in the Dome, by which time they may look a bit less terrified.

By contrast, the Strathclyde Arts Centre Big Band looked cool and played jazz with fine solos from alto sax Michael Brawley and trumpeter Fiona Gow.

It fell to the Fife Youth Concert Band to open the evening with music that hovered between the big band sound and the more complex timbres of the wind orchestra, with a cheeky arrangement of Hercules by John Moss followed by Robert Smith's By Loch and Mountain, a lugubrious piece whose tune was apt to get lost in over-thick textures.

But the group whose performance came closest to defining how this Schools Gala might develop in future years was the Aberdeen City Youth Brass Band. There was panache in its rendition of French renaissance dances, conductorless until the last four bars when Eric Kidd sauntered out to beat the final cadence. There was wit in Goff Richard's Trombone Trio, funereal until a tuba player burst on stage dressed as a nun and bashing a red tambourine. Why? Who knows, but it had the anarchic spark that pushed the audience from polite appreciation to wild enthusiasm.

As an event the Scottish Schools Gala Concert is evidently some way short of maturity. When you have gone to the effort of getting six groups of young performers from all over the country to perform on the same stage in one evening, you would expect pavements packed with coaches and foyers jammed with school children. This is what happens at the Schools Prom in London, the big sister event in the Albert Hall, where admittedly they have had a couple of decades of practice. As it was, the audience in Glasgow's City Hall was painfully thin.

Music, however, can melt the most awkward atmospheres. By the second half of the concert the audience was cheering and clapping with such abandon that Yla Steven, conducting the Lothian Schools Strathspey and Reel Society, had to demand silence, maybe justified on musical grounds but sadly unsympathetic to the prevailing mood. But like a child told to shut up, the audience soon forgot her admonition, and the final reel of the evening reached its archaic conclusion swept along by an avalanche of clapping.

Christopher Lambton

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