Celebration time

14th November 1997 at 00:00
TES writers report on the final two nights of the Schools Proms

Richard Stilgoe and Bob Holness jollied things along nicely on the second night of the Schools Proms, and even when one sensed that a performance was losing the attention of the audience, the performers were still rewarded with good-natured cheering. With all that foot-stomping and communal chanting, this was definitely a celebration.

Musically, the most impressive item of the second of the three evenings was a performance of Steve Reich's Drumming Part 4 by a percussion group from St John's comprehensive school, Kent. Reich is one of the most important - and accessible - of contemporary composers, one who has forged a new aesthetic and sense of time from the combination of minimalism and non-western sounds. His beautiful music should be at the heart of music education, but poses considerable challenges. Full marks to the St John's group and their director John Warwick Stone for bringing it off with such panache and hypnotic concentration.

With the exception of the Johl Quartet of Nottingham's confident performance of a new piece by Christopher Headington (interestingly, these young performers sounded more at home in his Jan ycek-like score than in the Dvoyr k which followed it), the repertoire of the remaining "straight" groups was fairly conservative. The wind bands, such as the Newport Music Centre Brass Band from South Wales and the Smithills Symphonic Wind Band from Bolton, were crisp and exceptionally well-drilled, though their programmes didn't pose many musical, as opposed to purely technical, demands.

Disappointingly, the only music theatre item of the evening, The Wiz from the JSS Junior Ensemble of Sussex, followed Broadway conventions and couldn't help looking like an imitation of the real thing. A more interesting mixture of music and dance came from the St Gregory's Irish Traditional Music Group from Merseyside. Their interpretation of Paddy Malone's Sea Image combined traditional sound and movement with a modern feel.

On the jazz side of things, Jazz Vehicle, a big band from Lincolnshire, are an outfit that must go down a storm at school dances. Their version of Weather Report's "Birdland" had all the pizzazz and precision it needed. They were clearly having a whale of a time, as was the audience. More modern were two smaller groups, the Tom Arthurs Quintet from Northamptonshire and the London Fusion Orchestra (actually a quintet). Trumpter Tom Arthurs had composed his own material, and his "One Foot Wrong" was nicely slinky and rhythmically sophisticated. It also featured a notably brilliant and effervescent alto sax solo from Kate Mlynar. The London Fusion Orchestra, looking back to the spare Miles Davis style of the early seventies, seemed fully at home in this rarified, probing idiom, but their choice of the meditative Joe Zawinul theme "Directions" (another Weather Report number) perhaps wasn't right for the occasion.

Back at the traditional end of the spectrum, the Egglescliffe School Orchestra, Stockton-on-Tees, showed the depth of talent that can be nurtured in one school, while the Surrey Heath Youth Orchestra ushered things efficiently to their inevitable Land-of-Hope-and-Glory conclusion.

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