Philippa Davidson reports on the Schools Prom. The opening night of this year's Schools Prom, reviewed last week, was a hard act to follow. On the second and third nights the pace was slower - due in part to scene changes. Youth and semi-professional groups predominated, no doubt reflecting Music for Youth's insistence that the Schools Prom programme must above all be about quality.
In spite of the large number of older groups this year, the Schools Prom never forgets that music begins in the classroom. Portland Primary School (Birkenhead) reception class's Our Day Out was a sheer delight. The children had devised the story and percussion accompaniment themselves and demonstrated remarkable stamina and concentration in performing for an enthralled audience.
Many secondary school groups reached a standard that would have previously seemed attainable only by county or even national ensembles. Lady Manners School Wind Band (Bakewell) tackled the demanding Swiss Festival Overture by Philip Sparke, bringing out its contrasting moods. Hemel Hempstead Comprehensive School Orchestra chose an attractive programme which included Elgar's haunting Chanson du Matin, The Teddy Bears' Picnic and The Thunder and Lightning Polka, sensibly played at a pace everyone could maintain.
This was an impressive year for jazz. The cool, relaxed style of Three Blind (Poynton) showed to best advantage in "Three Blind Something", by their leader Ric Neale, while the schmalzy "All the Way" brought us the rare sound of a solo viola. The talented musicians of Vote Rigsby (Sutton) are astonishing for their jazz and for their maturity which makes it easy to forget that they are barely 11 years old. At the top end of the age range Liverpool University Big Band featured soloist Cathie Crossfield in Nat King Cole's Orange Coloured Sky.
Tuesday night produced some outstanding chamber music. The King Edward V1 College Clarinet Quintet's Scherzetto, Pavane and Gopak by Gordon Jacob was eminently accessible and an unusual blend of modern harmonies with earlier forms. The Picander Ensemble from Manchester Grammar School played the first movement of Brahms' Trio in A minor with the sensitivity of a professional chamber group.
A characteristically exuberant last night opened with the familiar sound of Wardle High School Year 8 Brass Band, the first of several brass, wind and concert ensembles. On either side of the interval we heard the big sound of the Birmingham Schools Concert Orchestra in a mighty performance of the Shostakovich Festival Overture and the Big Band from Scissett Music Centre in Kirklees, a band with a slick presentation that makes it as good to watch as it is to listen to. The accomplished Brass Quartet from Egglescliffe School, Stockton, played Mike Davis's Suite for Brass, an attractive piece in four contrasting movements.
After so many bands, it was a welcome change to turn to the centre rostrum for the precise, delicately played Steve Reich piece Six Marimbas from St John's Comprehensive School, Gravesend. Other such interludes were provided by the Gwent County Youth Soloists and their professional rendering of two movements from the Bach Brandenburg Concerto number 4, and the only choir of the evening, the Latymer School Madrigal Group from Edmonton, north London. They showed their range of styles in a well balanced programme which included a Maori song, Vaughan Williams' "The Lover's Ghost" and the somewhat macabre piece, "The Goslings".
Wilson Stuart Special School showed how able-bodied and disabled students could work together to create a sensitive, visually interesting sound and movement piece that was really effective on stage. The rousing Norton Knatchbull band in one of their distinctive traditional jazz medleys and the impressive Northamptonshire County Youth Orchestra with Dvorak's Carnival Overture rounded off the 20th season of these unique concerts. In a budget-led climate where we are constantly reminded of the perilous state of instrumental music teaching, it is good to know that the Schools Prom enters its 21st year alive and well.
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