An end-of-term concert for the whole country
You wouldn't normally expect to find a Corelli concerto grosso, a Duke Ellington standard and an eightsome reel all in the same concert. Nor are there that many impresarios with the audacity to ask a brass band from Moray to come all the way to Glasgow for the sake of 15 minutes of glory on the stage of the City Halls.
But then the Schools Gala is no ordinary concert. Organised by the National Association of Youth Orchestras and sponsored by TES Scotland, it is like an end-of-term school concert for the whole country.
Moray Concert Brass opened proceedings in some style. Fifty young musicians made Goff Richards' somewhat lugubrious "Still Time" sound suitably portentous. The fleeter tempi of one of Lloyd Webber's Cats betrayed a slight nervousness in the ensemble, before they settled into a clever jazzy distillation of themes from Dvorak's "New World Symphony" by Dizzy Stratford. They ended with "Highland Cathedral", a glorious piece of tartan kitsch with the shrill tone of the pipes (played by Ian Riddell) soaring high above the brass.
More pipes followed, just four of the mischievously titled "Pipers O'Dundee" (including Pipe Major Ian Duncan) with a selection of traditional marches and a solo from Barry Guthrie, whose espousal of the so-called "free style" technique apparently infuriates traditionalists but thrilled the audience in the City alls. He played a medley of reels and jigs at dazzling speed and with the sort of virtuosity associated with violinists such as Paganini.
One of the difficulties of programming this sort of concert is finding a balance between widely differing styles of music. How can you make the sober string music of Corelli and Grieg stand alongside the deafening exhilaration of pipe music? The Glasgow Schools String Orchestra tried bravely but had some problems with intonation and phrasing, and didn't have the same confidence.
That said, the Scottish Borders Wind Orchestra suffered from some tuning problems but blew their way out of it by making a lot of noise. The conductor, Kevin Price, earned the best laugh of the evening when his baton flew out of his hand across the stage.
The West Lothian Schools Jazz Ensemble demonstrated what can be achieved by retaining free instrumental tuition in schools. Ellington's Blue Pepper was followed by more peppery jazz that just gleamed with confidence and ability. Solos were distributed democratically to the brilliant and the not-so-brilliant, but all with sure-footed panache.
Perhaps there was a shade too much tartan in this concert, ably comp red by the Royal Scottish National Orchestra's Paul Rissmann, which finished with the Ayrshire Fiddle Orchestra foot-tapping though waltzes, foursteps and finally a truncated eightsome. This was essentially ceilidh music but with almost 80 string players on stage instead of one fiddler.