School talent comes over loud and clear
The annual Schools Gala Concert presented by the TES Scotland and the National Association of Youth Orchestras has always set high standards of performance and this year's selection of bands comfortably maintained that tradition.
The concert took place in its customary venue, the City Hall in Glasgow, which arguably has the best acoustic properties of any hall in the city but is scheduled to close in the new year for refurbishment. Paul Rissmann was master of ceremonies and a hard-working stage crew ensured the changes between bands were smooth.
The star of the show was undoubtedly the West of Scotland Schools Concert Band, which opened the second half with a sparkling performance of jazz-related material from Chuck Mangione and Frank Ticheli (the latter an unhackneyed arrangement of "Shenandoah") and the exciting "The Royal Hunt of the Sun", a pulsating episode from Martin Ellerby's "Evocations".
The band's playing, under the direction of Nigel Boddice, was excellent in all three pieces. They produced a rich and disciplined ensemble sound in which all of the musical detail was delivered accurately and expressively, with nothing fudged or glossed over.
The concert featured mainly classical repertoires in the first half, and jazz and folk in the second. However, the opening band, the East Ayrshire Schools Brass Band, offered a mixture of all three under two conductors, Andrew Keachie and John Boax. The band's ensemble playing was tight and well organised, with plenty of presence. They worked through four short pieces, then were joined by the Pipes and Drums of East Ayrshire schools for their final selection, a full-blooded performance of "Highland Cathedral".
The Waverley Singers from Edinburgh tackled two movements from Kenneth Leighton's "Six Elizabethan Lyrics", which made considerable demands on their technical and expressive resources. They performed both pieces in impressive fashion under director Pamela Duncan, who formed the choir in 1974.
The rest of their programme was equally good and included an unusual version of "Old Mother Hubbard" in a pastiche of the style of Handel (with piano accompaniment by Fiona Morison) as well as William Byrd's lovely "Lullaby".
The East Renfrewshire Schools String Orchestra tackled a varied programme of music by Corelli, Grieg and Holst under conductor James Young. The players still have to polish up their pitch and intonation, especially in the slower passages, but are well on the way to forming a well-knit ensemble.
The North Lanarkshire Schools Jazz Orchestra is a very big jazz band with a bright, brassy sound to match its weight of numbers. They performed confidently under the direction of Tim Sharpe, adding a singer for a version of "Cheek to Cheek" and finished with a very un-Ellington-like arrangement of the classic Ellington-Tizol composition "Caravan".
The Perth and Kinross Fiddle Orchestra closed proceedings with a selection of Scottish tunes, led from the first fiddle chair by director Lorna McGovern, with additional double bass and piano accompaniment. Once again, the ensemble playing was notably confident, with pleasing melody lines and crisply articulated rhythms, although some were obscured as the audience clapped along merrily.