The phrase "everything but the kitchen sink" took on a new meaning when the young musicians of Weapons of Sound from Plymouth stormed the Royal Albert Hall on Monday night with their orchestra of junk instruments which included old oil drums and a supermarket trolley as well as the familiar kitchen fixture. The occasion was of course the first night of the 20th-season of Schools Proms, one of the best in terms of the variety and quality of music on offer.
The evening opened with the polished sound of the Wrexham Schools Brass Band. There was plenty of musicality here in numbers such as "March Star Lake" and "Blenheim Flourishes" but the highlight was Gershwin's infectious "I got Rhythm". This was followed by All Hallows Catholic High School Chamber Choir from Macclesfield. They produced a soft, musical sound in their unaccompanied singing of items such as the 16th-century anthem "O Lord the Maker of All Things" "Old MacDonald" and the magical "The Way You Look Tonight".
It was good to see more under-11s in evidence this year. Ocean World is a favourite with many schools because of its conservationist theme but I don't remember hearing it as movingly performed as by the choir from Years 5 and 6 of Putney High School. The children, colourfully costumed, sang with excellent dictation for such a young choir. Unusually, there were some confident solo voices.
Young string players from Colne Valley showed that even the most inexperienced instrumentalists can reach performance standard. Their medley of simple, jazzy music specially written by their conductor Ralph Barker was delivered with efficiency and obvious enjoyment. String teacher Andreas Nicolaou is no stranger to the Schools prom and this year his Violin Quartet, all players under 13, astounded us with a performance of the unusual - and one must assume technically demanding - Four Silesian Melodies by Lutoslawski, contrasted with Country Dance by Carl Maria von Weber.
The Pantonic All Stars Steel Orchestra delivered Mozart's Marriage of Figaro Overture with customary panache and style. Though purists might have been offended, the orchestra made no slips and never allowed the piece to degenerate into the frantic.
The evening featured some jazz of real quality. Groves High School Blues Band (Wrexham) played blues numbers in three different styles, while the recently formed modern jazz trio Endangered Species from Leicester, led by talented pianist Richard Fairhurst, gave us a foretaste of what is in store for audiences at Ronnie Scott's where it plays next month.
Full marks to programme planners for the decision to include items such as the the haunting Variations on a Korean Folk Song (Northamptonshire County Youth Concert Band) and Respighi's dramatic Pines of Rome (The Appian Way) in the finale by Reading Youth Orchestra, a powerful end to an excellent opening night.
The Schools Prom is sponsored by British Aerospace, Commercial Union, Glaxo, Marks and Spencer, Thorn EMI, W H Smith, and supported by the Department for Education, Music Industries Association, in association with The TES.