West side meets east side
In a gala 25th anniversary programme that ranged from Javanese gamelan music and steelband to a contemporary string ensemble, it was the Symphonic Dances from West Side Story that brought the audience to its feet. Snarling, crackling, slinking, the brass ensemble recreated the drama of the Jets and Sharks in an electrifying performance.
The concert was a showcase that looked forward as well as back to the school's past traditions. Since the appointment of Roger Durston, formerly music inspector of East Sussex, as music director the curriculum has broadened to embrace world music far beyond the classical tradition historically associated with the specialist music school. Future plans include the purchase of authentic instruments and the establishment of instrumental teaching in the pre-prep department.
The programme opened with a Caribbean medley, cautiously played on steel pan, followed by African Sketches, an intricate piece of African drumming requiring a discipline as rigorous as any classical sonata. The gentle gongs of the Javanese gamelan concluded this brief glimpse of world music at Wells.
The Divertimento for Strings by William Mathias, intelligently interpreted by the string orchestra for which the school is famous, contrasted with the sedate Mozart Serenade in B flat for 13 wind instruments. The school takes care to ensure that it has the right balance of instrumentalists to perform repertoire of all styles and periods.
In a full programme, the superb piano playing of Julien Cheriyan - winner of the 1996 Young Musician of the Year Keyboard Section - in the Chopin Scherzo in B minor was sufficient to whet the appetite for more from this talented young pianist.
Durston rounded off the evening with a lively performance of Haydn's Military Symphony, a fitting conclusion to a concert that reflected the depth and breadth of music education at a school that is definitely moving with the times.