As this year’s Christmas Concert was held on the last day of November it was perhaps best that the Xmas-themed music did not dominate. However, for those who love their seasonal fix early, the Wind Quintet decked the halls with boughs of melody and trotted out a real turkey: an arrangement of Mozart’s ‘Rondo Alla Turca’ which mamboed into ‘Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas’. This also featured, without the Mozart, as a Big Band encore to send us out into the winter cold with some warmth in our ears. The impressive Symphonic Wind Band played music from the Tim Burton film ‘The Nightmare before Christmas’ composed by the seasonally named Danny Elfman (perhaps this performance was what the programme meant by ‘mulled wind’ to go with the mince pies). The Chapel Brass quartet, with Tony Adie joining Theo, Tim and Ian, gave us a second version of the 16th century Welsh carol ‘Deck the Hall’,
O mor gynnes mynwes meinwen,
fal lal lal lal lal lal lal lal la.
The other seasonal piece was Adam’s wonderful ‘Cantique de Noёl’ (Minuits, chrétiens’) played by the Concert Band and conducted with exemplary clarity of gesture by Bob Wilson. This piece was, incidentally, the second ever piece of music broadcast on radio.
The Symphony Orchestra (led by Izzie Simpkin) gives a huge number of pupils the thrill of playing large-scale pieces, more even that Haydn expected for his last symphony, from which we heard a sturdy rendering of the first movement and enough violins to rise to the big tune in Grieg’s ‘Morning’. Despite the butchered arrangement of Tchaikovsky’s ‘Marche Slave’ (no school orchestra could play the original) Marcus Pashley stirred the young players to a resounding end to the first half. The brass playing was especially attractive and it was a great pleasure to see Tom Hollister back on timpani and percussion throughout the evening.
Ben Rudolf led the String Orchestra in the second of Mendelssohn’s string symphonies, carefully shaped by Kevin Weaver. The 30 young players showed precocious talent, but it is worth remembering that this Bachian Romantic piece was composed when Felix was younger than the youngest player. Ruth Miller chose ‘Persistence’ by the Indiana-based composer Richard Saucedo to display the remarkable musicianship of the Symphonic Wind Band: a warm and well-tuned sound. But again it was the Big Band under ‘Uncle’ Bob Wilson (older readers may remember Bob Sharples…) who gave us the tightest ensemble and the most energised music-making in a sensational version of ‘Sing, Sing, Sing’ with a great sax solo from Tom Cooper and the six East boys on drum and bass (and guitar and keyboard). Phoebe Bagge joined them for a soulful ‘Blue Moon’ and, with spirits lifted by ‘Come Fly With me’, I was, indeed, ready for some exotic booze (Bombay gin?) but happy to be slightly delayed by the aforementioned encore. A merry little Christmas to all our web readers.