On Friday April 24th Cranleigh School invited young pupils from St Cuthbert Mayne RC Primary School, Cranleigh Primary School, Park Mead School and its own Cranleigh Preparatory School to an after lunch concert of ‘Music from the Movies’. Director of Cranleigh Music, Marcus Pashley, conducted the Merriman Concert Orchestra which is comprised of Music Department staff, talented pupils, Old Cranleighans and other professional musician friends of the School. The concert was introduced by Catherine Beddison, Head of Music at Cranleigh Prep School. Catherine (who entered to the 20th Century Fox fanfare in shades) introduced the young pupils to the sections of the orchestra and involved them in the performance with questions about the films and the music. Two large screens showed stills from the films but the eyes of the youngsters, as well as the ears, were mainly focused on the huge orchestra. It was clear what an exciting experience it was for them.
The James Bond music (featuring pupils Harrison White and George Wilkinson) was given a huge ovation and in a Harry Potter sequence Richard Saxel (Head of Keyboard) introduced the celeste, which famously features in the ‘Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy’. This was one of three pieces from Tchaikovsky’s ‘Nutcracker’ used in ‘Fantasia’. The packed hall responded especially enthusiastically to the ‘Trepak’, with the speeding up to the thunderous climax leading to much swaying in the seats. The concentration of such young listeners spoke volumes for the intensity of the music making, which continued with music from ‘E.T.’ and ‘Frozen’ and ended with ‘Star Wars’. The loud applause was earned by all the players, not least the trumpets, led by brass coach Tony Adie and with Cranleigh pupil Noah Frett by his side (Tim Ayling joined the horn section), and the violins led by Kevin Weaver, Head of Strings.
In the evening concert (to which more young local prep school visitors joined Cranleigh’s IVth Form and regular concert-goers to fill the Hall again) Kevin played the Massenet-inspired solo in the ‘Romance’, from the 1955 film ‘The Gadfly’, by Shostakovitch. Few listeners would have realised that this was a heroic, as well as a beautiful performance, as a wrist injury nearly led to his having to drop out of the day, which lasted from the first 11am rehearsal for nearly 13 hours. He also played the concerto-like solo in music from ‘Schindler’s List’. Most of the afternoon’s music was repeated in the evening so it was instructive to hear the contrast between the middle section of the ‘Star Wars’ music, in which Williams plagiarises ‘Mars’ by Holst and the wonderful waltz from ‘Murder on the Orient Express’ in which Richard Rodney Bennett pays much more respectful homage to Ravel’s ‘La Valse’.
The centrepiece of the evening was the middle movement of Rachmaninov’s much-loved second piano concerto with Richard Saxel combining the necessary virtuosity with an idiomatic dignity, eschewing the sentimentality wrongly ascribed to this great composer. There were also mellifluous solos from the flute (Head of Woodwind, Ruth Williams) and the first clarinet. The film here was ‘Brief Encounter’ (1945).
Tyzik’s arrangement of music from four Westerns reminded us how fine the vintage film composers, such as Elmer Bernstein (‘The Magnificent Seven’) were, compared with the more functional modern notesmiths we heard, such as Hans (‘Pirates’)Zimmer, an old boy of Hurtwood House, who featured in the famous Buggles video and single ‘Video Killed the Radio Star’. Given that the rehearsals and concerts added up to around seven hours of music-making, the orchestra on this occasion really were the Magnificent Merriman Concert Orchestra.