15 February 2017

The principal objective of our orchestral tour this year was to fulfil an invitation to perform at the Golden Jubilee celebrations of our exchange programme with the Ratsgymansium in Bielefeld. The celebration was set for Saturday 11 February, to coincide with the annual visit of our exchange party in Bielefeld. Equally important for our musicians, however, was to put together a worthwhile tour that would enable us to play two other concerts at venues at a manageable distance from Bielefeld’s youth hostel. This was to be our base for a period of five nights.

As so often before, we were assisted in our planning by Musica Europa, a travel company that specialises in concert tours abroad. We mustered a balanced symphony orchestra of 45 boys from all years of the school, and, accompanied by four members of staff we set off at 04:00 by coach, with all the kit that an orchestra requires – a couple of double basses, five cellos, two timpani, a drum kit and much else.

Despite the ungodly hour, the set-off was remarkably trouble free, with the first boys delivered as early as 03:30 hours, and our merry party headed for Dover and The Channel. All was well until we reached the motorway between Antwerp and Eindhoven where we found that the road had been closed and we were confronted with an extra four hours of queues and potential frustration. Fortunately our party remained in good spirits and our hot meal at the hostel, set for 18:00, was delayed and finally revived us at about 22:30!

The Friday morning was dedicated to some sight seeing – the famous Dr Oetker World, where the boys learned about the corporate world of food processing, followed by a chilly trip to the Sparrenburg Castle. After lunch we had an afternoon rehearsal at the Ratsgymnasium, where we offloaded our instruments and received the warmest of welcomes from our hosts.

Saturday morning was the big celebration attended by many representatives including the heads of all three schools, by one of the German hitch-hikers, whom Sir James Cobban had rescued in Boars Hill that fateful day, by two exchange participants whose friendship had endured since the early 1980s and by current exchange students who were interviewed by others.

The Bielefeld musicians presented a lovely and appropriate piece by Rutter for orchestra and choir, Rutter’s Look at the World, and our own orchestra played just two pieces, one German – Mendelssohn’s G minor piano concerto – and the other quintessentially British – Vaughan Williams’ English Folksong Suite. This was a most moving occasion, which celebrated and endorsed the close friendship between our schools that has flourished and endured since 1967. Later, the boys were able to let off steam with an energetic eight-a-side football tournament in the school gym, which was organised by James Foster, a Ratsgymnasium language student from Nottingham University, who is on his year abroad.

The first full concert was scheduled for the Sunday in the pretty market town of Lemgo, a 45 minute drive away. Together with the Mendelssohn and the Vaughan Williams, the repertoire included Nimrod from Elgar’s Enigma Variations, Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony, a Burt Bacharach Medley and a film score, Moross’ 1950s music for The Big Country. Our performance was held at 17:00 in the beautiful and historic, St Nicolai Kirche. We were received there by Herr Engelbert, the church’s cantor, and, after a good rehearsal, we played to a very full church of some 350, who gave us a standing ovation, a splendid fillip for our musicians. A reporter from the local Lippische Landes Zeitung was there to interview, to photograph and review.

On the last full day, we travelled to the Martin Luther Kirche in Detmold, to be met by their equally charming cantor, Herr Kuppler. The boys had plenty of free time to explore the beautiful centre; happily, like nearby Lemgo, the town was spared by bombers during the war. After a hearty meal in the local brauhaus, our 19.30 concert was also well attended (some 200) and this time we played two encores, Elgar and Moross, which received another most welcome standing ovation.

This was a very happy, as well as a most successful tour. We were honoured to be invited by our exchange school and the boys clearly enjoyed spending some time together. Our concerts were well received, they gave ample opportunities for our soloists, especially the remarkably talented piano soloist, Didier Delgorge, a memorable farewell tour for our leavers and some valuable experience for our fledgling musicians, including First Year oboist, Oliver Glover and Second Years, Noah Chakravarti and Alfred Morley. Our thanks must go to all the staff members who assisted on this tour – DJD, CFC, JGP and MAS.

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