6 December 2021

A cause for collective rejoicing, it was good to be able to return to a live Christmas Concert in front of a full Amey Theatre on Friday. Thanks to our Amey Theatre technical team, this year’s concert was also live-streamed to at least 60 families and will be available for all to enjoy as a recording. The concert represents the culmination of the term’s rehearsals of the School’s bands, orchestras and choirs and the students and their teachers were keen to share the progress that has been possible since in-person rehearsal has returned to the Music department.

Coached by Mr Treadaway, the close harmony ensemble, The Academicals, started proceedings with two arrangements for seven voices of contemporary songs – Supermarket Flowers (Ed Sheeran) and When She Loved Me (Randy Newman). Oscar Bennett excelled as a soloist, alongside other upper sixth students, Aidan Chan and Jamie Robson.

Then, although somewhat diminished in size by the early departure of some overseas string players, the Chamber Orchestra joined the stage to accompany soloist, Oliver Simpson, in the first movement of Haydn’s Cello Concerto in C. Now directed at weekly rehearsals by our new violin teacher, Bojan Čičić, this performance was directed from the oboe by Mr Stinton, the Director of Music. As anticipated Oliver’s playing was technically assured, warmly projected and much enjoyed by the audience.

Second Orchestra, led by Roddy McVie, came next with three pieces – the Overture to Verdi’s Aida (a great feature for the orchestra’s eight trumpeters), City of Stars from Hurwitz’ La La Land and finally, Jazz Waltz No 2 by Shostakovich. The orchestra was in confident form and accompanied very ably at the piano by Thomas Zhang and Rudolph Flossmann, who left their saxophone and trumpet seats respectively to do so.

Before the interval the First Orchestra assembled on stage for Rossini’s William Tell Overture, led by Jamie Robson. Carefully chosen with the orchestra’s strongest sections in mind, this exciting piece gives opportunities for all sections of the orchestra to shine. At the start a quintet of solo cellos and a duo of bassists introduce the opera’s narrative with a lyrical pastoral contemplation. The storm section next gives vent to exciting brass and percussion writing, whilst the cor anglais and flute duet of the cowherd’s song gave a superb platform for Oliver Glover and Edward Bennett/Julien Rohart respectively. The quick final section is a tour de force for the whole orchestra, heralded by fanfares for the excellent trumpet section led by Cameron Gouldstone. Ramping up the tempo, this was quite a performance!

The second half was preceded by a brief presentation about the concert’s charity, Brass for Africa, with which the School has become an active partner, helping children and communities through music in Sub-Saharan Africa. Straight after, directed by Mr Treadaway, the entire First Year stepped onto the stage for two songs, Chicka-Hanka and Jazz Gloria. Chosen for the young voices, the warmth of tone and commitment of the singers was palpable, even singing through their obligatory masks.

Dr Preece’s Gospel Choir were the next to perform. The two songs chosen comprised Ride on, King Jesus and Walking on Sunshine. As ever, the sense of enjoyment and fun from the finger-clicking singers, who ranged in age from the First Year to the Upper Sixth, was plain for all to see and hear.

Concert Band, too, were in fine form. More complete and stronger in number than for some years, their director, Mr Townsend, selected three pieces – Vaughan Williams’ Flourish for Band, Souza’s Liberty Bell March and Leroy Anderson’s suitably seasonal Christmas Festival, with its skilfully assembled medley of Christmas melodies.

Finally, it was Big Band who played us out with Quincey Jones’ Belly Roll, Henry Mancini’s Peter Gunn and Jimmy Smith’s Back to the Chicken Shack. The band was directed on this occasion by sax teacher, Mike Wilkins, since regular leader, Simon Currie, had a professional gig with his regular band, The Manfreds. There were some terrific improvised solos from several of the students on sax, trombone, trumpet and piano.

Bringing proceedings to an end, the parents spilled out into the night air, feeling thoroughly entertained, whilst for the performers – pupils and staff – it felt good to be back!

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