2 July 2021

This year’s Summer Concert enabled the Music department to present performances of a wide range of music that has continued at Abingdon since January – and despite the inevitable challenges of lockdown and remote working. It is a tribute to the boys and the teachers that we have been able to sustain music making of all sorts – classical, jazz, singing and instrumental. Because of the delay in lifting restrictions, what would have been a live concert with an audience including parents, teachers and friends became a streamed concert of recordings which could be shared world-wide!

The first half started with our Chamber Orchestra, directed by Mariette Pringle in her final performance as Head of Strings at Abingdon before a well-deserved retirement. Mariette chose a movement from Tchaikovsky’s wonderful String Serenade with its lush harmonies and rich emotional content. No less emotional were the parting words at the end of the performance when Mariette was presented with a beautiful bouquet, several cards and gifts from colleagues in recognition of her legacy of over three decades here as our violin teacher.

Staying with strings, our senior chamber ensemble, a trio of Ashwin Tennant (violin), Oliver Simpson (cello) and Nick Raptakis (piano) played two movements from Shostakovich’s Trio no 2 in E minor, which gave these diploma level musicians a chance to show what they can do!

The next item comprised a baroque ensemble accompanying two of our senior singers, Andreas Lo (bass) and Owen Ravden (countertenor) in arias from Bach’s Magnificat – respectively, Quia Fecit and Esurientes. In the second aria, Owen was joined by flautists, Edward Bennett and Julien Rohart, playing their solo parts most musically. This was a wonderful farewell to two musicians who have contributed so wonderfully to Abingdon’s music.

The first of two vocal ensembles, Gospel Choir, under Dr Jason Preece’s direction, performed a couple of songs that they have been working on since lockdown was lifted, Hold Back the River and Build Me Up Buttercup. Both these two songs and the three presented by the Abingdon Academicals will also have an outing at next Monday’s “All but Classical” event. The latter group, directed by Adam Treadaway presented three favourites: I Wish I Knew (think the TV film review programme of the late Barry Norman), Blue Moon and Simon and Garfunkel’s Bridge Over Troubled Water.

The jazz ensemble, a reduced Big Band, recorded several numbers – Watermelon Man, Blue Bossa and Back to the Chicken Shack. It is a tribute to the ingenuity and resilience of their leader, Simon Currie and the enthusiasm of the pupils that they have kept going with group rehearsals on zoom, keeping jazz alive during lockdown, before the re-formation of our Big Band.

Our joint Third and Fourth Year Bubble Orchestra were next on, and able to display the fantastic level of playing that they have achieved over the course of the last year. With a particularly fine intake of third year pupils in 2020, it has been a joy to work with this large ensemble of over 50 players. The orchestra played no less than five pieces – Handel’s March from Scipio, Offenbach’s Barcarolle, the Theme from New York, New York, Gounod’s Melodies from Faust and Morand’s Trepak. Next year’s senior orchestra promises to be very fine indeed.

First Orchestra concluded the concert. First, we heard the premiere of sixth form leaver, Nick Raptakis’s short symphonic poem, The Mountain, which he composed for his A level music composition module. Partly inspired by a trip to the Alps and partly by studying and playing the music of Richard Strauss, this is a marvellous achievement by a young composer, displaying an extraordinarily mature grasp of melody, harmony and texture. We finished our concert with the exciting finale of Dvorak’s 9th Symphony, from the New World, an emphatic finale that gave full vent to the musicianship of all those players who were able to join us for the recording – we hope to reward them all with a European tour to Abingdon’s twin towns in 2022.

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