Any review of a Shrewsbury School concert runs the risk of very quickly exhausting available superlatives. Forgive me, therefore, if I begin by proclaiming that the quality of musicianship at Sunday evening’s concert in London’s Cadogan Hall and the electric energy of the programme really had to be heard to be believed. This was Shrewsbury music at its very best.
After a Friday evening concert in the Alington Hall for pupils and the local community, two coachloads of musicians travelled down to London early on Sunday morning for a few snatched hours of rehearsal ahead of an evening performance in the grand venue of Cadogan Hall.
Following a reception for Old Salopians, parents, guardians and other friends of Shrewsbury School, the concert opened with Sir Malcolm Arnold’s rousing Scottish Dances performed by the Wind Orchestra and conducted with typical verve by Maria McKenzie. As a Scotsman recovering from the humiliation of the Calcutta Cup the day before, the ebullience of the four movements did wonders in restoring my deflated mood, the soaring flutes and earthy clarinets almost transporting me back to the heath and heather of homeland. Ah, ye bonny banks and braes…
There was no time to become too misty-eyed and home-sick, however, for there soon came the first of the solo items: Steffan Williams (O) performing the first movement of Horovitz’s Euphonium Concerto. This was an extraordinarily complex piece played with aplomb by this highly talented musician, a final year student who is off to study Human Sciences at Oxford University next year and is no doubt destined for great things.
Greatness was likewise evident in the extraordinary performance of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in C Major by Nateewet Ruechuseth (Ch). Played from memory and with an exhilarating energy combined with control and poise, the performance was a tour de force and an outstanding achievement from such a young musician. Four hours of practice a day, I’m told, is what it takes to play to this kind of standard, and I don’t doubt it, such was the faultless quality of the performance.
Similar poise and effortless musicianship was evident in the third of the solo items, Upper Sixth Former Jemima Price taking the stage to perform Carl Maria von Weber’s Concertino for Clarinet and Orchestra. We were treated to yet another masterclass, with Jemima’s beautiful tone and timbre mellifluously rising and falling with the cadence of the piece. She fully deserved the rapturous applause that was bestowed upon her by an appreciative and highly impressed audience.
As we moved towards the Interval, we were treated to the glorious Finlandia by Sibelius, a rousing hymn to the composer’s home nation underscored by a political tension resulting from the oppression of Russian rule under Tsar Nicholas II. The context of the piece is fascinating, but as a piece of music it is sublime and a fitting way to end the first half of the concert. Most wonderful of all was the fact that the piece was conducted by Old Salopian Henry Kennedy (I 2009-14, who is now studying clarinet and conducting at the Royal Academy of Music. His energetic command of the orchestra on the conductor’s rostrum was enthused about over half-time glasses of wine by audience members drowning in superlatives.
A shorter second half provided us with two final gems: Haydn’s ‘London’ Symphony in D Major and Arturo Márquez’s Danzón No 2. The first is a firm favourite amongst Salopians and the Cadogan Hall was, of course, a fitting occasion to perform this work commissioned during the second of Haydn’s two London residencies in England. First performed at the King’s Theatre on 4th May 1795 led by the composer himself, Haydn wrote in his diary that “the whole company was thoroughly pleased and so was I. I made 4000 gulden on this evening: such a thing is possible only in England”. The Shrewsbury School version was conducted by Director of Music John Moore who, whilst not earning 4000 gulden for his efforts, can nevertheless be equally pleased with the performance of the symphony and the skilled manner in which his musicians brought the piece alive.
I hope I haven’t exhausted the superlatives entirely, for the final piece, certainly for me, was the most memorable performance of the evening. With an orchestra composed of pupils, staff, music teachers and Old Salopians, we were soon given something quite strikingly different to Haydn with the hypnotic swish and sway of the Mexican composer Márquez. In his own words, the Danzón is “a music full of sensuality and qualitative seriousness… which old Mexican people continue to dance with a touch of nostalgia and a jubilant escape toward their own emotional world.” The six-strong percussion section were in their element on bongos, snare, timpani, bass drum, maracas and woodblock, and John Moore seemed to be less conducting and more dancing, such was the fun he seemed to be having with the music. It was infectious and whilst the audience showed suitable English restraint and limited their outpouring of emotion to the odd tapping of toe or nodding of head, the finale was met with a standing ovation from members of the audience and even a whoop or two (possibly from the Headmaster).
John Moore once again created a mesmerising evening of music along with his team of staff and of course his wonderful musicians both Salopians present and past. Bravo!
A footnote from Director of Music, John Moore:
I would like to express my deep gratitude to those Old Salopian Musicians who gave up their Sunday to come and take part in the concert: Chris Carver (viola), Patrick Craig (harp), Ollie Darrington (percussion), Sam Grainger (viola/recording engineer), Richard Hudson (trombone), Andrew Hughes (cello), Louise Hughes (Violin) (OS Elect), Henry Kennedy (clarinet/conductor), Laura Nightingale (cello) Henry Southern (percussion), David Theodore (oboe), Alastair Thomas (bassoon), Henry Thomas (trumpet).
We are immensely proud of these wonderful musicians, and it was also so heartening to see many more OS musicans during the course of the day and in the audience at the concert in the evening. Following on from the highly successful Epiphany Evensong in St Mary-le-Bow Church in London in January, the Cadogan Hall concert further strengthens the links between the School and its wonderful extended Salopian community. We will hope to plan more events for the future, and what our pupils gain from this contact is immeasurable.