Shrewsbury School

Henry Kennedy (I LVI) describes his experience with the CBSO Youth Orchestra

Monday 18 March 2013

Henry has been playing in the Youth Orchestra of the CBSO – the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra – over the last two half terms. Here Henry writes about his time with the CBSO in February, and Martin Knox has written a footnote to his piece.

Henry KennedyWow – what a fantastic start to the year I have had!

On Sunday 24th February I had the opportunity of playing Bass Clarinet and 3rd Clarinet with the CBSO Youth Orchestra at Birmingham's Symphony Hall. My first time with the orchestra was in October half term, when we performed the whole of the Nutcracker Ballet.

From the 16th February through to the Sunday 24th February, I was in six-hour daily rehearsals with the CBSO Youth Orchestra. The selected programme was Mahler’s fifth symphony and Ravel’s Piano concerto for left hand in G major. Both of these pieces are undoubtedly very eminent and difficult works. Therefore as one can imagine, rehearsals were very intense. For the first half of the week, we were with the Assistant Conductor of the CBSO – Michael Seal. Then for the second half of the week, we had the pleasure of being under the baton of the renowned American conductor, Andrew Litton. By the end of the week, with the mix of frantically practising my parts and catching up on schoolwork, I was totally exhausted!

However, I soon forgot my exhaustion on the day of the concert; the Symphony Hall was almost full to capacity (2,262), and even tuning up felt exhilerating. The programme order was Ravel's piano concerto, and then the Mahler. The Ravel set off with a fine start with the renowned Contra Bassoon solo, and then I soon followed with my solo on the Bass Clarinet, which was nerve-racking to say the least! But then the famous pianist, Jean-Efflam Bavouzet of Paris, soon took over. Having the opportunity to play with Jean-Efflam was really exciting – he's well known for playing this piece (he did it at the previous BBC Proms) – but I think we managed to pull it off!

The second half was the Mahler, which was 1hr 15 minutes – a long time to be performing and it was definitely the longest that I had ever performed in a concert. When the Symphony Hall was completely silent, the concert commenced with the very famous trumpet solo. Mahler had begun. By the end, as the piece reached its peak, the feeling was unimaginable; seeing about 2,000 people watching you, playing in one of the most acoustically innovative music halls in the world and watching Andrew Litton giving every strain of energy into the music. It was a feeling that will remain with me forever.



Henry obviously enjoyed himself during this hectic week, of which I had the pleasure of hearing the end product on the Sunday night. Since he modestly refrains from commenting on how they played, permit me to add a verdict. They were very, very good. As it happens, I have never heard a Mahler symphony played by an inferior orchestra. The situation hasn’t changed.   


back to top