Shrewsbury School

The plaudits roll in for Shrewsbury's Cadogan Hall concert

Thursday 13 March 2014

Shrewsbury's musicians were on dazzling form on Sunday 9th March and their concert in London's Cadogan Hall was hugely enjoyed by a warm and appreciative audience - among them former Master Martin Knox and former Music Scholar Alasdair Thomas, who both offer their impressions of a memorable evening.

"Returning to the capital after a gap of four years, the Music Department fielded a vast array of talent in a total of eleven items, too many to cover all in depth, but here are some impressions," writes Martin Knox.

"The Cadogan Hall is a welcoming venue, comfortable to sit in, acoustically excellent, and while the unusually spacious platform can accommodate large forces, the auditorium is small enough for more intimate numbers to flourish. It was with a grand gesture that the concert began, the orchestra warming up in one of their regular party pieces, Walton's 'Crown Imperial'.

After this striking opening to the programme featuring guest appearances by young prep school musicians joining the School's Symphony Orchestra, Laurence Jeffcoate played the rondo from Mozart’s 3rd Horn Concerto (not the 4th as in the programme) with panache and fine control of this very difficult instrument.  He has been a versatile and prolific contributor to Shrewsbury School music as player and singer.

He was followed by the front desk violinists, Eric Cheng and Calvin Chan, stepping forward to give us two movements from Bach's Double Concerto, their "voices" blending and separating as required in a mellifluous account. The String Orchestra, under David Joyce, accompanied their colleagues in fine style.

Much moving of the furniture was needed before the wind ensembles were ready, but once in position, their contribution was worth the wait. It has been a feature of these items that the directors seek out lesser-known and very challenging repertoire. Adrian Williams brought out a kaleidoscope of instrumental colours from his brass players and Maria McKenzie conducted the Wind Band with her customary verve. "Jupiter" is admittedly familiar, but there remained the task of supplying convincing "cover" for absent strings. They accomplished it (with impromptu vocal intrusion from the audience in the big tune!).

It is fifteen years since the School Orchestra’s triumphant appearance in the Royal Festival Hall. The work on that occasion was Schubert’s “Great” 9th Symphony and on Sunday John Moore revived memories with a noble reading of the first movement.  The main tempo was a good deal faster than Schubert’s ma non troppo suggests, but the players were equal to the task and managed to sound both disciplined and spontaneous throughout, something that takes many weeks of practice.

The 5th Symphony of Shostakovitch was a highlight of the St Cecilia concert in November and it was a wise move to repeat such a showpiece for the benefit of new listeners. JFM loves a rousing coda and the programme provided plenty of opportunities for indulgence, not least in the finale of this work, where the “victory” of D major is emphatic to the point of parody. Paradoxically, however, the most highly-charged moment of the entire evening came with the pianissimo ending of Bruch’s 'Kol Nidrei', in which the cello soloist, Awen Blandford, was outstanding. Her sumptuous tone and eloquent phrasing had gripped the audience from the start and the hushed serenity of the ending was profoundly moving. “Superb,” murmured my neighbour; and so it was, all of it."

Also among the audience was Alasdair Thomas (S 1993-98), a former Music Scholar who is now a City lawyer but continues to play the bassoon and sing in his spare time.  He was warm in his praise for the current musicians at his former alma mater:

"The Music Department at Shrewsbury clearly continues to go from strength to strength under the guidance of John Moore and his team.  It was particularly good to see the depth of talent across all sections of the various groups, whether strings, wind or brass.  There was a wind band in my time, but as I recall it rarely performed even back at School, never mind in front of a London audience!

The performance of two movements from Shostakovich 5 was very impressive.  This is not an easy piece, even for top amateur orchestras, so it was great to see it performed with such verve and accuracy by the Symphony Orchestra.  I remember our making a pretty decent fist of Tchaikovsky 5 in St John’s Smith Square in 1998, but this latest Shostakovich 5 gives us a very close run for our money!

My other personal highlights were the two beautiful solos: a clear, well-rounded even tone from Laurence Jeffcoate in a lively and engaging performance of the third movement of Mozart Horn Concerto No. 3, and a gorgeous, pitch-perfect and soulful cello solo from Awen Blandford in Bruch’s Kol Nidrai.  These two (and indeed all of the young musicians on show) must keep playing at university and beyond.  If I had £1 for every time someone has bemoaned to me the fact that they gave up their instrument after leaving school, I’d be able to afford a better bassoon!" 

After leaving Shrewsbury, Alasdair went on to be principal bassoon in the Oxford University Orchestra, and he now performs regularly with groups including the Chelsea Opera Group, Bloomsbury Chamber Orchestra and the BBC Elstree Concert Band. Next weekend the choir that he helps to run at his law firm will be taking part in the final of Office Choir of the Year 2014.

We were delighted to welcome several talented young musicians from Broomwood Hall, The Pilgrim’s School, S. Anselm’s Preparatory School and Northcote Lodge, who joined Shrewsbury’s Symphony Orchestra for some of their performance. Henry Cramsie, a pupil The Pilgrim's School and Head Chorister at Winchester Cathedral, who has recently been awarded the top Music Scholarship to the School said later:

"I arrived after lunch slightly nervous, having rushed up to London from my morning Catheral commitments. I went to the rehearsal and really enjoyed being in a proper, loud orchestra. As the day went on I felt more at ease. After the rehearsal we went to Pizza Express to refill. We then had the concert itself and I could go home exhausted."

Writing to John Moore after the concert, Mrs Street, mother of Louis (a pupil at S. Anselm’s) said: 

"Louis said it was the most amazing thing he has ever done, he loved being on the big stage and was only a little bit nervous at the very beginning. He said it has definitely made his mind up that that is what he wants to do – perform and play! He is full of praise for Henry Thomas who looked after him so well. We can't thank you enough for giving him such a fabulous opportunity!"

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