The concerts for the Shrewsbury Drapers Company have been one of the highlights of the Michaelmas Term, and performers have also included the Chamber Choir, Wind and String Ensembles and many soloists. The church is invariably full of townsfolk, parents and staff, and it always represents a genuine meeting of Town and Gown as Shrewsbury School performs once more in the heart of the town where it was born.
This year’s concert was a vintage moment. The School’s Symphony Orchestra has as much potential as any I can remember a school ensemble having in many years. In a relatively short number of weeks, they have learned Beethoven’s masterpiece, his Egmont Overture, and the complexities and refinement of Dvorak’s New World Symphony’s opening movement. Their performances of both on Sunday evening were electrifying, with real moments of brilliance in both pieces and some terrific playing from all sections of the orchestra, including woodwind and brass solos.
The String Ensemble under David Joyce then gave an account of three movements from Grieg’s evergreen Holberg Suite, with just so much to enjoy from this year’s very fine crop of string players.
As well as instrumental performances, we have tried to incorporate the wonderful choral work at the School over the years, and on this occasion our new Director of Choral Music and Chapel Choir, Benedict Wilson, made his debut with the Chamber Choir, conjuring up vocal magic and glorious colours from his talented singers. Ca the Yowes in Ralph Vaughan-Williams poignant arrangement and Lullaby by Billy Joel made for an exquisite pairing, with beautiful solos from Georgina Cooper and Ed Bayliss.
Two pupils who are applying to study at music college next year then had a chance to show the audience why they are real contenders. Athena Yu’s intelligent, virtuosic rendition of the first movement of Beethoven’s Waldstein Piano Sonata, a revolutionary piece if there ever was one, demonstrated huge technical accomplishment and sensitive musicianship. This was followed by Frank Coughlan playing the fiendishly challenging Legend by Enesco, one of the most significant pieces of repertoire for any trumpeter, but here played with consummate ease. Small wonder then that he has just been appointed Principal Trumpet with the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain.
Chamber Music is also a big part of Shrewsbury’s multi-faceted musical life, and the Fantasia by Alexis Ciesla, with Jonty Gould as soloist with the Senior Clarinet Ensemble trained by Donny McKenzie, was a wonderful example of ensemble playing and deep musicality. A beautiful blend of tone and near perfect ensemble were the hallmarks of this special performance.
The concert ended in rousing style with the Mambo from the Symphonic Dances from West Side Story played by the Wind Orchestra under the dynamic direction of Maria Mckenzie. It was preceded by the sections Somewhere and the Scherzo. This is Bernstein at his best, and the young players rose to the rhythmical and musical challenges with a real sense of enjoyment and determination, culminating in a fantastic finale to what was such a memorable evening of Salopian music-making at the very highest level – and all before half term!
We are looking forward to repeating some of these items and playing much more wonderful repertoire at our St Cecilia Weekend Concerts on 16th and 17th November. Do come and join us!