“Almost three hours of glorious, live music, from the promising to the near professional”
That the Edinburgh Academy hires the Queen’s Hall for their Summer Concert is not just a capacity issue but a fitting testimony to the quality of their music. Yes, perhaps the venue shed a little magic dust over gifted performers, but in turn they rocked the joint in in an eclectic programme that ranged from Vivaldi to Katy Perry and kept us engaged all evening.
Parents, whether it is for amateur dramatics or any other of the performing arts, are a loyal, enthusiastic and forgiving lot, but there was no need for any suspension of the critical faculties or parental indulgence here. The students acquitted themselves magnificently. Every moment of the evening was a pleasure, none a duty. Some of it passed for professional standard. As the evening progressed it became clear that many of those performing were talented musicians who just happened to be at school, not students who just happened to take the music option.
As I found my way to my seat I was accompanied by the merry chink of ice in glasses as stressed out, end of the week parents – and benign grandparents – found comfort and delight in the Queen’s Hall’s bar. I noted no less than eight acts and 18 works in the programme. It would be wrong to exclude any from commentary.
The orchestral pieces comprised the first part of the evening and ranged from a disciplined Junior Orchestra who concentrated hard and demonstrated good phrasing and tempo, with some really effective pizzicato in the Shrek Medley and some good underpinning by the violas and cellos. Lily Penman, in particular, deserving an honourable mention on the cello front desk, and – to no one’s surprise – appearing latterly in the senior orchestra. The Ragtime rendition got a good swing rhythm going.
Next up we heard the String Orchestra with Timothy Wong delivering an assured rendering of the Allegro from Haydn’s Violin Concerto in G major with good bowing and attack, followed by Hugh Cameron playing Vivaldi’s Concert Sonata No 5, who once in his stride showed great feeling and in the Allegro demonstrated an assured and well executed piece of playing. Confident violins led us into the beautiful melody of Allegro piacevole from Elgar’s Serenade for Orchestra Op 20, sensitively played with a good melodic line.
The Senior Orchestra then came on to tackle three early concerto pieces and an ensemble. First up was Ross Macnaughton playing the Allegro from the Bassoon Concerto in B flat Major by Mozart. Ross got great tone from this difficult instrument and made it look easy. It isn’t. He demonstrated an extraordinarily well executed cadenza including a couple of splendid Mozartian farts in the lower register. Great keywork and phrasing with terrific breathing. Matthew Black followed on with Mozart’s Andante in C K315 for flute. Matthew has a very clear, pure tone and the orchestra brought a real sheen to some of their playing and good pizzicato. Jean-Claude Hubert’s clarinet brought a beautiful rich tone to the Weber Concertino, demonstrating real mastery of the keys in the Allegro. The orchestra were at their best in the concluding Pomp and Circumstance march no 1 in D by Elgar, causing one member of the audience to sing along and this writer and his companion to sway a little, Proms style. Perhaps late nineteenth and early twentieth century music is best for developing orchestras, earlier compositions leaving things a little exposed.
Following the interval it was Band time. The Junior Concert Band punched above their weight with a warm, expansive tone in Brian Balmages’s Rain. The Senior Concert Band kicked off with Copland’s Variation on a Shaker Melody, with a spot on trumpet opening, echoed by the clarinets in a thoughtful, competent and uplifting piece of playing. The rock solid rendition of the Star Wars theme provided a lively, brass driven contrast.
Now it was time for the Voice. The G2 Choir, so young in years, demonstrated an early grasp of the discipline of choral singing: immaculately presented, eyes on the conductor, no music, and purity of youthful sound making up for any relative loss of volume. Big shout out for the soloists as well, and a good sense of rhythm in both Wade in the Water and Electricity (from Billy Elliott).
Sophie Penman and Kirsten Taylor gave a clear and assured performance of the Laudamus Te from Vivaldi’s Gloria, backed by a string quartet, playing standing as is often the Chamber style. Intriguing to hear this large-scale work played in miniature. It worked.
The Chamber Choir were a joy. The best was plainly being kept until last. Very clear diction, focus and precision with a good balance between soloists and ensemble was shown in Billy Joel’s The Longest Time. Eric Whiteacre’s Sleep, in pure musical terms, was the event of the evening: beautiful tone colours, effortless moving up and down the dynamic range, unforced, quietly confident with assured handling of the dissonance, this moving piece was not so much sung as painted. The choir concluded with a clever and sensitive arrangement of Katy Perry’s Chained to the Rhythm by their conductor/director Angus Tully, who actually stopped and restarted them when they temporarily lost their way in a difficult piece that they were singing without music. I have only seen this done once before and that was by Nigel Kennedy! Nobody minded. It was great to get this unofficial encore.
If musically the Chamber Choir was the act of the evening, the Big Band topped the bill for sheer entertainment value. Masses of noise in Starsky and Hutch, huge musical laughs in the Pink Panther, with the finale of Quincy Jones’s Soul Bossa Nova No 2 bringing the house down. Terrific solos on Sax by Jean-Claude Hubert and Freya Scott, drums by Niclas Coli, Daniel Jourdan on vibes and others, I am afraid, too numerous to mention. A very talented bunch.
So there we have it, not so much a concert but a festival of almost three hours of glorious, live music, from the promising to the near professional. Philip Coad and his team played a blinder and the musicians themselves should be proud. In an age where the teaching of music is in danger in many schools, the Edinburgh Academy provides a beacon to how it should be done. “Grounded in Scotland, ready for the world” was emblazoned on the school van as I walked back down the alleyway from the rear entrance to the Hall. Yes indeed, the future of live music, whether in Scotland or even perhaps the world, is safe in the hands of those gifted young people we heard tonight.
Reviewer: Charles Stokes (Seen 28 April)
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