30 October 2010 - Symphony Hall, Birmingham
- Verdi: Requiem (Click here for more video highlights)
- Respighi: The Pines of Rome
Sixteen years on from the very first concert given in London's Barbican Hall, subsequent generations of youthful and talented members of the English Schools' Orchestra have not only consistently maintained the initial high standards achieved by their predecessors, but have even managed to outstrip all expectations and each year shown themselves capable of tackling ever more ambitious musical challenges with hugely successful results.
This year was no exception. Respighi's four-part symphonic poem, The Pines of Rome and the Messa da Requiem by Verdi, represented stern challenges for the 80+ members of the orchestra; challenges they met with immense success, both technically and musically.
The five-day build up to the concert in the magnificent Symphony Hall in Birmingham, was held as usual at The Haberdashers' Boys' School, in Elstree, Hertfordshire, where the splendid facilities for making music are probably second to none and which the orchestra and tutors enjoy year after year. Students attending this year's course came from schools countrywide, but two very special Russian players merited the long-distance prize in travelling from Moscow to join their English counterparts. Such is the English Schools' Orchestra's reputation that HRH Prince Michael of Kent, who has established a charitable foundation in Russia, arranged for two teenaged violinists to join the orchestra, and they were warmly welcomed by all.
Following four days of section rehearsals with distinguished tutors and full rehearsals under the baton of musical director Robert Pepper, the orchestra travelled to Birmingham and gave a memorable concert. The orchestral colours and musical pictures contained in Respighi's Pines of Rome were impressively captured, and at least one member of the appreciative audience was overheard to say that it was a performance that would have graced any concert hall in the country.
Following the interval, the orchestra and the superb City of Birmingham Choir performed Verdi's great Requiem Mass. Again, those present were privileged to hear fine orchestral playing, reaching a standard of professionalism far beyond what might be expected of such youthful players. Together with the sensitive and exciting choral contribution from the Birmingham singers, this great choral masterpiece was played and sung with memorable technical skill and mature musicianship. Players and singers fully deserved the prolonged ovation accorded them.
There is no doubt that this year's players in the English Schools' Orchestra set a standard that next year's students will find difficult to better, but bearing in mind that year by year something like 65% of the players return until their teen-age years run out, it would not be at all wise to wager on that.
Alan Taylor (Course Director)