Rhinegold Education editors Emma and Lizzie were kindly invited to attend the opening night of the Music for Youth schools prom on Monday 12 November by one of the event sponsors (and our friends!), Rockschool. We were treated to a memorable, inspirational evening of music-making completely worthy of the grandeur of the prestigious Royal Albert Hall and we were so impressed that we thought we would write a little about what we saw.
The Music for Youth (MfY) festival season enables 45,000 young musicians from across the UK to perform in Regional Festivals and receive valuable feedback from MfY Music Mentors. Around 12,000 of these performers are then invited to perform at the huge six-day National Festival in Birmingham, where they can also take up workshops, master classes and more. Finally, 3,000 performers are then invited to take part in the culmination of the MfY season during a three-day programme at the Royal Albert Hall – the Schools Prom. As well as being an exceptional showcase of young talent and the sheer range of music being made every day across the country, this feat of ambition and scale also raises money for MfY to enable them to continue funding youth music – an incredible £8,000 was raised from the Proms in 2011.
The logistics of the concert we attended make our heads spin. An incredible 17 acts were smoothly brought on and off stage with not so much as a hiccup in proceedings, and the concert was staged and lit brilliantly, with excellent sound quality. Bearing in mind that one of the acts was the Vivendi Sounds Bradford Massed Ensemble, featuring a mere 650 performers aged 7-21, this is very, very impressive. The Ensemble played one of six original commissions for the Schools Prom, and it was breathtaking – as dramatic as any Bond theme, exotic and exciting.
Original composition was one of the stand-out themes of the concert. Many of the performers had written or arranged their own pieces, and the standard was top notch. Double Helix from Staffordshire got a lot of love from the packed audience for their funky rock – great original songs and performances which would already be at home in any of the top London gig venues. Check out this free download of their first single and one of the tracks they played at the concert on Soundcloud: ‘What’s Your Next Plan‘:
Charming duo Ben & Alfie performed superb original folk-jazz on violin and double bass; unique and well-crafted songs with a flavour of their native Somerset. Lincolnshire obviously has a strong jazz tradition, as Blue in Green left us speechless with their terrific numbers, including trumpeter Tim Wearden’s own ‘Foggy Nights’; and Jazz Vehicle also impressed with their sense of humour and gutsy decision to go solo without their band leader (they didn’t need him!). Jazz Vehicle also went on to perform in a collaboration with Double Helix and the fabulous Maria Fidelis Convent School Gospel Choir – a bespoke arrangement of ‘You Got the Love’ which had been rehearsed independently and was brought together for the first time on the day of the concert. A superb reinvention of this 80s classic, these three groups really pulled it off, fusing rock, jazz and gospel choir for one amazing performance.
The concert featured the first ever Schools Prom international collaboration, with the Dream Orchestra formed of musicians from Rochdale and Gorron, France performing a magical, rhythmic composition by conductor Tim Steiner. This wonderful ensemble captivated us with its unusual harmonies and unconventional use of strings, as well as its use of improvised chatter and even a tap dancer contributing to the music!
All-male vocal group Singers Limited from High Wycombe filled the cavernous hall with their great sound – tight harmonies and entertaining performances of a cappella traditional spirituals and the 50s doo-wop of ‘Sh Boom’. Hampshire String Quartet performed a spellbinding rendition of Smetana’s String Quartet in E minor with perfect control over the meandering, passionate piece (prompting presenter Margherita Taylor to say she was now inspired to play the work on Smooth Classics) and fellow Hampshire musicians the Portchester Marimba Ensemble hypnotised the audience with their beautiful performances on marimbas made specially for them in South Africa, kindly shipped over by the Royal Navy no less! Kirklees Youth Symphony Orchestra gave a professionally executed performance of Arnold’s disconcerting symphony, Peterloo, and Carnoustie Youth Brass Band made us want to take up the xylophone.
The concert was opened brilliantly and delightfully by the Marshfield Primary Taiko – energetic percussion which set the bar high for the rest of the show – and was closed on a similar note with Elgar’s rousing and traditional Pomp and Circumstance by the Vivendi Youth Orchestra, finished off with a cascade of balloons, streamers and fireworks, much to our excitement (let alone the youngsters!).
We thoroughly enjoyed the evening, and wish to extend our congratulations to all the performers and especially their teachers – as Culture Minister Ed Vaizey commented while presenting awards, “thank you to the teachers – it’s you who makes it happen.” It’s also Music for Youth who make this happen – check out their website for ways you can support their incredible work – you can even buy a DVD of the concert! You can also find out more about all the performers we saw (as well as those in Tuesday and Wednesday’s concerts) and see some great pictures of the concert on Classic FM’s website.
And finally – we’d just like to extend a little congratulation to Bells Angels from Surrey, whose performance Emma caught at the Birmingham National Festival and is delighted to see were chosen to perform at the Proms on Tuesday night – well deserved!