This year’s Christmas concert in the main hall at QEGS combined a showcase for talented soloists and ensembles with a light touch and some seasonal flavours.
More chairs had to be put out to accommodate the capacity audience, who were treated to a mixture of established performers and others making their school concert debut. Mr Fowler introduced the concert and handed over to the orchestra, featuring nearly forty instrumentalists, conducted with energy and verve by Mr France. Extracts from Tchaikovsky’s ballet music for ‘The Nutcracker’ started and finished the concert.
Hannah Frost, the first of six soloists, drew the audience in with her sensitive performance on the guitar of an Etude by the Cuban guitarist-composer Leo Brouwer. She was followed by Victoria Ironmonger and Alice Watters on flutes, playing the ‘Eliza Aria’ from the Wild Swans ballet by Elena Kats-Chernin, music familiar from the adverts for a leading high-street bank. Victoria and Alice played with precision and delicacy, and were sensitively supported on the piano by Mr France. Piano playing of a more extravert kind followed from Matthew Caton – the Blumenlied by Gustav Lange. This expressive Romantic piece is a favourite of many pianists, although Matthew later explained that he discovered the sheet music by chance in the attic when his family moved house.
Three choirs featured in the concert, showing the strength of singing at the school. First, the school choir, directed by Mrs Ward, performed the traditional French carol ‘Noel Nouvelet’, carefully navigating some exposed three-part harmony passages, supported by Emily Brown’s solo flute obbligato. They had performed this carol earlier in the week at the Penrith Schools Music Association carol festivals. They followed this with two secular pieces: an engaging performance of ‘Hot Chocolate’, and the Beatles song ‘Michelle’, with a macaronic text in both French and English. The string ensemble, directed from the violin by Mrs Gilbertson, played a new arrangement of ‘One Day Like This’ by the group Elbow. This was an opportunity for the school’s excellent cello section to show its colours, sharing the limelight with the violins. To bring the first half to a close, the orchestra performed Bizet’s energetic ‘Farandole’.
After some excellent festive refreshments served by the Parents’ Association, the orchestra opened the second half with Leroy Anderson’s ‘Sleigh Ride’. Jessica Harper created a more reflective mood with her solo ‘O Holy Night’. Cambiata, the boys-only choir directed by Mrs Ward, performed three effective songs, ending with solos for almost everyone in Mariah Carey’s ‘All I want for Christmas is you’. The boys’ santa hats and, particularly, Isaac Butterworth’s Christmas pudding jumper, attracted almost as much attention as their singing! Andrew Caton stunned the audience with his brilliant guitar playing in a lively arrangement of ‘I saw three ships’, skilfully interweaving melody, harmony and bass parts all at the same time.
Audience participation followed in the carol ‘While Shepherds Watched’ to the Yorkshire tune ‘Sweet Chiming Christmas Bells’. Another talented pianist, James Newman, created a misty tone picture with the American composer Amy Beach’s ‘Scottish Legend’. The third choir of the evening, the school’s Chamber Choir, demonstrated excellent ensemble and diction in their singing of the traditional carols ‘Ding Dong! Merrily on High’ and ‘Gaudete’, before relaxing into the more schmaltzy ‘O Christmas Tree’. Mr Kirkup gave a vote of thanks before the orchestra finished the evening with a sizzling performance of the ‘Trepak’ from ‘The Nutcracker’; the audience was left wanting more, and their sustained applause was rewarded with another performance of the ‘Sleigh Ride’.