Oakham School’s musicians were overjoyed to give their first Gala Concert since 2019 on Sunday 6 March 2022, returning to the glorious Sheldonian Theatre in Oxford. Around 140 musicians participated in this memorable musical event, performing as part of the Concert Band, Symphony Orchestra and Chapel Choir.
The concert opened with Steve Foster, Head of Brass & Percussion, directing the Concert Band as they marked the 150th anniversary of the birth of Vaughan Williams with his famous Folk Song Suite. They brought both style and rhythmic vigour to the outer March movements, as well as more tender, lyrical playing in the central Intermezzo. They stepped up the energy levels for their final work – Dan Price’s contemporary Andromeda, featuring explosive percussion writing and plenty of rock riffs in the instrumental parts! A brilliant way to begin the concert.
The stage was then re-set for the Symphony Orchestra, who opened their performance by accompanying Form 7 music scholar Lucy Collison in Kabalevsky’s Violin Concerto. Lucy gave a brilliant solo performance in front of such large instrumental forces, capturing the hugely contrasting moods of this 20th Century concerto, in one moment soaring over the orchestra, only to then explode with great energy in dialogue with her accompanists. Her confident playing made a striking impression on the whole audience, notably as she held the whole theatre spellbound in her third movement cadenza, and the vigorous applause of the audience at the end was richly deserved. Lucy returned after a short break to lead the Symphony Orchestra in the final work of the first half – Brahms’ jovial Academic Festival Overture. The orchestra rose to its many musical and textural challenges with aplomb, revelling in its orchestrated student songs and exultant ending. A wonderful testament to the strength of instrumental playing at Oakham – well done!
The second half of the concert was dedicated to the singers of the Chapel Choir and Chamber Choir. Though pupils in Form 3 were unfortunately unable to join us at the concert as originally planned, the full Chapel Choir and instrumental ensemble gave a hugely compelling performance of ‘Skyfall’ immediately after the interval in a brand-new arrangement by the Director of Music. In marked contrast, the smaller vocal forces of the Chamber Choir performed a cappella in an exquisite rendition of Vaughan Williams’ evocative partsong, Silence and Music. This led to the final major work in the programme as the Chapel Choir and an instrumental ensemble of Oakham staff performed movements from Brahms’ wonderful setting of A German Requiem. The singers rose to the expressive and musical challenges of the score (sung in German) with extraordinary commitment, communicating an beautiful interpretation of this major Romantic work. In the words of one audience member, “I have never been moved quite as powerfully as in your performance yesterday. It was wonderfully nuanced and refined, (and) it also reflected the degree to which the young voices rose to the challenge and understood the depth of its musical (and textual) language.” Form 7 soprano soloist Eliza Cohen Gregory also excelled in the moving fifth movement, soaring effortlessly above the choir and instrumentalists.
Praise has poured in for the quality of music-making in evidence at the Gala Concert:
"A truly wonderful occasion…a stunning venue with music to fit!"
"What a great concert - we thoroughly enjoyed every minute… especially the amazing soloists. Such talent."
"A massive thank you for such a wonderful concert. The singing and orchestra were truly fantastic. Such a splendid and special location."
"Many, many congratulations on an amazing concert. The pupils were an absolute credit to you."
We couldn’t agree more! Congratulations to all involved.