The Junior RNCM is a Saturday school for those still in full-time education to give talented students the chance to work and train with one of the most notable music establishments in the world. Primary children join the Foundation Course which has a shorter day schedule, and gives these youngsters a basic grounding and knowledge of what it would be like to study full time with the aim of becoming a professional musician. High school students up to the age of 18 are in the main Junior section and have a full day's training every week during term times, and enjoy coaching from the same teachers who tutor full time RNCM students.
I have seen the Junior RNCM in action a few times over the past year, and this, their end-of-year concert, bade farewell to the oldest students who are now leaving and going on to study either with the RNCM proper or other establishments and it was a chance for me to witness all the varied branches of this outfit being showcased separately and I can tell you now, after starting the day at 10:30am with a Brass Band and finishing just before 5pm after being wooed and wowed by seven separate concerts I was physically and mentally exhausted but utterly elated and thrilled by the huge amount of talent and dedication on display.
Brass Band Concert.
First to shine in this epic day was the Brass Band who played in the main theatre, and for such an early start I counted more than 150 people in the audience. Very respectable and gratifying. Conducted by both Les Neish and Jon Malaxetxebarria they played four varying pieces in a concert which lasted about 35 minutes. First came The Suite from West Side Story really waking up the percussion section here! This was followed by two pieces featuring solo trombone which was played with skill and panache in both by 18 year old Merin Lleu; the Andante from Larsson's Concertina and another Latin American based piece, Brasilia by Robin Dewhurst. The concert finished with the fantastic Boogie Wonderland showcasing the talents of this band superbly.
What surprised me perhaps more than anything was the professionalism and thought that had gone into the presentation of not just this but most of the concerts today. There was a star backcloth and some lovely and professional lighting throughout the concert, and the sound levels and mics were set just right, and every concert had a dedicated Stage Manager etc, which all added greatly to the atmosphere for both performer and audience. Very much appreciated.
Over to the Concert Hall and to witness a performance of Durufle's Requiem sung by this talented choir. Their arrival onto stage was somewhat ragged and disorganised, and their placings didn't look aesthetically right. Why put the tiniest girl on the back row between the two tallest? Why put a small boy next to a very tall girl? I understand the need to keep the sections together, but placing them in size order within the sections would have been much more visually pleasing and acceptable. However, once they were placed, they were incredibly disciplined all looked smart in black.
I had never heard this Requiem before, and it is really quite an advanced piece for them to have chosen, but they rose to the challenge and indeed sang it quite wonderfully. There were a couple of moments when the sopranos outdid the men on the volume stakes which put the balance out a little, but then the sopranos outnumbered the boys by quite a lot anyway. Also, the boys did amazingly considering that none of their young voices will have completely settled yet.
The scoring of the Requiem is incredibly bizarre. It is scored for solo tenor, solo contralto, mixed choir, organ and cello. However, in reality the solo contralto and cello are only used in the Pie Jesu which is rather odd. It's almost as if the Pie Jesu doesn't actually belong as part of the Mass at all. That being said though, the soloists were utterly stunning. Singing with a voice and technique way beyond her tender years and sounding very much like Kathleen Ferrier was Anna Townsend, with the very able cello accompaniment of Josh Mock.
The solo tenor part was intrinsic to the choral elements of the Mass, and for this the lyrical tones of James Holt came to the fore. Obviously quite an immature voice at present but there is most definitely the spark of something greater in there.
The whole piece was conducted with military precision, panache and extravagant arm waving by the very watchable Simon Mercer and accompanied on the organ by Richard Brocklehurst. Mercer's attention to detail and dynamic was excellent and all the choir's faces were absolutely glued to him throughout.
Another quick dash, this time to The Carole Nash Recital Room, to listen to The Junior RNCM Percussion Ensemble.
With more than 50% of the room taken over with instruments, and not enough chairs for the throngs wanting to see this concert, it caused a minor headache for the Stage Management who had to open a small viewing gallery above to cram in those who arrived to late to get a seat on stage level. Even then, we were sardined in. Who's idea it was to use this small room I don't know, but hopefully, lesson learnt, and they'll find an alternative for next year!
The first piece in this section was the world premier of a piece conducted by the composer, Joshua Cox, called Variations On Two Tones, which took two mobile phone ringtones as his starting point.
The second piece was the longest percussion piece I think I have ever heard, coming in at 15 minutes long and utilising a varied and wide variety of instruments; Tom Gauger's Past Midnight.
For their final piece the ensemble was joined by Geth Griffith on bass guitar and Tom Knowles on piano, as they performed, quite simply wonderfully, Andrea Vogler's own arrangement of Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody! Fabulous.
Over to the Studio Theatre to watch and hear the primary school students perform. Introduced by their tutor Becca Spencer and accompanied on the piano by David Jones, we heard 8 individual solo performances. Sitting all in a row and waiting very patiently for their turn, dressed this time in their own clothes, unlike the older students who were all dressed in black, the first youngster to play was the only boy in the group, Benjamin Matson, playing The Gavotte on the cello, by Lully. This was followed by Bridget Mielniczek-Page playing The Rondino On A Theme Of Beethoven on the violin by Kreisler; Samantha Schofield playing Popp's Schwedische Concerto on the flute; Emily Horn playing a Shostakovich prelude on the piano; Charis Nixon playing Kodaly's Intermezzo from Hary Janos on the violin; Elizabeth Hamilton playing Spring Song by Frank Bridge on the cello; Rowena Jones playing a traditional Irish lament on the harp; and finishing with Georgia Campell playing Green's Piccaroon on the piccolo and proving that there is much more to this instrument than just high-pitched screeching!
Well done to all eight of you. I really enjoyed listening to all of you.
From the sublime to the ridiculous as the saying goes. And from seeing solo performances to now the largest instrumental grouping, the symphony orchestra. For this of course we are back in the Concert Hall and sit patiently whilst all 79 musicians arrange themselves and their instruments ready for their moment to shine.
The orchestra were conducted today by Ewa Strusinska. It's most unusual to see a female conductor; it shouldn't be, but it is. It's odd that I even thought it noteworthy, but I am really struggling to remember another occasion where I have seen a female symphony orchestra conductor. Strusinska is a conductor who seemed most at home and at ease with both the romantic and modern music on offer in today's programme, able to squeeze everything out of her young charges, simply infusing them with her passion and creating great music.
The first piece was the stirring and undeniably British Crown Imperial by William Walton. No composer has either before or since equalled Walton's ability at creating the instantly recognisable 'British' sound full of patriotism and pomp.
This was followed by a world premier of a student composition; Concerto by David Palmer. I am really sorry but this piece just left me completely cold, and found nothing in there to latch on to. I am not a fan of this ultra modern compositional style of what is basically to me, just noise. But that is very much a layman's opinion, and it is something I would never choose to listen to. However, this style of music most definitely has a place and must be recognised, and so I cannot and mustn't dismiss it so offhandedly. The piece was played on the piano by the composer, and this work marks the end of his 4 years training with the Junior RNCM. It was a significant work of some length, and according to Palmer's own programme note "explores large-scale blurred sounds with the orchestral writing being generally very dense".
Finally, and we were back on terra firma once again, the orchestra finished with the uber-romantic, much loved, but perhaps too-often played Romeo And Juliet Concert Overture by Tchaikovsky. What a great way to finish the year and the concert. What a high to finish on! Lovely!
For the penultimate event in this day of concerts, we were back in the Studio Theatre to hear the Junior RNCM's Wind Ensemble. Once again, seating was very much at a premium and there simply wasn't enough chairs!
With a very nice and educational introduction to the concert by Chris Orton [we learnt about the three main contemporary compositional styles; the meaning of Serenade (music for the morning) as opposed to an Obade (music for the evening) etc] he then conducted the ensemble in the first of the three works, Franz Reizenstein's Serenade in F.
Following this, and another world premier by a student composer. This time Daniel Lawton and his piece, The Phenomenon Of Floating, conducted by the composer. This piece was much more accessible for me than the last original composition from the symphony orchestra; at least here I could understand the music and gain something from it. Well played.
A third conductor now took the stand to conduct the third and final piece in this concert; Jon Malaxetxebarria conducted Johann Strauss's early composition, Serenade (opus 7). And despite it being such an early work by Strauss you can still hear the stirrings of the Late Romantic genius he would turn out to be, with his passionate and nationalistic rhythms and melodies.
And so finally to the last concert of the day, and back to the main theatre. There were a few, who like me, had said 'in for a penny, in for a pound' and stayed for all the concerts, and they were, like me, feeling just a little jaded and concerted-out at this point, and so having Jazz to finish on was the most excellent of ideas. Easy to listen to, catchy tunes, and something to take the blues away and brighten you up!
Six pieces in all, and all introduced with a joke each time by conductor and tutor, Eileen Guppy. A lovely, lively start with the Gordon Goodwin number, Huntin' Wabbits. This was followed by another Jazz standard, Sing Sing Sing by Louis Prima. Both pieces giving the soloists ample opportunity to shine in their respective riffs.
Then in a complete change of everything, one of the ensemble, Jodie Buckland, came to the front to sing I Won't Dance. Quite a surprise, but a most welcome one. Buckland had a husky and breathy voice in her lower register, and then a wonderful and mellow belt in the higher, and proved to be a very enigmatic and talented performer with a delightful 'jazz' voice. Quite reminiscent of Vanessa Paradis.
Next back to the ensemble and a piece with a trombone solo played by Merin Lleu, who had his birthday today and so we all sang Happy Birthday to him before he delighted us with his playing in the Sammy Nestico classic, Time To Love.
For their penultimate number, it was time for another soloist to take the spotlight. This time, saxophonist Jessica Gillam, finalist in BBC's Young Musician Of The Year, and indeed an incredible talent to be reckoned with. This is the second time I have seen her perform, and remember well her fantastic virtuosity the last time, and being most impressed by her. Today she most certainly did not disappoint, playing amazingly the Sonny Rollin's Quartet, Olio, and was aided in this by Alex Jones on bass, Tom Knowles on Piano and Will Bracken on drums.
To finish this concert and indeed the whole day of concerts, not to mention the end of the Junior RNCM's school year, the ensemble cam back together again to get our feet tapping and our hearts a-jumpin' with Tom Kubis' 'It's The Usual Unusual'. A truly wonderful way to end and amazing day of young talent. Yes, I was mentally exhausted after listening and watching everything, but it really was worth it. Such a wealth of musical talent and creativity, which need nurturing and supporting; and so a massive congratulations for the Junior RNCM for doing just that.
Reviewer: Mark Dee
Reviewed: 2nd July 2016