Dalriada’s wonderful Evening of Music

A review of the 2011 evening of music written by Rachel Millican

I have been attending Evenings of Music at Dalriada for thirty seven years and during that time there have been only three musical directors. As the “baton” passed from Catherine Tomlinson to Bobby McQuillan and finally to Heather Montgomery each year has been invariably better than the last. Some things have changed like the size of the orchestra and choirs (in Miss Tomlinson’s time there was room for Irish Dancers along with the traditional group); there was nowhere near the huge number of boys there are in the choir now due in part to the coming of the school musical. Now we have Dixieland and Swing but the love of music, the enthusiasm of the musicians and singers and the sheer enjoyment of the participants has always been the same. This is what drives the “we’ve got to be better than last year!” feeling that has produced the wonderful evening we experienced this year.

The individual performers who win the various awards for music have always had the opportunity to let their talents be heard by a larger audience. It was fitting that the Catherine Tomlinson award for the Most Promising Junior went to pianist, Thomas Hancock who charmed us with Mendelssohn’s Song without Words. This was followed by Richard Surgenor, the winner of the Naomi Johnston Cup for String Playing, with a superb rendition on double bass of Eccles’ Adagio and Corrente from Sonata in G minor. We weren’t surprised to hear that Richard had just gained a distinction at Grade 8 in his music exam!

Nor was it a surprise that James McBean, the winner of both the Peden Cup for Wood and Brass and the Jean Scott Cup (the premier award) as well as being the leader of the orchestra should proceed to delight us with a violin interpretation of Borowski’s Adoration. Claire Cooper, winner of the Middle School Music Prize as well as the Dickson Cup for Pianoforte, produced a truly virtuoso performance of Zez Confrey’s Dizzy Fingers. Yasmin Walker, the winner of the Duncan Rose Bowl for Solo Singing joined Hannah Huey (piano) to win the Prize for Ensemble Performance with Alicia Keys’ Empire State of Mind

Interspersed among these talented and varied solo performances and bringing us up to the interval were several orchestral and ensemble pieces. The evening began trippingly with the orchestra playing Vaughan Williams’ Seventeen Come Sunday from his English Folk Song Suite. It’s some time since I was seventeen but the lilting tempo certainly made me remember what it felt like. They followed this with two long time favourites of mine – the riotously evocative In the Hall of the Mountain King by Grieg and Khatchaturian’s exuberant “Sabre Dance” both played with great panache!

The String Group consisting of two dozen accomplished musicians gave an impeccable performance of the first movement of Holst’s “St. Paul’s Suite” with its fascinating alternating tempo. Strangely there were echoes of the Vaughan Williams earlier piece though perhaps not so strange since both Holst and Williams were contemporaries at the Royal College of Music and both shared an interest in English folk music. Still with the String Group, the audience was treated to the premiere of “Oriental” an original composition for A Level by Siobhan Brown in which she demonstrated a high level of proficiency and which was greeted with enthusiastic applause.

The penultimate item before the interval was an arrangement by Hearshen of Symphonic Dances from Fiddler on the Roof which made me think that perhaps some day this might be the choice for the school musical. As the bulk of the orchestra crept out for some necessary and well deserved refreshment the Wind Band held the stage with a lingering interpretation of Love Changes Everything from Aspects of Love by Andrew Lloyd Webber followed by a toe tapping version of Mambo No. 5 by Perez Prado. I believe that if there had been room to mambo some of the fitter members of the audience might have been on their feet.

After the interval it was choir time, blended with some dynamic Dixieland, a soupcon of Swing and a torrent of Traditional Irish. The Senior Choir – all eighty of them with thirty seven of those being boys! - blew us away with an arrangement by Emerson of Schwartz’s Defying Gravity, later delighting us with a beautiful version of Whelan’s Home and the Heartland. The Junior Choir serenaded us with a gently flowing interpretation of Menken and Rice’s A Whole New World from Disney’s Aladdin followed by an upbeat Rhythm of Life from Sweet Charity by Fields and Coleman.

The next item could have stayed on for half an hour and no one would have objected. I am referring to The Chamber Choir Boys. There appeared before us a line of black clad young men, heads down, sporting rakish ‘Frank Sinatra’ type hats and away they went. First a terrific Mr Cellophane from the musical Chigago executed with precise harmony followed by Razzle-dazzle‘em also from Chigago. The harmony, the diction and the dynamic stage presence of these young men, many of whom will be leaving us for university, was greeted with spirited applause hoping perhaps for an encore! The lyrics were truly descriptive of their performance: “Give‘em an act with lots of flash in it / And the reaction will be passionate.”

The boys were a hard act to follow but, undeterred and all cylinders firing, the Intermediate Choir delivered a wistful Can’t Help Lovin’ that Man from Show Boat and a lovely Bob Dylan song Make You Feel My Love. The next choir to appear was the Chamber Choir with three wonderful pieces, the first being the haunting Masquerade from Phantom of the Opera by Andrew Lloyd Webber. As I mentioned earlier I am no longer seventeen but I confess to being an ardent Take That fan so I was delighted to see Rule the World in the programme and even more delighted when the choir sang it so well (maybe not Gary and the boys but still pretty good).

Sandwiched between the various choirs came three instrumental groups the first of which was the Dixieband. I belong to the age of the jazz revival in the sixties so I was delighted to see they were on the programme and even more delighted when I heard them give their version of Hoagy Carmichael and Sidney Arodin’s Lazy River. The individual breaks were well taken and Ben Goudy’s Louis Armstrong type scat singing brought back happy memories. The Big Band came next with eighteen musicians six of whom were also in the Dixieband and if the swing band had called for a double bass player it would have been all seven. They gave a really smooth arrangement by Holmes of Joe Zawinul’s Birdland. The Sax player, apart from his expertise, stood like all the best sax players, slightly hunched round his instrument. I would have loved more from both these bands. The Traditional Group contributed a glorious George IV Medley of Irish dance music. Again, some of the audience, given the room, would have been glad to display their reels and jigs.

The next item, the combined massed choirs and orchestra performing The Hallelujah Chorus from The Messiah by Handel was mind-blowing in its power. I was fascinated by the shining faces of the singers as they put their hearts into this sublime piece of music. The evening came to an end with a rousing arrangement by John Rutter of When The Saints Go Marching In which sent us home happily remembering the evening’s music which seemed to have passed so quickly and looking forward to next year and how to fit an even larger choir and orchestra into the John Armstrong hall.

As for me I was thinking of some very apt lyrics from Rule the World:

The stars are coming out tonight

They are lighting up the sky tonight