Thursday, December 31, 2015

Some highlights from the Vaughan’s music-making in 2015

With the year drawing to a close this seemed a good time to look back on 2015 and revisit some of the highlights from a wonderful year of music-making at the Vaughan. 

So, in no particular order.....

1. Raising a lot of money for a very good cause

In January the Schola sang Mozart’s Requiem at St John’s, Smith Square. The concert was the creation of Vaughan parent Ben Warren and given in memory of MP Paul Goggins. All proceeds from the evening, which amounted to more than £25,000, went to the homeless charity The Passage.

This was the first of three times in 2015 that the Schola would sing at St John’s, Smith Square, surely London’s most friendly and welcoming concert venue! We returned there in April for a concert of our own with the Baroque Ensemble Spiritato! when we were very lucky to be joined by world-renowned counter tenor Iestyn Davies in a beautiful evening of Purcell and Charpentier.

We also were at St John’s in September when the Schola competed in the London International Acapella Competition. This is a major event and we were privileged to take part alongside some outstanding adult groups. Who knows, perhaps inspired by our involvement the competition has been revamped for 2017 and will now include a youth class for choirs such as the Schola, separate from the adult professional groups. We look forward to competing when the time comes.

2. Exploring the extraordinary world of Mahler

Its not easy for a School’s musicians to explore the work of Gustav Mahler as the demands his music makes both in terms of difficulty and in resources make it rather unapproachable. But in March, thanks to the Vaughan’s now long-established link with Southbank Sinfonia, 35 of our most advanced instrumentalists were able to perform the composer’s Fourth Symphony in a wonderful concert given at St John’s, Waterloo.  Sat side-by-side their professional counterparts, our musicians experienced first-hand the unique musical world of this greatest of symphonic composers, under the guidance and baton of David Corkhill, Southbank Sinfonia’s assistant director and a man of great musical experience and wisdom.

3. Singing at King’s College, Cambridge

Once again this year many of us will have no doubt have listened to the annual broadcast of Carols from King’s College, Cambridge. This beautiful chapel is perhaps the most famous location for singing on earth and so it came as a particular thrill when the Schola joined Kings Voices (a choir of undergraduates at the college) in March to sing Evensong. We were most grateful to Ben Parry, who conducts Kings Voices, and Director of Music Stephen Cleobury, for inviting us.

This was to be the first of two visits to Kings College as just a few weeks later, on Good Friday, fifteen boys returned to sing in a concert performance of Sir James MacMillan’s St Luke Passion. This performance, conducted by the composer and broadcast live on BBC Radio 3, was followed by a performance at the Barbican Centre on Easter Sunday. 

4. Performing the Vaughan Williams Tallis Fantasia

As part of the Spring Concert in March the Senior String Ensemble performed Vaughan Williams’ masterpiece for string orchestra, the Fantasia on a Theme ofThomas Tallis. We are very fortunate to have a large number of very talented string players at the moment - something perhaps rather unusual in a boys' school – and under the guidance of Mr Manoras they gave a very fine performance of one of the great works of the string repertoire.

Concert Band were on very good form that evening too. We were delighted much later in the year when they were awarded Gold at the National Concert Band Festival and then invited to perform in next year’s Finals in Manchester.

5. ‘This is the best of me’….

are the words that Elgar used to describe his greatest choral masterpiece, TheDream of Gerontius. To mark the centenary of the Vaughan we sang this extraordinary work at the end of March. We were joined by the Cantus Ensemble for what was an excellent evening. Old Vaughanian Peter Davoren gave his first performance of the leading tenor role: Peter’s “Take me away” will live long in the memory.

6. Appearing on the operatic stage

In May the boys sang in the Royal Opera’s new production of Krol Roger. Thirty boys, singing in four parts, unaccompanied, in Polish, pianissimo, for quite a long time, in pitch black, conducted by Sir Antonio Pappano. No pressure there at all!

We’ve had easier gigs but the boys got there in the end and something quite magical was created by the brilliant people at the Royal Opera House that it was very special to be a part of.

We were on more familiar territory in November singing in the new production of La bohemé at English National Opera. And the operatic year has ended on a real high, singing, with Maestro Pappano at the helm once again, in the Royal Opera’s wonderful new production of Cavalleria rusticana / Pagliacci.

7. The Schola’s Tour to the USA

At the end of June the Schola travelled to the USA for its most ambitious tour in many years. We sang in four cities, traveling through seven states in two weeks. There were many highlights but perhaps the most lovely thing was the remarkably kind way that the boys were looked after by the homestay families – and the tears we had as they had to say goodbye for the last time!

7. ‘Agony, so much greater than yours’…..

The school year ended in July with surely one of the greatest Vaughan musical productions as we presented Into the Woods. Sondheim brings out the best in all of us and we had the most magical couple of weeks putting together and performing this most amazing of shows. Outstanding performances from all, not least Milky White, the cow, who continued to appear around the School right through the Summer and into the new term.

8. The boys take up the baton

We have some very talented boys at the Vaughan and in the St Cecilia Concert in November two of them conducted the orchestras – Filippo Turkheimer the Second Orchestra in some sparkling Rossini and Thomas Fetherstonhaugh the First Orchestra in a very musical and considered performance of Schubert’s Eighth Symphony. 

9. Back at the Royal Albert Hall

It was great to return to the Royal Albert Hall in December for a performance of the music from the Tim Burton movie Alice in Wonderland. Composer Danny Elfman was present and we had a great couple of days singing his superb score for the film including a new section that had been composed especially for the occasion.

10. And finally, the Carol Service

The highlight of every year is arguably always the Carol Service. And this year was no different with a capacity crowd, the Schola and the Brass on good form, and a few small tweaks to the logistics that people seemed to appreciate. The choice of carols was a little more contentious perhaps! Much praise for Tomorrow Shall Be My Dancing Day and people enjoyed the first performance of the carol that had been composed for the occasion by film composer Mychael Danna. But the arrangement of Ding Dong Merrily on High rather divided opinion! Perhaps next year we should think a little nearer the box…..


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