Wednesday, December 23, 2009


Dulwich College in Town

My old school gave its Winter Concert on Monday 30 November in St. John’s Smith Square. As usual, there was a big pause between items as the performers were in different categories; stage and music stands had to be reset.

First, a symphony orchestra under the College’s director of music, Richard Mayo: Wagner’s overture to Rienzi. The slow and final movements of Weber’s Bassoon Concerto were most expertly played by Leo Baker, making, as required, tender noises up top and rude ones down below. After which a symphonic wind band was set up for Holst’s Second Suite in F, tricky stuff rhymically, especially when the composer counterpoints the Dargason with Greensleaves; however, no casual ties. There followed David Bedford’s Sun Paints Rainbow on the Vast Waves. David (now 72) spent much of his childhood, in Aldeburgh, often with his singer mother’s friend, Benjamin Britten. This piece for wind band has echoes of Peter Grimes and the chord sequence in Billy Budd; at other times Bedford goes minimal and, with three cymbals crashing away, seems to be peering through a (Philip) Glass darkly. Alas, not as enjoyable as many of David’s works.

After the interval of this sold out concert we had some stylish piano playing from Tom Deasy in Saint-Saens Septet with Thomas Wilson on trumpet, a delightful work that often sounds like the composer’s friend and pupil, Gabriel Fauré.
So far, fine, good playing but nothing special. But the finale was quite superb. A madrigal choir of seventy singers on the stage with piano and percussion were flanked by some 200 boys in the balcony in five numbers, Ghanaian, Zulu, American and Aboriginal. The singers had learned these five folk songs by ear under the direction of singing master Dan Ludford-Thomas, a young, sallow-faced, hirsute, spectacled man. He was a real show off but also a performer of superior calibre. The boys sang lustily and musically, their faces radiant with the pleasure they gave the audience and the pleasure of singing with this brilliantly gifted director. The performance lifted the hearts of all present.

One suggestion; the four conductors all bowed but the boys stood, almost glumly. Could they not bow when the conductors does – and perhaps smile?

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