2005-Festival reviews published in the Farnham Herald
|Reviews of the festival were published over a period of three weeks in the Farnham Herald; most of them are repeated below.|
Sunday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday
|Sunday 13th: Farnham Festival 2005 Launched with a Fanfare and a Flourish|
This year's Farnham Festival, under its new artistic director, Jo May, got off to a typically splendid start with the opening concert at St Andrew's Parish Church on Sunday evening.
The range and variety of works tackled by the young performers never fails to amaze and explains why the Festival is firmly established on the national music map. Where else for example will you hear 16th century vocal music rubbing shoulders with gamelan music from Bali and a brand new instrumental work on which the ink dried barely days before the concert?
The evening started in dramatic fashion, with Gordon Jacobs' Canterbury Flourish played by the Michael Chapple Trumpet Ensemble, utilising the antiphonal opportunities the church now offers to the full, with half the 12-strong group high up in the new gallery at the rear of the church. The ensemble of 13-18 year olds, drawn from across Surrey, continued with their customary brilliance, taking full advantage of the bright, ample acoustic to wow us with vibrant, rhythmic performances of works by David Marlatt and a UK premiere of Sonoran Desert Harmonies by American composer, Eric Ewazen.
They finished with a flourish too with The Rakes of Mallow, a well-known tune by Leroy Anderson - perhaps best known for his musical miniatures, Blue Tango and Sleigh Ride - which really gave the soloists the chance to shine.
The choral element of the evening was provided by three very different choirs. Firstly, the young choristers of St Thomas on the Bourne gave a nicely varied programme, including works by Peter Hurford and Kevin Jacot. These were followed by Cesar Franck's Panis Angelicus and their performance ended with I will sing with the spirit by the ubiquitous John Rutter - where would our choirs be without him! A small sound and occasionally rough-edged perhaps, but some excellent voices and a real joy to hear young boys singing - sadly all too rare today. Mention must also go to Kevin Jacot's spirited and sensitive accompaniments.
The St Nicolas School Girls Choir clearly transmitted their sense of enjoyment in works by Christopher Tambling and Peter Aston, with good ensemble and tone, especially in the quieter passages, though more rehearsal time in a church acoustic would undoubtedly help overcome the occasional loss of pitch. Like all three choirs however, diction and attention to words was very good - an area in which young choral singing has clearly improved significantly.
If their performances of Simon & Garfunkel's Scarborough Fair and Abba's Money, Money, Money were somewhat static and unsmiling, All Hallows Girls Choir gave us two of the highlights of the evening, with beautiful performances of Howard Goodall's The Lord is my Shepherd - better known as The Vicar of Dibley music - and finishing with Bob Chilcott's Irish Blessing.
Stalwart supporters of the Festival, Alton College entertained and challenged us throughout the evening. The First and Second Year Gamelan Groups highlighted the growing interest in World Music - watch out for the Steel Pans on Saturday - and showed real commitment to this beautifully hypnotic and very visual music. As director Martin Read put it, they really have 'the vibe'!
The New Music Ensemble also gave a performance of Michael Nyman's Waltz No 1 in D which gained from a greater variety of colour and tone as the piece progressed and the concert finished with the first performance of Martin Read's own Festival commission, A State of Disharmony. With only days to get to grips with this work, which had strong overtones of minimalist composer Steve Reich, the instrumentalists and vocalists came through with flying colours. In his introduction, Martin told the audience (and, one suspects, the musicians) to 'hold onto our hats' - we did, just!
Written and submitted by Graham Noakes. Top
|Tuesday 15th: Interesting and Moving Performances from Local Schools Top|
A wonderful mixture of music performed by children and professional musicians opened the Tuesday evening’s Farnham Festival performance.
Children from the Unit at William Cobbett Junior School had worked wonderfully hard on “The Seasons Rap” – the first rap ever performed at the festival, which they had written themselves, The children (and their helpers) stood in four seasonal groups, dressed appropriately. They were really involved, performing with verve and enjoyment and were backed by a small percussion group with infectious use of rap rhythm.
Over 130 children from Barfield School performed “Let us build for ever” by David Fisher. Originally written for Barfield to mark at the school’s building development in 1997, with more new buildings complete this year, the composer has revised the work and given it for this year’s festival.
The sea of blue uniformed were joined by roadwork signs, orange warning lights and boys in hard hats and fluorescent jackets who played a variety of unusual percussion, including scaffolding poles, a step ladder, a bucket, a concrete block, wood and sandpaper. With words from Psalm 127 – “Except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it. Children are a heritage of the Lord”, the piece opened with chanting in Latin and then spoken in English. The work builds using percussion, voices and instrumentalists as a real wall is being built during the performance. An effective four-part canon section leads up to the completion of the building. The children obviously enjoyed the performance, directed enthusiastically by Richard Stevens and accompanied by Jean Stevens (piano), and a competent orchestra of trumpets, flutes, clarinets and violins, all from the school. Finally the composer was applauded onto the stage and given a red rose.
The Ridgeway Community School, directed by Maureen Hattey were next. They always produce an interesting and often moving piece for the festival and this year was no exception. “Bodyworks” was the result of Two members of Stop Gap, working at The Maltings with pupils from the school. A skeleton formed the centre of the piece and the performers moved around it using and depicting different parts of the body. A percussion group accompanied their movements, which were well structured and flowed beautifully from one to another.
The children of the Just So Singers, directed by Alison Wrigley, who celebrate their tenth anniversary on 30th September this year, come from three special schools in Surrey – Gosden House, Carwarden House and The Meath. They have been practising separately once a week and came together for today’s performance. Their words were clear and they sang with confidence and enthusiasm. “Behind closed doors” was written by Veronica Austin especially for the group and they obviously loved singing it. Most of the pieces had at least two, if not three parts, and several singers came forward to the microphone, while the choir formed a backing group, moving to the music and singing. One soloist - Angus Smith- brought tears to the eyes with his singing of the hen’s love song - Rooster Rag. Their last number – Old Bill Jones and Junkanoo – had the audience laughing into the interval.
The second half was performed by the Prince Consort Percussion Ensemble, directed by Kevin Hathway, - and the audience! Kevin Hathway is no stranger to the Festival and the Ensemble had already led two workshops during the day. The performance was exciting and the children who stayed to listen were enthralled (so were the adults). We heard flippers and table tennis bats being played, as well as xylophone, marimba and vibraphone. We learnt that the most popular marimba concerto is written by a Brazilian called Nerizaru, then heard the first movement. We sang an African song and used body percussion. We listened to Black and White rag, a Japanese marimba spiritual and pieces from Porgy and Bess and West Side Story. The hugely enjoyable evening finished with the entire audience on their feet moving and clapping to the beat.
Written and submitted by Jill Chapple Top
Tuesday 15th: Kevin Hathway and his ‘Prince Consort Percussion Ensemble’ Top
On Tuesday 15th March, 500 children from a selection of Farnham schools were privileged to participate in an interactive musical workshop. It gave them the opportunity to experience explosive performances of tuned and un-tuned percussion playing, and also the chance to become part of a 250+ body and voice percussion piece.
The ensemble consists of 5 young, talented percussionists, directed illustriously by Kevin Hathway. This extraordinary personality is no stranger to the Farnham festival: he has supported the Festival since 1997, bringing exciting new works and performances which thrill infants, juniors and adults alike.
The workshop began using simple, yet effective rhythmic body percussion games. These began using the voice, replacing rhythms with animal names, e.g. baboon, and in turn was transferred onto the body. This moved smoothly onto a drumming solo from a West African drum - Djembe. From this, developed an African chant which the children responded well to.
The tuned percussion consisted of a vibraphone, a marimba and glockenspiels - each were taught by describing qualities of sound and hands-on experience for a lucky few.
A particular highlight was a duo performance on the bongos and cow bells, the children and adults alike were transfixed throughout at the complex sounds produced and the ease at which they were apparently played.
The consort ended the magical workshop by performing a selection of music, ranging from ragtime to West Side Story.
The incredible power Kevin Hathway has over his audience is awe inspiring and the ease and friendliness that the group oozes is captivating - the banter that crops up among members of the group makes the situation immediately appealing to the audience. They are drawn in and cannot help but join in and become part of the musical experience.
As Kevin Hathway expressed ... “Everyone must have a passion, be it gardening, baking or music. Find yours and enjoy it.”
I expect a fair number of the children - and adults too - went away with that thought prominent in their minds - some budding percussionists perhaps?
Kevin Hathway and his 'Prince Consort Percussion Ensemble' has proved to be a valuable and integral part of the children of Farnham’s musical education and the Farnham Festival committee are proud to have provided this experience.
Written and submitted by Olivia Weeks (Primary Schools representative, Farnham Festival Committee) Top
|Wednesday 16th: Hats off to the youngsters Top |
Children took the stage of the Farnham Maltings with their cowboy hats, Easter bonnets, jesters jingles, bowlers, caps and crowns. There were singers from the infant schools – 12 in all – determined to take us to Happy Hat Land and give us a memorable experience. And they did.
Jo May, the new artistic director of the Farnham Festival, directed her 160 singers with humour (her own millinery) and expertise. We could hear the words, loved the movement, and enjoyed the narration and solo performances. With a percussion band of 25 children additional musical colour showed the children’s other skills. Changing moods were captured with actions and tone colour – “if you squabble you’ll get yourself into a wobble! So I’ll put on my happy hat and make a smile” and that’s exactly what we all did. A great choice of music by Nikki Davies performed expressively and with confidence. A fine start to the evening.
Frensham Heights’ Chamber Choir directed by Eddie Rolles changed the mood. A programme of wide-ranging music was heard from 1500 to the present day. The singers gave a sensitive interpretation of True Love, arranged by Nick Woods, contrasting this with Follow me sweet love, and a small ensemble sang Lift Thine Eyes from Mendelssohn’s Elijah. The final folk-song item was lively with good ensemble.
New music from GCSE students from Farnham Heath End School and Weydon followed. At this festival the Elton John style voice and self piano accompaniment was popular. Lucy Brown’s composition was interesting, well constructed with added variety to each verse. She and the backing voice gave a strong rendition to a crowded hall. Sian Boorman’s clear voice rang out with her composition and Michael Wheelhouse gave us a piano piece with concerto elements.
Finally, the 50-strong junior orchestra from Frensham Heights concluded the evening of school music. The children were well disciplined and gave their chosen pieces dynamics and character. Shelagh Harries directed the large group with the leader giving a strong performance.
Finally I went to the art exhibition mounted in the Kiln Room and I saw with interest the variety of work in painting, pottery and collage. There were lively black and white pastels illustrating the second world war years. Some fascinating work entitled “Maps become Art” and “ Under the Microscope” from St Nicholas’s School and cheerful pottery houses from the under sixes at Barfield with lively varied work from St Peter’s School and some skilful Andy Warhol style work from Frensham Heights. However, the panels created by the Ridgeway School are quite outstanding. The colour, composition and mood created by this work, entitled India and Africa, were the most memorable.
Farnham continues to revel in the creativity of opportunity given to the children in this area. Through the voluntary work of a small number of dedicated individuals over the years, and careful planning, the Farnham Festival continues to give memorable and valuable experience to both children and the wider community.
Written and submitted by Jacqueline Protheroe Top
|Thursday 17th: An Evening of Dance Top |
Thursday evening performance of the Farnham Festival at the Maltings opened with a performance of four items by students at Guildford College who are preparing to take the National Diploma in Performing Arts (dance). The dancers provided an interesting contrast of works, choreographed by themselves and tutors, Margot Tringham, Sarah Hedge and Beth Cown.
The second year students began with a contemporary piece demonstrating the release technique. It began with one dancer on the stage and built up to nine. They each interpreted the music in their own way, coming together then parting, following the variety of the rhythms. The piece ended as it had begun with a solo dancer on the stage. They showed individuality and responded well to the music – Moorcheeba.
The next piece, danced by the first years, was in the style of Merce Cunningham – Changing Steps. A tableau of four dancers opened the work, then dancers moved in pairs, then threes. They presented a pleasing sequence of lifts and body shapes, demonstrating balance and counter-balance between the groups and between individual dancers. The opening tableau of four was repeated at intervals during the piece and it finished with all nine dancers joining together to make a pattern effectively based on that same tableau. The girls responded well to the music and the piece flowed pleasantly from beginning to end.
The second years took to the stage again with a beautiful work, based again on a Merce Cunningham piece – Beach Birds. Using wave sounds and bird song, the girls reproduced the movements of birds on the seashore very effectively. Their dramatic interpretation was excellent and the simple addition of a white band round the waist and black gloves enhanced the impression that the girls had transformed into birds. The ensemble work was good and yet each managed to retain their individuality with a stunning result.
A complete contrast followed – a jazz piece by the first years called Rich Man’s Frug. This demonstrated some excellent ensemble work and the fun element of the piece was well understood and realised in the use of the dancer’s bodies. The audience were impressed by the cartwheel and back flip by one dancer and the split jumps by another couple. The dancing fitted well with the music and the movements were effectively co-ordinated. Good use was made of the space on the stage and the girls managed to infect the audience with their enjoyment.
Mention should be made of the lighting by Mike Powell, which enhanced the interpretation of all four dances.
Written and submitted by Jill Chapple Top
|Thursday 17th: Schools' Concert Top |
Twenty five pupils from Barfield School, directed by Richard Stevens, performed Handel’s Royal Fireworks Music. Proms in the Park would have engaged them after this successful rendition. The ensemble was well-shaped and the attentive playing had a warm tone. Danse Macabre by Saints Saens followed. This was an engaging arrangement giving the opportunity to each section of the orchestra which they plainly enjoyed. This tough assignment was beautifully phrased and there were impressive solos.
Farnham Heath End Chamber Choir followed singing Homeward Bound and America from West Side Story which was lively and rhythmic. Interspersed with these numbers was a group of keen year sevens who sang heartily, Make a Song for My Heart to Sing which I hope they will continue to do and gain enjoyment from it throughout their lives. The main choir was directed by Juliette Grey and year seven led by Jo May.
Lucy Brown led a warm up at the start with vocal sounds and rhythms. New Music was represented by Weydon School. Helen Lewis presented Blues composition for piano and saxophone. This piece had an atmospheric introduction which returned after a short instrumental interlude. The composition A Minor Ensemble, by Lizzie Horton, showed an understanding of score writing maintaining interest for all parts throughout. The piece was carefully structured.
After the interval we were given a special treat. The Surrey County Youth Jazz Band, some 20 players in all, from secondary age through to sixth form, gave an attentive and young audience a chance to follow a potted version of the development of the jazz band. John Whelan, who directs the band, gave brief and helpful commentary to guide the inexperienced listeners through a fascinating evening of Big Band music. Included in the programme were One O Clock (Count Bassie), Jersey Bounce ( Benny Goodman), St Thomas (Sonny Rawlins), Glenn Millar favourites and concluding with Tequilla. Outstanding solos were heard throughout from trumpeters, saxophonists and keyboard with two vocal items to complete the entertainment. Surrey can feel very proud to have such a talented group of young musicians who appear regularly at the Barbican, The Royal Festival Hall as competitors and entertainers. It was a memorable appearance and appreciated by the audience.
Written and submitted by Jacqueline Protheroe Top
|Friday 18th: Farnham Junior Schools Take a Trip Down Memory Lane Top |
The combined Junior Schools' Choir brought back many memories for the grandparents in the audience on Friday evening, if not their parents, with the first performance of Kevin Jacot's We'll Meet Again. The new work, commissioned by the Festival and funded by Farnham Town Council, provided a vivid evocation of what the composer described as "the difficulties and excitement of evacuation during the Second World War".
Using a combination of nursery rhymes and songs from the wartime era, traditional tunes and original songs by the composer himself, over 180 young singers from nine local junior schools - Amesbury Preparatory, Frensham Heights, Hale, Potters Gate C.E. Primary, St James (Aided) C.E. Primary, St Peter's C.E. Primary, St Polycarps Catholic Primary, South Farnham and William Cobbett - took us on a journey from their London homes to the West Country, where their relationships with the locals were decidedly mixed!
Indeed, this was the most exciting part of the performance, as the two groups of children revelled in the opportunity to snarl and call each other names. The local 'Villies' thought the kids from London were 'swanky', 'stuck up' and 'Mummy's pets', while the 'Vaccies' were equally dismissive, calling the locals 'thick', 'spreading muck' and with 'spotty faces'. Soon peace was restored however, with each finding good in the other and happily singing together.
The children's enjoyment in performing "We'll Meet Again" clearly transmitted itself to the audience and the work had a strong 'feel good' factor. Credit must go to the music teachers, for each school had clearly been well-drilled: the sound throughout was bold, with voices in unison and in tune - not always easy with such young performers.
The narrator, Rachel Hitchinson and the Billeting Officer, Megan Sayer, were strong and confident, though could have been given more to do to advantage. And where were the boys? It was disappointing to see them so heavily outnumbered in a choir of this age group.
The whole piece was enthusiastically and expertly conducted by Caroline Gale - resplendent in period uniform - with stylish and sympathetic accompaniment from late stand-in pianist David Victor-Smith, wearing his father's army helmet throughout the performance!
And then - bang! - the party really started with the huge Alton College Jazz Band, led as ever by music director, Martin Read. Stylishly and coolly turned out, the 24+ piece band's raw energy grabbed us by the ears from the opening bars of Sonny Rollins' St Thomas. In particular, it was heartening to see many of the young junior school listeners swept along by the group's snappy rhythms and bold sounds - encouragement for the future, one hopes.
Ensemble work was typically crisp and punchy throughout the five-piece set, which included Tom Scott's Gotcha, Annie Whitehead's To Dudu and Charles Mingus' My Jelly Roll. Soloists were also given the chance to shine, with the baritone and tenor sax, flute, muted trumpets and - unusually - marimba players standing out.
The band really got 'down and dirty' however with an earthy performance of a great New Orleans standard, Basin Street Blues by Sonny Williams. This was sung with real feeling by … and got a tremendous response from the audience.
If at times the band was overloud and occasionally even raucous perhaps, this listener at least never fails to be caught up in the Alton College students' sheer enjoyment in making music together. And that, surely, is what the Farnham Festival is all about.
Written and submitted by Graham Noakes. Top
|Saturday 18th: A Musical World Tour in Festival Finale Top |
The audience was taken on an exciting whirlwind trip round the globe on Saturday night with three very different groups of young performers.
The Surrey County Youth Wind Orchestra under their conductor, Hugh Craig, got the evening off to a rousing start with a thrilling performance of John Philip Sousa's march, King Cotton, making the audience smile with its strong echoes of the same composer's Liberty Bell march and Monty Python.
The band's strongly integrated and well-balanced sound then took us to France for Martin Ellerby's Paris Sketches. This is the kind of high quality light music at which British composers excel and the band revelled in the variety of moods and memorable tunes in the four contrasted movements. The melodic line was nicely sustained, in particular in the third movement - Père Lachaise - where the beautiful flue and oboe solos were underpinned by the gentle sound of the vibraphone.
From Paris we were immediately whisked off to the Caribbean, as the steel pans of Farnham Heath End School and then More House School showed the increasing range of musical instruments and styles now available to today's students.
Individually the groups showed a real grasp of the colours available in well-known tunes such as Red Red Wine and Jamaica Farewell, but it was when they combined for Yellow Bird that we had one of the real hits of the Festival, bringing the house down. And, at the risk of mixing ethnic metaphors, special mention must go to More House's Danny Page who was a real whirling dervish on the accompanying bongos!
Another contrast followed with those stalwarts of the final night, the Farnham Youth Choir, who recently appeared in the finals of the BBC Radio 3 Choir of the Year Competition. For the first time in almost 20 years without their accompanist, Julia Freeman, who was ill, the choir brought its customary, if still extraordinary, flexibility and sensitivity to a wide range of differing musical styles.
De bello gallico by contemporary Flemish composer, Erika Budai, was given appropriate bounce, with a pure melodic line, followed by the spiritual, Steal Away and John Rutter's It was a lover and his lass. In the one enforced change to the programme, the Scottish lament, Will ye go lassie, go had beautifully graded dynamics, followed by a much earthier sound for the Hungarian Hej Iganitza. The choir finished with two modern popular classics - Blue Moon, arranged by Gwyn Arch and with Emily Vine an outstanding soloist, and finally conductor David Victor Smith's own arrangement of The Rhythm of Life, long an audience favourite and happily restored to the repertoire.
For this listener however, the real highlight was Laudate by another modern Belgian composer, Carl Van Eyndhoven (that's two famous Belgians in one concert!). This extraordinarily difficult piece, full of strange harmonies and tricky rhythms was given a performance that was both confident and secure and had real light and shade - wow!
The concert finished with the return of the Surrey County Youth Wind Band. In another new commission, American, Scott Stroman conducted his Episodes for Wind Orchestra, originally performed at the 1991 Festival and reworked and extended for the same band - and, in the case of the lyrical tuba soloist in the second movement, the same player!
The band gave a very atmospheric performance, catching the varying moods, by turns dark and ominous and then fast and rhythmic. They responded to the composer's jazzy style - at times not far from Bernstein's West Side Story - with playing that was alert and attractively phrased and the percussion in particular relished their moment of glory at the start of the final movement.
Finally the band gave us a lively medley of the best-known songs from Les Misérables, finishing with the musical's grand finale, Do you hear the people sing? And with over 1,200 young performers in nine concerts over the week, this was perhaps an apt sentiment on which the Festival should end.
Written and submitted by Graham Noakes. Top