JUST before the interval adjudicator Stuart Miles will describe tonight’s tumult of young talent as a ‘festival of performance … a celebration in unparalleled surrounding’. And he’s right: this concert of all that’s best about King’s Ely’s musical excellence sweeps through three centuries of sound, allowing the school’s very best performers to display exciting and sometimes unexpected talents to an enthralled audience.
The evening opens with the King’s Ely Senior (KES) Orchestra ripping in to an explosive, lyrical and fully lederhosen’d playing of Strauss’ Radetsky March. It’s a great start.
The Intermediate Final begins with Emmanuelle Yembe’s vocal performance of Handel’s Ombra mai fu. It’s technically demanding but she controls every note and the piece is over far too soon.
The seemingly impossible cadenza that Victoria Davis plays at the start of Morlacchi’s Il Pastore Svizzero launches her flute into a twirling waltz that’s sometimes languorous and suspended but chock full of jumping octaves that she smiles through with confidence, winning her listeners over again and again.
Double-bowing comes easily to Eleanor Scott, whose Allegro Brillante by Have isn’t heard often enough. Her violin is playful and offers the piece a great sense of drama and crinoline, albeit with a very masculine air.
Tanaka’s Masquerade is exquisitely played by Charlotte Wilkinson’s expressive piano. It offers the thrill of the chase but there’s mystery and hidden meaning, particularly when the end arrives at a point when the audience would have liked to have heard more.
Toby Whittome gives Boyce’s Trumpet Voluntary a steely, blare-free honesty that belies his young age. It’s restrained and courtly, taxing but tidy.
Then there’s a scherzo for snare drum in the shape of Ealing Broadway by McBirnie. It’s a piece that shouts of the tube and the London bustle, pushing right to the front a percussion upstart that Lucy Darby has made her own. Brilliant, snappy and evocative of busyness.
The final solo of this section has landed at the toes of Sarah Bluck. She’s grabbed the audience by the hair with bags of confidence as she dives into Popular from the musical Wicked. Joyful and funny she commands with ease, con fuoco, swing, sauce and zest all in one. Perfect.
Indea Cranner and Emma Yembe come together to haunt with De torrente in via by Handel. They sing together as if they’ve been doing it for years: it’s connected and vibrant, each owing to the other the skill to balance the sound to a critically tempered degree.
Finally, to bring to an end the first half, the most delicious rendition of the opening movement of Grieg’s Holberg Suite is played with a stunning clarity of vision by Ellie Scott, Miriam Revely, Elizabeth Carberry, Tom Scott and Asia Choudhry.
The second half’s Senior Final opens in style with Lucy Pearce’s flute and Chaminade’s haunting Concertino. As a chanson it’s as clear as crystal, a show piece of great bravura, resonant, programme music for the heart, played adroitly and commandingly.
Tom Scott on piano offers Ibert’s fantasy The Little White Donkey, maybe the only piece for piano that offers the hee-haw you’d like to hear. It’s playful, heel-kicking, masterly and mature.
The versatility of the trumpet comes to the fore in Oliver Wilkinson’s playing of the third movement of Sparke’s Concerto for Trumpet. There are more key changes than you might have thought possible in a single piece and a test for the embouchure that Oliver passes with flying colours.
Charlie Gale is in danger of stealing the second half on drums. He bestrides his kit like a Colossus and his exposition of The Style Machine is the equivalent of getting in the way of music. To be frank he mows you down: it’s a brilliant performance.
Don Quichotte was one of Ravel’s last works and Edward Birchinall offers three short songs with authority, prowess and just a hint of lament for a world that’s passing by too quickly, a remembrance of things past. Beautifully and hauntingly performed, his last words – I drink to hope – are a sign-off from a great composer at the end of the saddest of love stories.
Carlotta Rosenthal and her cello are entwined as her instrument becomes her hypotenuse for a mesmeric performance of Bach’s Prelude from Suite 5. It’s compelling to watch such unique control. The dark and sonorous mystery of the piece, its enigma, ends unexpectedly and optimistically with a tierce de Picardie, moving us from minor to major in the dying moment.
The return of Edward Birchinall sees him change completely to light and lyrical with Some Enchanted Evening from South Pacific. In the space of two performances he’s changed costume into a modern minstrel with timbre and tenacity and it’s lovely to watch.
Lastly, in the first of three vocal duets, Lucy Pearce and Emily James sing Con te partiro by Sartori, a dancing delight with close harmony and open invention. There’s a sort of fluidity of flight and a mutual respect between the singers showing trust and delight for the sheer joy of performing.
Lucy and Edward return to offer Saint Saens’ Ave Maria. It’s stylish, reserved and respectful and Edward’s deference to Lucy is such that he knows when to hold back to ensure an even sound between the two. Beautifully paced and a joy to watch.
And finally a parlour song with panache: Tenor and Baritone, sung by Tristan Harding and Joshua James. This is a piece that captures the light-heartedness of performance and marks the end of an astounding evening.
It’s Carlotta Rosenthal who wins both Senior Instrumentalist and Overall Winner and Young Musician of the year but as adjudicator Stuart Miles points out it’s been a long and hard-fought slog for the 130 talented musicians who began the contest. He’s effervescent in his praise and the performers are basking. And no wonder: with musicality such as we’ve seen tonight nobody can doubt the strength of will in our young people to continue to entertain to the highest degree, not just for themselves, but for all of us who can only watch in awe, and applaud with wonder.