Music at Sevenoaks: the Mighty Orchestra II concert

A near-capacity audience in the Pamoja Hall was treated to a feast of orchestral and ensemble music-making on Wednesday 27 November that can only have served further to justify the school’s enviable reputation for the excellence of its music.

The concert opened with something both old and new; the newly arranged and orchestrated version of the long-neglected school song, ‘The Song of the Seven Oaks’. Composed in 1932 by John Longmire, a former Director of Music, with words by former pupil Peter Warrick, this new version, with fresh life breathed into it by Jack Long’s skilful and imaginative treatment, represented the culmination of an idea first mooted in the 1980s during Richard Barker’s headship, subsequently championed by another former Head, Kim Taylor, and nurtured most recently by the writer of this review. Assured orchestral playing and well-enunciated singing from massed members of three of the school’s numerous choirs provided convincing proof that you can’t keep a good tune down.

There followed a succession of performances which consistently impressed by their assurance of delivery and almost tangible evidence of delight in making music together. With an eye wisely set on ensuring future high standards at senior level, active encouragement of the Foundation Orchestra is ongoing. Under the highly competent direction of Chris Roe this ensemble gave an entertaining account of Chris’s own arrangement of ‘Harry Potter and the Dance of Death’. Totally in their element and on as good form as I ever heard them, the Wind Band provided foot-tapping exuberance in ‘Breezin’ down Broadway’, followed by the more restained soulfulness of ‘Skyfall’. This gentler mood was continued in ‘Beauty and the Beast’ from the Sevenoaks Strings before they sent us out for the interval with a thoroughly compelling rendition of ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’.

And so to the raison d’etre for this concert’s title. Take one magnificent, and large, concert hall; add just under two hundred orchestral players from beginners to highly accomplished executants; a rattling good tune (in this instance the 'Anvil Chorus’ from Verdi’s Il Trovatore, replete with anvil and two blacksmiths); then add one inspirational conductor in the form of Toby Carden and you have…..The Mighty Orchestra, making its second appearance in recent years and introducing many novice players to the thrill of orchestral playing.

The calculations of the hall’s architects and acousticians were once again shown to be well-founded as the auditorium resounded to the stirring fortissimos of the Brass Ensemble’s delivery of ‘Fanfare for the Common Man’ by Aaron Copland. This was loud, but by no means disagreeably so.

To conclude the evening the Symphony Orchestra gave us the first two movements of Dvorak’s Symphony No 9 in E minor. Under Chris Dyer’s expert direction and following his customary meticulous preparation there was much to admire, and after so much up-tempo music making earlier in the evening it was particularly satisfying to end with the evocatory calm of the Largo and its celebrated cor anglais solo beautifully played by Pippa Stevens.  It is to be hoped that, as in previous years, this partial performance of a symphony will grow into a complete one in 2014.

A final word of appreciation should go to all involved with the preparation of this wonderful concert, impressive in both its musical and logistical execution.

Peter Young