The stalls in the Central Hall were full for this lunchtime concert by two of the feeder choirs for the National Youth Choir of Scotland, and what a treat it was for all those who braved the rather inclement Edinburgh weather on this dull and dreich day. There may not have been much brightness and light outside the hall, but there was certainly plenty inside it for this hour-long concert.
Many people complain about the behaviour and standards of our young people today, but yet again, music and music-making worked its magic. Every year I am delighted to listen to the music made by the young people who play in the different music groups performing at this marvellous Festival of British Youth Orchestras. The standard just seems to get better and better and I don't think that we have to worry very much about the future of British music.
Every Festival of Orchestras, the organisers invite some vocal groups, and it is always a delight to listen to them. This concert was no exception. The standard of singing of these two groups of young people, aged between 15 and 19, was of the highest. Every aspect of the singing was excellent: the intonation, the balance, the breathing, the diction and the expression. So often when one listens to choirs one cannot make out the words, which are just as important, sometimes more so, than the music, but there were no problems today. It was a joy to listen to.
The concert started with the National Boys Choir of Scotland - Changed Voices Section. The change of voice that happens at puberty is always a problem for boys, one never knows what the voice is going to turn into: tenor, baritone or bass. This choir gives the boys a chance to continue singing through the change of voice until it settles down; they can then move on to either the Training Choir or the Senior Youth Choir. One might expect a few cracks to appear but no, not one crack appeared.
The Boys Choir started with four unaccompanied songs: a part song, Pastime with good company, by King Henry VIII (of England), who was quite a musician; followed by another 16th century song, Sonatemi un Balletto, by the Italian composer Giovanni Gastoldi (c1555-1622). An old German Christmas carol, Lo Ho a rose e'er blooming, followed in a modern arrangement by Emerson (Keith Emerson of ELP fame?); finishing with an arrangement of the Irish folk song Salley Gardens, by Gormley (John Gormley of Glasgow?). Two modern works followed: Sunglasses by Oliver Searle; and Refuge by Howard Goodall. The boys finished their concert with the popular Italian song Funiculi, funicula, and an arrangement of the Frank Sinatra favourite, My way (arr. Arch). It was obvious from the expressions on the boys' faces that they enjoyed their singing, and it certainly sounded like it.
The second part of the concert was given by the Training Choir, a mixed choir made up of about 40 girls and 30 boys. Everything I have said about the boys' choir applies equally as much to this mixed choir. They gave excellent renditions of their varied programme. They started with two movements from Pergolesi's Magnificat, followed by a lighter song in French by Arcadelt, a composer of Dutch extraction who worked in Rome and in Paris during the 16th century. These were followed by two unaccompanied songs by the modern composer Alan Bullard: Cantate Gloria and Broom-Pedlar's song. The boys on their own then sang an arrangement (by Emerson) of the Dowland song, Come again sweet love.
Then it was the girls' turn. They sang, unaccompanied, a most interesting and intriguing piece called The cat came back, which was full of extraneous animal noises as well as some interesting harmonic singing, not an easy piece.
The choir came together again to sing a lovely tender song, Dirait-on in French, by a Swedish composer who now lives in the USA. They finished with arrangements of two traditional Scottish songs: The Skye boat song and Westering home, the latter being taken at a cracking pace.
The direction by the two conductors, Gordon Jack of the Changed Voice Section, and Dominic Peckham of the Training Choir, was excellent; clear and precise, so that the boys and girls knew exactly what was required of them, and how well they responded! I mustn't forget to mention the accompanist, Stuart Hope. His accompaniment was also excellent, sensitively blending in with the voices and never dominating.
Overall this was a delightful concert and one to make everybody who was involved be proud. These boys and girls could certainly give some of today's adult choirs something to think about. I hope they return next year.
© Charlie Napier 18 August 2007. First published on www.edinburghguide.com.
Run The 28th Festival of British Youth Orchestras runs from 11 August to 1 September 2007
Complete programme: Online from NAYO