2015 review by Charlie Price, 14

I felt as if I had achieved ambitions in music years earlier than I thought I would achieve them. Side by Side is amazing- a must have experience.

We invited pupils at our Set Works concert, attended by over 100 GCSE and A level students, to write a review of the concert. Here is one, from Charlie Price, a pupil at Colchester Royal Grammar School, who also played in the ‘side-by-side’ ensemble where young musicians rehearsed and performed sitting alongside professional musicians.

Roman River Side by Side Orchestra

This is an opportunity to not be ignored by any young person with an enthusiasm for music and a will to engage with music at a whole new level. I have been making music for years, playing repertoire with other excellent amateurs in orchestras but to experience the competence, aptitude and confidence of professional players and make music with people like Elena Uroiste was something new and something I would not have missed for anything. Playing with the musicians meant I had a whole new level of excitement and motivation I have never got from watching and, during the entire experience and final concert of the festival, I felt as if I had achieved ambitions in music years earlier than I thought I would achieve them. Side by Side is amazing- a must have experience.

Review for Insight Concert

In the resonant and sunlit main hall of my wonderful secondary school, I was once again reminded of the artistry, beauty and aptitude of professional musicians and also the same qualities of the beautiful, well-chosen works they performed by Bach, Mozart, Haydn, Tippet and Copland.

The first movement of Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 2 is a personal favourite and a piece I have listened to many, many times. This jubilant and grand movement in ritornello form, passing its joyous major theme through each of the soloists and the accompanying strings is a truly wonderful piece of music. The energy the accompanying chamber orchestra brought to it was indeed thrilling and the sound of a hall filled with pacing strings was extremely pleasurable. The soloists on the oboe, trumpet, violin and flute (which I believe played the recorder part) accepted their roles beautifully and led the orchestra with great enthusiasm. The flutist did an excellent job of trying to imitate a more period, baroque sound, while the solo violinist came through beautifully with the oboe in a perfect timbre combination. The trumpeter on his piccolo trumpet had a very tough job with some extremely high notes but managed the vast majority of them and sang out, the only brass voice among the strings and woodwind. This piece was taken at a perfect speed. I would say that the final chord was slightly rushed and stopped a moment too soon before it could satisfyingly sink in but this was a virtually flawless execution of one of my favourite pieces.

The succeeding double string orchestra piece by Tippet was not something I knew and it was interesting to experience a new composer. I found this piece slightly challenging to listen for various reasons, but I admit that I would need to listen to more of this composer to have the true right to an opinion. The playing was extremely vivacious and very technically assured. The tuning, as it was throughout the whole concert, was flawless and one comes to appreciate intonation a lot after playing in amateur music ensembles for years.

Copland’s Quiet City is one of my favourite works by the composer. The orchestra played with economy and did not detract at all from the soloists. The solo trumpeter and Cor Anglais player had beautiful tone and dynamic range. The instruments together worked beautifully and you could feel the communication and musical dialogue between the two.

The two classical symphony movements by Haydn and Mozart are also personal favourites and it was lovely to see Orlando Jopling’s admiration for the simplicity of Haydn’s structural idea as well as my music teacher, Dr. Medlicott’s detailed explanation of Mozart’s concept of thematic material. The balance between the slowly growing wind section and stings was perfect and the players honoured the pieces’ sturm and drang styles  duly by varying their energy levels, dynamics and articulation in an apt classical era way. Some parts of the Mozart I felt were slightly rushed tempo wise but on the other hand it isn’t a relaxed, meandering piece like some of the others so that was probably in fact quite a good choice.

The last Copland piece Appalachian Spring, a piece I listened to on Radio 3 recently and have played before is another favourite. Copland’s simple harmonic ideas can be so evocative and I love the dialogue in the piece between slow, melancholy, quiet sections and the faster ones with a quite ragtime feel. The contrasts were marvellously executed once again and the passion and seriousness with which the musicians took the music was lovely to watch. The violins and the lower strings all moved with each other beautifully while you could simultaneously sense the dialogue between the upper and lower registers. The bassoonist and clarinettist has beautiful tone, intonation and clarity in articulation. The very competent pianist played her part bravely and came through nice and percussively among the more sustained sounds we had heard a lot of.

All of these factors combined beautifully to create performances of unbelievable competence and merit. The miniscule number of personal dislikes only made the performance more human. It was a wonderful afternoon of extraordinary and varied music, played and conducted by world class professionals and narrated with aplomb and clarity. A brilliant afternoon of music.

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