Event: Chetham's Symphony Orchestra - Ravel, Szymanowski & Debussy, classical music, Bridgewater Hall, Manchester
Review by Alan Scott Robertson: five stars.
Last Friday we set off from Glasgow mid-morning to drive to Manchester to hear a school orchestra performing in the Bridgewater Hall. If you add in the fact that this orchestra is formed from a school with under 300 pupils, ranging from 8-18 years of age, you'd probably think we're insane. However, this 100-strong band just happens to be Chetham's Symphony Orchestra (CSO), arguably one of the finest youth orchestras in the world.
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Working under the baton (or initially just the hands) of Jac van Steen, who has just relinquished his position of Principal Guest Conductor of the BBC National Orchestra of Wales and will shortly take up a similar post with the Ulster Orchestra, CSO opened their programme with a beautiful rendition of Debussy's Prelude a l'apres-midi d'un faune, with the players skillfully following the fluid directions of the maestro's hands.
The first half was concluded by a stunning performance of Szymanowski's Stabat Mater, a work which certainly deserves greater exposure, and gave an amazing demonstration that such a small school can also produce a top-class SATB chorus. As well as the excellent contributions of the orchestra and chorus, the soprano soloist, Catriona Hewitson was particularly impressive.
After the interval came three pieces by Ravel, Alborada del Gracioso, Rapsodie Espagnole and La Valse, again featuring very tight and rhythmic ensemble playing and brilliant solo contributions from all sections of the orchestra.
Three years ago, when my daughter was a pupil at Chetham's, I tried unsuccessfully to interest Svend Brown, Director of Music at GRCH, in bringing CSO to Glasgow, and I have not given up on my crusade to let a Glasgow audience hear this wonderful orchestra.