• Miles Hedley

CHAMBER MUSIC WEEK FINALE at Blackheath Halls and online


It was a daunting task – to cover 900 years of western music from 12th century sacred monophony to 21st century jazz in one afternoon with only four days of rehearsal. Yet 60 student performers pulled it off with a virtuosic elan that belied their years and helped make Trinity Laban’s inaugural Chamber Music Week an unqualified triumph.

Coached by great names in contemporary classical music, seven ensembles gathered for the grand finale in front of a small socially distanced audience at Blackheath Halls and gave a series of stunning recitals that were live-streamed on the conservatoire’s YouTube channel.

A percussion ensemble led by Lindsey Eastham and Calum Huggan opened the finale with three millennial works - a drowsily gorgeous piece for four marimbas by Eric Whitacre, a thunderous work for three drummers by Nebojša Jovan Živković and a lovely creation featuring vibraphones played with bows by Elliot Coke. Performers Lulu Vallejo, Jack Thompson, Micah Baker, Sam Swift, Samantha Shaw, Ethan Windle, Kieran Newport, Ben Quilter, Jacob Slade, Richard Sweet and Gregor Black showed that percussion is just as much about nuance as power.

I’ve enjoyed fine performances by the Rubythroat vocal ensemble several times over the years and this one was as good as any of them. Directed by ex-Swingle Singer Linda Hirst, sopranos Miranda Ostler, Sally Carr and Madeleine Todd, alto Hester Dart, tenors Alex Akhurst and Charles Eastwood and bass Adam Brown gave us work-in-progress versions of Columba Aspexit by 12th century saint Hildegard of Bingen, a 400-year-old piece by Monteverdi and a wholly contemporary work by jazz singer, composer and multi-instrumentalist Sorana Santos which pulsed with extraordinary harmonies.

Next up, Joe Townsend’s Creative Strings - Grace Byrne, Michael McCann, Francesca Cosattini-Barrett, Sophie Paeshuyse, Anna Zaffagni, Josie Chapman, Eleanor Daft, Conling Wu, Simone Ciccarelli, Marco Scandurra, Flora Valila, Rebecca Burden and Sara Flores Montes – played a folk-inspired programme of heartwarming Celtic fiddle music that segued seamlessly into a dazzling piece with a distinctly east European feel.

A postgraduate wind sextet made up of Megan Storer on flute, Brandon Hao on oboe, Ben Mason on clarinet, Gabriela Taylor on bassoon, Chris Collins on horn and Alex Lyon on bass clarinet offered a marvellously challenging contemporary classical programme.

And in a tremendous contrast, they were followed by pianist Mario Miralles, violinist Hannah Littlechild, violist Marco Scandurra, cellist Ludovico Colombo and double bassist Alexander Ferkey performing Schubert’s Trout Quintet.

The penultimate turn was an ensemble coached by Superbrass trombonist Philip White and featuring trumpeters Edmund Habershon, Ethan McInerney, Jesse Musson and Ali Hancorn, horn-players Simon Jelly and Salvador Garcia, trombonists Rhodri Thomas, Ben Wakley, Hannah Roberts and Owain Davies and tuba-player Chris Price.

They opened with White’s rousing – and timely - Fanfare For A Better Future then took us back nearly half a millennium with Palestrina’s O Magnum Mysterium and rounded off with fabulous renditions of a Dvorak Slavonic Dance, Debussy’s matchless The Girl With The Flaxen Hair and extracts from a work by 20th century American Raymond Premru.

Internationally acclaimed violinist Stephanie Gonley of the Nash Ensemble ended the event by guiding violinists Greta Papa, Daniel Pukach and Camille Buitenhuis, violists Natalia Solis Paredes and Peter Fenech and cellists Cristina Cooper and Meg Allen through the fiendishly difficult intricacies of Mendelssohn’s Octet. It was a tour de force ending to week that frankly took my breath away when I considered that all this had been achieved in only a few days.

Earlier in the week, the inaugural Carne Trust chamber competition was jointly won by all-female quintet Levedy (a medieval term for Lady) and the Undercroft Trio. Levedy – sopranos Madeleine Todd and Olivia Bell, mezzos Helen Daniels and Rhian Davies and harpist Laudine Dard - played Britten’s Ceremony Of Carols and Undercroft - violinist Tom Crofton-Green, cellist Maddy Hamilton and pianist Tom Knowles - played Dvorak’s Piano Trio No2 in G Minor.

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