“The most frightening experience of my life” was how percussionist James Robinson described the second half of last Saturday’s concert at Truro School, before the event. He was not the only person to express doubts. Truro School’s Director of Music, Martin Palmer, had announced a plan to ‘test the acoustic’ of the school’s shiny new Sir Ben Ainslie Sports Hall, by mounting a performance of Stravinsky’s fiendishly difficult Rite of Spring on perilously little rehearsal time. No-one believed he could do it.
How would the orchestra, a mixture of professional players and school children, cope with the complexity and technical hurdles of this iconic work? How would the audience react to discordant musical language, which to many seems no more comprehensible today than it did a hundred years ago? In 1913 the first performance of Rite of Spring sparked off a riot, with chairs being hurled around the concert hall: the audience became hysterical and violent when confronted by Stravinsky’s tableau, in which a specially chosen young girl dances herself to death before the tribal elders.
“We haven’t got the instruments.”
Never mind that – plenty of saxophones in the school can do for French horns, and a small string section will just have to play with twice as much energy. Of course they will. Martin has a track record of bringing off seemingly impossible concerts. Nevertheless, it was believed he had bitten off more than he could chew…
Not so. Adrenaline is a strange substance, and Martin’s baton is a magic wand. Add the innate professionalism of so many of the players and you seem to get an audience spellbound, whatever the music. Sam Gurney’s eerie high-pitched bassoon solo, which opened the work, seemed to take to the rafters and from then on the performance was flying. The raw energy and enthusiasm was electric. A battery of noisy percussion instruments delivered the terrifying final sacrificial dance. The audience responded with rapturous applause… the riot was not re-enacted.
By way of contrast, the concert opened with the ever-popular Vivaldi Gloria, sung by the combined forces of Truro Choral Society, choirs from Truro School and the County Youth Choir. Energetic and polished playing and crisp, disciplined singing were maintained throughout. There is an impressive array of talent among young soloists in Truro. Trumpeter Edward Myers and singers Bromley Hurn, Eleanor Sullivan, James Stevenson and Joe Lee, all pupils of Truro School, all communicated wonderfully with their audience. Special mention should be made of Ellie Sullivan who demonstrated a lovely purity of tone both as oboist and as soprano singer, and Joe Lee who showed great confidence in dealing with Vivaldi’s demanding vocal acrobatics.
The acoustic, it turns out, is splendid, with sharp detail, clarity of diction and young voices all clearly audible – even if Truro’s lovely new sports hall may not be the most atmospheric or visually inspiring concert venue.
And, to round off a successful evening, an astonishing £1,500 was raised for the charity Voluntary Action for Development, helping some of the poorest people in Uganda.
A gallery of images from the concert is available to view.
Paul and Camilla Comeau,
Truro School Music Department