More than a Youth Orchestra: Chetham’s Autumn Music

Three times each year, academic teaching comes to a halt and Chetham’s devotes itself to performance, with a week of rehearsals, concerts and youth music involving students from primary school age right up to Sixth Form. The autumn term is particularly exciting as students new to the school give their first concerts alongside new friends and peers, just five weeks after term begins.

This autumn took things to a new level, with guest conductor Michael Seal joining a combined orchestra of players from Chetham’s Symphony Orchestra and Sinfonia in two sold-out performances; the first featuring two of the most outstanding works of the early 20th century, and the second celebrating some of the best loved film and television music of recent years. And if that weren’t enough, the week ended with a unique collaboration with partners at the Barratt Due Institute of Music, Oslo, bringing together students from both schools in a virtuosic programme for chamber orchestra.

Piano weekend and Debussy celebration

Pianists’ Music Course took place a little earlier than their peers, with a weekend of masterclasses and concerts from 6-7 October. Led by Debussy expert Roy Howat, students aged 8-18 performed the composer’s solo and duet works in their entirety, marking the centenary of his death. Internationally renowned as both a pianist and scholar, Roy Howat has produced two seminal books on Debussy, and edited much of the Paris-based Complete Debussy Edition. During the weekend he led workshops and lectures on specific Debussy and Chopin works, and introduced concerts for fellow students and public audiences.

Chetham’s Ensembles

In an exciting three-concert day, smaller ensembles were first onstage at The Stoller Hall. Trumpeters opened the concert from the Gallery, performing Stan Pethel’s complex Antiphon. Next came the Saxophone choir led by Andrew Wilson, with arrangements of Mendelssogn and Schultheiss’ seasonally-appropriate Witch Hunt. Our youngest string ensemble, Violetta, whose members start at the age, played Shostakovich’s Concerto in C minor, conducted from the viola by Dr Owen Cox and joined by young guest double bass players from the Greater Manchester Music Education Hub. The first concert ended with the Wind Band playing A Bernstein Tribute to end ‘Lenny’’s centenary year in style.

The Firebird

By 6pm the stage was set for piano and orchestra, as 16 year old Rose McLachlan played Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G major. Rose won the opportunity to perform as a soloist at February’s Concerto Auditions, and revelled in the varied pace and dynamics of this Jazz infused concerto. Next came the 1919 suite from Stravinsky’s The Firebird, transporting the audience to a Russian winter, an enchanted garden, and an infernal dance.

“From Russia, from France ..from Africa, America.. from Middle-Earth, from a Galaxy far, far away.. with love, and so much spirit and talent!”

Movie Music

Guest conductor Michael Seal, more often to be seen at Birmingham Symphony Hall as Associate Conductor of the CBSO, remained at the helm alongside special guests from Big Screen Live for the last performance of the day. Presenter Tommy Pearson introduced and gave context to a series of film and TV scores, from The Lord of the Rings to Game of Thrones and James Bond. A packed stage featured saxophones, drum kit, harp and a rotating horn section, as well as the special talents of Year 13 student Adrià Aranda Balibrea on violin for Schindler’s List, and Mike Lovatt as an outstanding guest trumpeter for La La Land. If that weren’t enough, composer Ben Foster also stepped onstage to introduce his own new music for TV’s Thunderbirds Are Go.

Director of Music Stephen Threlfall explained, “Our role as the UK’s largest specialist music school is to help our students prepare for the diversity of life as a working musician. Orchestras countrywide are expanding programmes of film and popular repertoire alongside the wonders of the classical canon. In today’s programme, our students are developing a diversity of musical knowledge, and a breadth of skills, to fit them for the professional world.”

Truly talented teens, astonishing solo cellist and accessible, enjoyable programme.

Nørthern Lights Chamber Orchestra

The fifteen year collaboration between Chetham’s and the Barratt Due Institute of Music, Oslo, reached new heights with the formation of the Nørthern Lights Chamber Orchestra – a new youth chamber orchestra included students from both schools, who rehearsed together in Oslo and Manchester before performing virtuosic works by Stravinsky, Bloch and Strauss at The Stoller Hall.

The concert followed many years of exchange between both staff and students, who have travelled between the two institutions for masterclasses, chamber music projects and cultural exchange. Its repertoire was chosen to showcase the exceptional talents of the young players involved through demanding solo passages, conducted by Barratt Due’s Arvid Engegård. Soloist Birgitta Elisa Oftestad, 16, who performed the cello part for Ernest Bloch’s trio of miniatures, From Jewish Life, was a finalist in the 2018 Eurovision Young Musician competition in Edinburgh, whilst every section of the orchestra included players from both schools, united through music.


Chetham’s Spring Music runs from February 3-15, 2019, and includes Chetham’s Concerto Finals – your chance to spot next year’s soloists – semi-staged scenes from Mendelssohn’s Elijah in the atmospheric Baronial Hall, and Chetham’s Symphony Orchestra performing Britten, Sibelius and Elgar’s Enigma Variations in Manchester and London

Order DVDs of Chetham’s Ensembles, The Firebird and Movie Music from Black Swan Film and Video


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