Expert’s festival feedback helps make up for missing live audience as QE’s musicians shine

Expert’s festival feedback helps make up for missing live audience as QE’s musicians shine

With coronavirus restrictions this year putting paid to QE’s usual spring concert for some of its most advanced musicians, the School instead staged a special online Grade 8 and Diploma Festival with an expert external appraiser.

The event, which is now live on the Music department’s YouTube channel, featured 13 musicians, from Year 7 through to Year 12, playing in the School Hall.

Listening and watching online was Christopher Sparkhall, Director of Music at Canford School in Dorset, who gave the performers immediate feedback on their performances and then sent them longer, written feedback a few days later.

QE’s Director of Music, Ruth Partington, said: “We devised this festival because we wanted to give these accomplished young musicians the opportunity to practise performing in front of a knowledgeable and friendly stranger.

“It was very deliberately billed as a festival, not a competition: in normal years, the boys might have expected a warm round of applause from a live audience; instead, Mr Sparkhall gave them feedback that, while honest, was both generous and constructive.”

Mr Sparkhall, who was an Organ Scholar at Oxford, is an examiner for the ABRSM (the examination board of the Royal Schools of Music) and is on the senior examiners team as reviser for AQA GCSE Music. He sings with a semi-professional chamber choir, Sarum Voices.

The first half of the festival featured seven pianists, all of whom have either achieved Grade 8 and are now working towards their Diploma, or are working towards Grade 8. They played pieces by composers including Debussy, Grieg, Chopin and Rachmaninov. Shreyas Iyengar,  of Year 7, who is pictured, top, performed Passepied, written by 19th-century French Romantic composer Léo Delibes as part of his incidental music for the play, Le roi s’amuse, by Victor Hugo.

Following a short interval, the festival continued with musicians playing the viola, alto saxophone and cello, and with performances by two singers, Shivas Patel, of Year 12, and Arjun Patel, of Year 10.

After alto saxophonist Conor Parker-Delves had brought the festival to a conclusion with his rendition of Robert Planel’s Prélude et Saltarelle, Mr Sparkhall said: “Such accomplished playing! What a wonderful end to a brilliant afternoon.”

  • Miss Partington recently led a research process to make the key choice of which grand piano should be purchased for the recital hall in QE’s new Music School, which is due to open in the autumn. During a week’s testing, piano teacher and accompanist Tadashi Imai played two instruments brought in on loan. The Music department then unanimously picked the Yamaha CF6 over the other instrument, a Bösendorfer 214VC. The School’s Foundation Trustees (Trustees of the Endowment Fund of the Schools of Queen Elizabeth I in Barnet) have agreed to pay for the piano, valued at just under £75,000. Expressing her gratitude for their contribution, Miss Partington said the aim was now to raise a further £30,000 through giving to QE’s new Piano Fund to cover costs for other pianos and equipment.