Successful opening festival for The Friends’ Recital Hall and Music Rooms heralds new opportunities for QE’s musicians

Successful opening festival for The Friends’ Recital Hall and Music Rooms heralds new opportunities for QE’s musicians

From the very first notes played by the Indian and Guitar ensembles in their Wednesday morning breaktime appearances through to guest pianist Béla Hartmann’s closing bars in the Friday night gala concert finale, the opening festival for QE’s new Music building was a feast of high-quality performance.

The three-day extravaganza marked the official opening of The Friends’ Recital Hall and Music Rooms by showcasing both the talents of the School’s young musicians and the new multi-million-pound facilities themselves.

And in celebration of the expanded extra-curricular opportunities the state-of-the-art building will provide, a string of professional musicians were invited in to give talks, to lead masterclasses and to perform.

Headmaster Neil Enright said: “I am very happy to say that the festival was a great success, with many, many memorable moments, two magnificent evening concerts and a splendid atmosphere over the three days. All in all, this was a very worthy way to inaugurate this significant addition to our facilities, with participants truly rising to the occasion.

“Music is really flourishing here at QE, and the department now has the facilities it needs to support the teaching of the Music curriculum for all pupils, as well as the extensive range of extra-curricular music that enriches the QE experience for so many of our boys.

“My congratulations go to our Director of Music, Ruth Partington, her Assistant Director, James McEvoy-Stevenson, Music teacher Caroline Grint and the small army of peripatetic teachers who have all helped the boys reach such high levels of performance.”

The new building received the go-ahead in 2019 after the School’s application for a £1.2m grant and £1m loan from the Department for Education was successful. It has been completed with extensive financial support from the Friends of Queen Elizabeth’s (FQE) and through fundraising by the boys, including the Pianoathon held last summer to help pay for new upright pianos for the seven practice rooms. Pride of place in the recital hall goes to the new Yamaha CF6 grand piano, valued at just under £75,000, which was purchased by the School’s Foundation Trustees.

In addition to the Music facilities, the complex features a covered atrium for boys to use at lunchtimes and breaktimes which incorporates the new Mayes Atrium Café.

“My heartfelt thanks go once again to all those in the Elizabethan community who have donated to FQE and thus made possible this exciting project,” said the Headmaster.

The first day of the festival saw the breaktime performances by the Indian Ensemble and Guitar Ensemble, with lunchtime slots filled by Junior Jazz and the Jazz Band. In the afternoon, GCSE and A-level Music students, along with selected musicians from other Music groups, enjoyed talks by three Old Elizabethans and professional musicians: Rhys Bowden (1996–2003), an operatic tenor who teaches singing at QE; composer Richard Collins (2005–2012), and violinist Simon Purdy, who teaches the instrument at the School.

Day two saw the Junior Strings perform at break, with Junior Winds and Senior Winds both in action at lunchtime. The afternoon was taken up with masterclasses for the Pianoathon winners and for members of Junior Jazz and the Jazz Band led by pianist and improvisor extraordinaire, Harry the Piano.

The evening saw Harry perform in concert in his inimitable style, with pre-concert and interval music provided by the Junior String Quartet, Sax Ensemble and Trumpet Ensemble. Two of the School’s star musicians, Year 8’s Noah Morley and Conor Parker-Delves, of Year 13, even had the chance to shine alongside Harry, performing improvisations with him.

On Friday, the 160-strong School Choir gave the breaktime performances, enjoying the experience of all being together – something that was not possible in the old Music department. Lunchtime appearances were by the Orchestra and Senior Strings. Afternoon masterclasses for élite musicians were given by award-winning international pianist Béla Hartmann.

The final evening brought the Festival Concert, which was arranged particularly to demonstrate the acoustics of the recital hall and the capabilities of the Yamaha grand piano. The Senior Vocal Group played during the Headmaster’s Reception for donors and other VIP guests; the pre-concert welcome music came from the Saxophone Quintet and music during the interval was provided by the Senior Piano Trio and Senior Violin Trio.

The concert’s main line-up featured a piano duet and piano, viola, cello and saxophone solos by the boys, as well as a first-half appearance by pianist Tadashi Imai, resident accompanist at the Royal Academy of Music and a piano teacher at QE. There were also appearances by the Jazz Band, Chamber Choir, Junior Violin Trio and Year 13 Flute Trio, before Mr Hartmann brought the concert programme and the festival to a conclusion. The repertoire ranged from Beethoven Chopin, Mendelssohn and Ravel to lesser-known composers such as Jules Demersseman and Carl Bohm, with one soloist, Jao-Yong Tsai, of Year 12, playing a sonata that he had composed himself.