PictureHilary Hahn

The Purcell School prides itself on its extensive outreach projects both within the local community and further afield. The Community Festival sees Purcell pupils in Year 11 working together with pupils from 2 local secondary schools, and this year we welcomed Bushey Meads and Bushey Academy. Purcell students are grouped with a visiting pupil to form duos and also larger collective ensembles. During four preliminary sessions the pupils composed a duo together and worked on arrangements in their ensembles in preparation for their presentation at the festival. The highlight of the work is a concert at The Purcell School where family and friends are invited. Impressively, the whole event is managed by a small team of Year 11 students which forms the leadership project for their Gold Arts Award, a recognised qualification for young people to grow as artists and arts leaders.

This year’s festival was of particular significance due to the attendance and a performance from Hilary Hahn, the internationally acclaimed violinist. Hilary Hahn made her first major orchestral debut with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra in 1990 at the age of eleven while studying with Jascha Brodsky at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia. By 1995, Hahn was debuting internationally and by 1996 she had debuted at Carnegie Hall as a soloist with the Philadelphia Orchestra.

Hahn arrived at school to the giggles and whispers of our first study violinists whose excitement at having one of their idols in the building was almost palpable. The pupils rehearsed up until the last moment knowing that the performances would be a once in a lifetime opportunity. Hilary watched on graciously as each duo and ensemble performed. She then took to the stage herself to perform a Bach partita and a piece composed for her by Garcia-Abril. The room fell silent as the sound of her 19th century violin filled the hall. As part of her performance the pupils were asked to respond to the piece by creating sketches of what they had experienced during her playing. From minimalist patterns to full portraits of Hahn in performance the pupils seemed suitably inspired.

The event concluded with a prize giving where Alison Cox, The Purcell School’s Head of Composition and Outreach, gave medals to the ensembles and duos that showed the most progress. Hilary then spoke about the importance of outreach work for musicians. She expressed vividly how important music can be in bringing people together and how it is projects such as this one that prove that all music, including classical, is for everyone.