One of the great pleasures of coming to a music school is the chance to make music with other similarly talented young musicians. We run a large number of ensembles from a full-size Symphony Orchestra to trios, all of which have opportunities to perform throughout the year.
The main ensembles organised by the Music Department are as follows:
Symphony Orchestra rehearses throughout the School year, on Tuesday and Thursday evenings, and there are two intensive three-day courses with an external conductor each academic year leading up to concerts, including concertos. Most recently, these have been with Colin Metters at the Watford Colosseum, and Karina Canellakis at the Royal Festival Hall. Recent repertoire has included Shostakovich Festive Overture, Rachmaninov Piano Concerto No. 2, Rimsky-Korsakov Scheherazade.
Sinfonia is the Middle School Orchestra, usually for members of Years 9 and 10. It rehearses weekly and gives two or three concerts during the year, including concertos. Recent repertoire has included late Haydn Symphonies, Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf and Piano Concerto No.1, Brahms’ Double Concerto and Wagner’s Siegfried Idyll.
Younger students generally play in the Junior Orchestra, which is designed to develop their awareness of ensemble playing and sight-reading ability. Depending on the players available, some works for strings or wind on their own may be chosen, or the orchestra may work as one group. In the summer of 2014, the Strings of the Junior Orchestra performed Grieg’s Holberg Suite at the Conway Hall in London, where the school gave its first ever concert in 1963.
All students in the school take part in one of the choirs. The Senior Choir is for all students in Years 9 to 13; it performs twice each year, in December and July, the second performance being a major choral work in St Albans Cathedral with organ or orchestra. Recent works have included Britten’s Rejoice in the Lamb, Rutter’s Gloria and Bach’s Magnificat. The choir also performs at our annual Christmas Concert in St Mary’s Church in Watford.
The Chamber Choir is an auditioned mixed voice choir of about 30 members drawn from Year 11 (occasionally Year 10) and the Sixth Form. It gives several concerts each year: recent performances have included Bach’s Lobet den Herrn at St Martin’s in the Fields, Tippett’s Five Spirituals in St Albans Cathedral, and Choral Evensong at Westminster Abbey. In 2015, the choir will be touring Holland and Belgium to perform works by Allegri, Brahms and Handel, and giving a recital at St Paul’s Cathedral.
Junior Choir and New Junior Voices
Students in Years 5 to 8 are all members of the Junior Choir, which rehearses weekly and performs three times each year. Rehearsals concentrate as much on voice production and aural training as on learning notes. Recent repertoire has included Britten’s Missa Brevis and Ceremony of Carols, Holst’s Hymns from the Rig Veda.
Big Band and Purcell Jazz Band
The School’s Big Band gives non-jazz specialists a chance to perform alongside first study jazz players, who take the majority of the solo lines. The Big Band has worked with Steve Waterman and Stan Sulzman. The Purcell Jazz Band is made up of first study jazz players, and performs standards alongside arrangements by staff and current students.
Chamber music is regarded as an essential component of an all-round musical education, and all pianists, string, wind and brass players in Year 9 and above are members of at least one chamber group. We currently run over 50 chamber ensembles, including string quartets, piano trios, quartets and quintets, piano duets, wind quintets and sextets, brass quintets and dectets, percussion ensembles, and vocal groups. All of these rehearse weekly and receive coaching, and the best are chosen to perform at the Wigmore Hall or another prestigious London venue.
In addition, the following opportunities are often available:
- Jazz groups (trios, quartets, quintets, junior and senior improvisation groups)
- Student-led groups (folk groups, barbershop quartets, rock bands, funk groups etc.)
- The Contemporary Ensemble
- Electronic music (often student compositions that mix live and electronic instruments)
If students have a yearning to play music that isn’t on offer, they are encouraged to go ahead and form their own ensemble.
Examples of the work of a few of these ensembles can be seen and heard by visiting our video gallery.