Review / Selling scales out of school: Annette Morreau on Loose Chippings from the Orchestra of St John's Smith Square

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The Independent Culture
TWO dubiously voguish trends - music in education and commercialism in youth - collided at Thursday's concert given by the normally sedate Orchestra of St John's Smith Square. Take a worthy education project with a school boasting 1,895 pupils and introduce a lively young music graduate, only too aware that the smart (and possibly only) way to make a living these days is to 'get into education', and then mix in rising Nigel Kennedy-clone, Vanessa-Mae, aged 14, and good intentions are inexorably doomed.

The performance of Glyn Evans' Loose Chippings was the culmination of a six-week educational collaboration between members of the OSJSS and about 20 children from the North Westminster Community School. In an earlier talk, the composer explained that the piece worked on the 'concerto grosso' principle, featuring separate performing groups anchored structurally by the musicians of the OSJSS. Much of the material performed by the children had developed from improvisations during the educational sessions; these had then been subjected to a 'freezing' process for performance to avoid any threat of accident in public.

This was a pity because the children's sections, so obviously influenced by today's popular music and played on appropriate instruments - wood blocks, electric guitar, soprano saxophone - singularly lacked spontaneity and any sense of integration with the more obviously 'composed' sections. Vanessa-Mae joined in the proceedings as violin soloist, underlining all too painfully the contrast between average and prodigious. Vanessa-Mae is half-Singaporean and cuts a diminutive figure with her short hair, black trousers and braided top, like some kind of exquisite toy soldier. It is said that her business affairs are managed by those who attend to Cliff Richard and Jean-Michel Jarre, so it is clear where she is heading.

In Mozart's Violin Concerto in D K 218, despite her effortless technique and purity of tone (on an obviously fine instrument), she displayed little feeling for the music, or her colleagues. Her erratic time-keeping all too often left this orchestra of seasoned professionals guessing as to where she was going, with little the hapless conductor, John Lubbock, could do to keep matters under control. By contrast, Melinda Maxwell was a sensitive, if self-effacing oboe soloist in Nicholas Maw's Little Concert written for her in 1988 in celebration of the orchestra's 21st anniversary.

The lyrical, wistful opening, and 'recitativo' in the centre of the two-movement work brought out magical colours from her, even if the clarity of faster passages was marred by the over-reverberant acoustic of St John's. The concert began with Flagwalk, an unusually mellifluous composition by the baroque/jazz double-bass player, Barry Guy (see feature, p 26). It startlingly recalls the mood and harmonies of Gorecki's chart-topping Third Symphony, except that Gorecki's work was written in 1976, two years after Guy's.

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