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Strathallan pupils open Perth Festival of the Arts

Look in the 2019 Perth Festival of the Arts brochure and you will see that, as always, the opening event was not a celebrity performance in the Concert Hall or Theatre, but a lunchtime School Concert in St John’s Kirk.

No fanfare, no fuss, but a tranquil place in the middle of a sunny city, beautifully decorated with special flowers and offering a dependable and reassuring annual reminder of our musical roots – given this year by pupils of Strathallan School.

With three singers, five instrumentalists and a brass ensemble to finish, the programme was varied and in every way rounded and satisfying. It’s always a special pleasure to hear boys’ voices at all the different stages that Mother Nature subjects them to, and here we had Sebastian P sharing and projecting the purity of his unchanged and still mellow treble, Struan D now clearly relishing the energy and sheer fun of his new-found tenor range and Alex W, seemingly already an established elder vocal statesman with a genuine bass register of astonishing maturity. With repertoire perfectly chosen by each one, they all delighted with their conviction of delivery and confident poise.

Interspersed with these three singing chaps, Madeleine S and Daisy R, on violin and viola respectively, gave stylish and relaxed concerto performances, both beautifully articulated and responsive to rhythmic nuance within the music, whilst Sophie C on clarsach showed an altogether different approach to string-playing: incisive and compelling, with an impressive command of dynamics, she proved beyond doubt that her instrument can deliver as good a blues as you could find anywhere in the Deep South.

The rich, smooth tone of Izzie B’s trumpet brought us back to Haydn and the sound of the classical world, resonating to perfection in the warm acoustic of St John’s, after which pianist Parn L gave an intense and vivid account of Aaron Copland’s quirky Cat and Mouse Scherzo, revelling in its contrasts of sound and silence and revealing in the process a very individual gift for performance.

It’s difficult enough during the summer exam season for individual pupils to make time for quality music-making so it was doubly gratifying that Strathallan was able to assemble a full brass ensemble to sign off, to the stirring strains of Julius Fuçik’s Florentiner March. Played with gusto but balanced by tasteful restraint and sensitivity where required, this grand finale summed up all that is so obviously good about what is plainly a thriving and successful music department.

Coming out into the bustling atmosphere of Perth’s Café Quarter, however, one could have wished that all its happy customers might have been persuaded to forego an hour of their al fresco refreshments to swell the audience and to support such exemplary youngsters. Good folk of Perth and visitors alike, do you know what you’re missing?

By Howard Duthie