Royal Holloway in Concert with the London Mozart Players

Shoreditch Town Hall

Surrounded by the golden stuccoed and sweeping grandeur of the Shoreditch Town Hall the evening of uplifting music and youthful talent is surprisingly spartan. Simple orange lights never change allowing for the music to sing… for itself.

Rebecca Miller looks very much like a chic circus ringleader conducting the red and black orchestra in a rousing commencing blast of Petite Suite de Concert, Op 77 by Samuel Coleridge-Taylor. Dramatic, mountain pastures are called up as the first movement swings to its driving inner destination. The second movement is softer, sweeter, and slightly mournful while the 3rd a playful and flirtatious affair. Finishing off this section with valour and bravery, almost a call to arms. We are not messing about and the mix of hopeful-eyed students and worldly professional London Mozart Players prove to be a fruitful pairing.

Miller explaining not only the importance of diversity in music and the issues faced by the college throughout covid, but we are also reminded of the joy learning an instrument to such a level provides. The focus on not only white, male composers makes this evening an interesting as well as an enjoyable experience.

Hemmed in by beaming parents and mayor in glistening chain we settle in for an evening of perfection. Not a toe, finger, or lip is out of time or tune, and apart from one particularly squeaky chair, it is all swelling sound and well-deserved pride.

The classic are of course as to be expected outstanding. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Exultate Jubilate K 165 is as jubilant and exulted as you would imagine. Hilary Cronin as the lion-maned soprano pulls together the piece and is an enigmatic focus point. Her outstanding range and subtle self-assured nature on stage are emblematic of her years of experience.

It is the newer works however that prove the college’s dedication to bucking the trend and gets us frozen in rapture. Especially the Three Latin American Dances by Gabriela Lena Frank. Lena Frank as a legally deaf, living, south American climate activist has a voice both unique and distinctive. Blending Spanish and native Peruvian influences with a brassy, jazzy, and playful series of movements that never fully give up their secrets. With a surprisingly arch and comedic sense that is very rare to find in classical music, her complex creations are given joyful life by the students.

The university choir stands looking like Greek statues in ball gowns and tuxes. Despite the flashbacks to my year 11 prom what they sing is as fresh as choral music can get. Give me some music from Three Shakespeare Songs by Cecilia McDowall is our first piece in English, and nice to be able to understand the meaning a little more (as my Italian is pretty shocking). The choir warm up quickly into this piece and flex their vocal wings despite the piece being a little aimless.

A new composition by Royal Holloways homegrown Ph.D. student Nathan James Dearden ‘Let all the world in ev’ry corner sing’ from Full of sweet days is heavily in canon. Proclaiming a hopeful message its a pretty but at points perplexing piece.

Jake Runestad’s ‘Flower into Kindness’from Into the Light and ‘Wild Forces’from The Hope of Loving is exciting, with the strings to deepen the effect. Love conquers style lyrics with an outstanding small solo by Ellie Ajao which inflames the heart with its fragile grace. Cinematic and very emotive this piece flys. Toby Young’s Love and Harmony is also swelling and very interesting when pulling the singers down to their lower registers.

We finish the evening with Academic Festival Overture, Op 80, by Johannes Brahms. A triumphant call bursting forth in a way that only a full orchestra in its power can do. Simply blissful.

As the future of classical music and even more impressively in the face of a global pandemic these ladies and gentlemen have proved that there is life in the old dog yet. A song of hope in many keys and instruments. Maybe a touch dramatic but as someone who tried (and failed) to learn piano in lockdown those involved are nothing short of magicians.