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Dim Sum and Violins

On Thursday, Chetham’s School of Music held their end of term concert at the Bridgewater Hall. We sent roving reporter Mary down to check it out, and enjoy some dim sum at the Yang Sing afterwards…

Published on July 11th 2006.

Dim Sum and Violins

On Thursday, Chetham’s School of Music held their end of term concert at the Bridgewater Hall. But this wasn’t your average school concert - Chetham’s Symphony orchestra and chorus are full of world-class musicians, the Manchester school being the UK’s largest specialist music school, and recently the star of its own reality TV show.

I went to this concert at Bridgewater Hall thinking it was all about the Violinist, Jiafeng Chen. He’s one of the school’s more prestigious pupils, having won 2nd Prize at the prestigious Sibelius Violin Competition, Helsinki, December 2005.

I must admit, my knowledge of classical music is fairly limited. I did play the flute until about the age of 14, but then I gave it up to concentrate on extracurricular affairs of a different nature – most of them involving ogling boys.

As the members of the orchestra walked on stage I was struck by how normal and how young they were, but as soon as they started playing it was hard to separate the sound from something produced by an adult professional orchestra. Sitting there watching them, I was aware of how much dedication and determination all the pupils must have. I know what it’s like to have to practice for hours on end, and I have to admit, I used to struggle to practice just once a week.

The conductors did a remarkable job, conducting both the orchestra and the choir simultaneously during Holst’s Hymn of Jesus. The effect was that the sounds were juxtaposed to create a sense that the choir were instruments and the instruments were voices. The sound was beautiful.

The Violin Concerto was our chance to hear Jiafeng Chen, as he was the soloist for this piece. He stood next to the conductor facing the audience, no music stand in front of him. He just simply played. I say ‘simply’ because although he did take my breath away (cheesy, but there’s no other way to put it), his manner was so self-deprecating and he made it all look so easy. He was astounding, but when you realise that he is only 19, it makes his achievement even more magnificent. I don’t think anyone could fail to be amazed by his talent.

The final piece, Rachmaninov’s Symphonic Dances, was again fantastic. Every single note was played in tune and in time, there were simply no mistakes. Every member of the orchestra contributed to play one of the hardest pieces of music around.

The evening was generously sponsored by Yang Sing, so after the show we all headed back there for drinks and dim sum – a great opportunity to meet some of Chetham’s VIPs to gain an insight into the school.

I often eat Chinese but I didn’t recognise most of the dim sum so it was a real eye opener. The restaurant is newly refurbished and I’ve often walked past wondering what its like, but now I’ll have to book a table!

One of the school’s governors who I chatted to over dim sum described the school as a ‘jewel in Manchester’s crown’. This is true but so few people are aware of its existence. The school helps put Manchester on the map around the globe, as pupils come from all over the world to attend it, but people in its own city would probably have no idea that it was there. Many people have heard of it, but assume it’s in London or another city. The school has brought a musician like Jiafeng Chen to England, and importantly to Manchester, which is something for the city to be proud of.

The school plans to build a new £30 million building to help in its progression and safe guard it for the future, and just seeing the school perform once has made me realise why it is so important to keep a school like this going. Now where’s my flute…

Mary Vingoe

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