National Children's Orchestra of Great Britain

Leeds Town Hall

Saturday August 16

By Geoffrey Mogridge

A gruelling schedule of daily seven hour-long rehearsals at a Sedbergh School residency preceded this Leeds concert given by the Under 13 Orchestra - one of six age-banded orchestras that make up the National Children's Orchestras. 120 gifted young musicians were assembled on stage for what has happily become the NCO's annual summer visit to Leeds Town Hall.

The recorded voice of Winston Churchill delivering his immortal words, "Never was so much owed by so many to so few" gave way to the unmistakeable drone of Spitfires flying into battle. William Walton's Spitfire Prelude and Fugue fizzed with urgency and passion. Walton's stirring music drew opulent tones from this amazing orchestra conducted by Roger Clarkson, NCO's Principal Director of Music.

John Williams' Hymn to the Fallen, from his music for the film Saving Private Ryan, was given a beautifully nuanced performance. Walton's Prelude to Richard lll and a pair of numbers from Ferde Grofe's Grand Canyon Suite, including Sunrise and On the Trail, elicited a palette of orchestral colour from these exciting young musicians. The Waltz from Tchaikovsky's Serenade for Strings made a delicate precursor to his stupendous 1812 Overture.

This was not simply a case of the youngsters keeping their gun powder dry until the barnstorming finale, because everything they played beforehand had been touched by genius. The solemn, quieter sections of the 1812 were finely shaped; strings, brass and woodwind radiated a warm glow. The triumphant coda was sensational; a starburst of brass, bells and percussion illuminated the auditorium. There was some audience participation too; brown paper bags handed out at the start of the evening were to be discreetly blown up, and then burst simultaneously on the final tumultuous chord - Around 800 exploding paper bags imitating the sound of cannons. Great fun! The orchestra encored the final bars and so we were able to do it all again!

I have now reviewed three NCO concerts in Leeds Town Hall. Each time I close my eyes and wonder if they can really be children who are making music with such astonishing brilliance.