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On Wednesday 6th December, St Gregory’s Centre for Music welcomed an audience in from the chilly winter weather to watch a performance given by our University String Orchestra, entitled Festive Strings.

The orchestra was originally founded in 2007 and explores the repertoire for strings from the Baroque era to the present day. In recent years it has performed works by Tchaikovsky, Britten, Ireland, Hindemith, Vivaldi, Parry, Vaughan Williams and Finzi. The orchestra also works with student composers in workshops at which newly composed works are rehearsed and performed. Our current crop of student members from across all three year groups are: violinists Sam Der-Kevorkian, Ester Chung, Abbie O’Neill, Aaron Mather, Rebecca Tarrant, Angeline Samson, Anna Cullen, Meg Franklin and Aytan Buyukoglu; viola players Aimee Johnson, Emily Walker, Zoe Brown and Hannah Whitehouse; cellists Izzy Richardson and Helen Bloom and double bassist Sarah Toms.

The ensemble are directed by Martin Outram, Senior Lecturer in Music, who also directs the Symphony Orchestra. As a member of the Maggini Quartet and a viola soloist he has performed throughout the world and given masterclasses in the USA and several European countries. He is a Fellow of the Royal Academy of Music where he has been a Professor of Viola and Chamber music since 1984.

The programme for the lunch time concert began with the opening movement from Beethoven’s Seranade, the Entrata for flute, violin and viola. The piece was written around 1800 for amateur music-making, as allegedly the flute was considered the most appropriate instrument for this market, and is typical of the outdoor flavour for which the music was intended for performance.

The next three pieces followed on a decidedly Russian theme. The first two are found in a collection called Les Vendredis meaning The Fridays in relation to a practice in the 1890s where a group of Russian musicians used to meet regularly on Friday evenings at the apartment of a wealthy timber merchant and amateur musician who commissioned and published two volumes of string quartets which catalogued the achievements of some of the leading composers of the period. The Courante, by Glazunov, performed by the ensemble, is included in this collection. The composer is remembered for famous violin concertos and orchestral pieces as well as being  a teacher to Shostakovich. The following piece, Scherzo, also from the collection, was composed by Sokolov – a composer less well known in the UK and slightly older than Glazunov, yet who also taught Shostakovich.

Leaving Les Vendredis behind, the ensemble moved onto a piece by Prokofiev, the first movement Allegro sostenuto from his String Quartet No.2. The work was written in 1941 and when the Nazi’s broke their non-aggression pact with the Russians, the latter decided that many of their leading artists, writers and musicians needed to be evacuated for their safety to various parts of the country and Prokofiev was included on this list. During this period, he was given a commission by the Russian government to write a work based on local folk themes and dances, from which the piece the ensemble perform is found.

The final two short pieces departed the Russian theme, composed by Italian, Albinoni, and Brit, Holst, which the entire String Orchestra came together to play. The first piece was all three movements (Allegro, Adagio, Allegro) of Sinfonia in G Major by Albinoni, who wrote nine such sinfonia’s and around eighty operas during his lifetime, though almost all of which sadly have not survived as none were formally published. Despite this, it is his instrumental works for which he is largely remembered. Closing the concert, the full ensemble performed all three movements (Prelude, Air, Dance) of Holst’s Brook Green Suite. The composer created the work in 1933, yet unfortunately never heard the piece publicly performed as he died the following year.

Next Wednesday sees our final lunch time event of the semester, as first year Dance Education students take to St Gregory’s for a performance of Historical Dance from the 16th to 19th century with live music accompaniment from the recorder and harpsichord.