To have nearly 500 performers from the three Foundation Schools for Howells Elegy and Britten’s War Requiem was extraordinary in itself, and to have so many student players and singers for our particular performance made our concert perhaps unique. The commitment and dedication, skill and musicianship of all the performers was evident on the evening.
The evening began with the Howells Elegy for Viola Solo and Strings, so beautifully performed by Alinka Roe from Alleyn’s. The War Requiem followed, demanding on any level, complex in construction but brilliantly clear through the ensemble components; the Main Orchestra, Chorus and Soprano Soloist for the Requiem Mass text; the Chamber Orchestra, Tenor and Baritone Soloists for the Wilfred Owen poems, and the Off Stage Choir, creating a distant heavenly image or a ghostly reminder of lost youth, which for the purposes of our performance was made up of both boys and girls from our three Schools – Britten’s original scoring is for a boys’ choir. The sound world of this music that Britten generates vivid images of the terrors of battle both on a grand military scale and to the deeply personalised, human individual case. The experiences and horrors of battle are, for most of us mercifully unknown, but are dramatically and disturbingly present in Britten’s score. The effect of the piece on the listener is, therefore, utterly overwhelming, encompassing an extreme range of emotional moods, rather as war fare would be. It is shattering and the difficulty is that it concludes without resolution or settlement. The matter of whether there is rest, peace or hope is left unanswered.
My hope is that both the Howells and Britten’s War Requiem will remain in the memories of many for years to come.
Richard Mayo, Director of Music, Dulwich College