In the intimate setting of St John’s Chapel, Flute Choir were poised and ready to present an evening of delightful music to welcome in the festive season. The concert entitled ‘A Night at the Ballet’, promised a wonderful selection of well-known tunes including pieces from Swan Lake and The Nutcracker, as well as several Christmas carols.

The programme comprised of 24 pieces (of which I will select some highlights), beginning with a lovely rendition of Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’. The opening unison line was so together that it sounded like one player and the piece as a whole had a smooth lilt, capturing the flow of the 12/8 time signature well. This was a wonderful start to the concert!

Following this was ‘Danse des Mirlitons’ from Tchaikovsky’s ballet, The Nutcracker, an excellent choice of piece for a flute choir. I felt that the balance was a little middle heavy; it would have been good to have heard the main tune coming through the texture a bit more, however I was impressed at the togetherness of the ensemble, ably lead by conductor, Lydia Leach. The first Christmas carol of the night followed this piece, ‘Hark the Herald Angels Sing’, which showed off the ensemble’s round, full sound. It was a brief rendition but, nevertheless, well executed.

‘The opening unison line was so together that it sounded like one player’

Then came the first trio of the concert. I think it is a great idea to offer players the chance to perform in even smaller groups as it enables them to develop their skills of playing one to a part as well as giving them an opportunity to shine! Izzy, Emmy, and Lottie (three first year students) certainly did this with their performance of the theme from Swan Lake, working well as a trio by breathing together and finishing phrases cleanly. Some practical advice for this group (and, indeed, all the trios and duets tonight) would be to use a music stand each, in order to give yourselves more space, and also to remember to take a bow at the end – the audience really enjoyed your performances so you deserve to soak in the applause!

 

Skipping on to ‘O Holy Night’, this piece certainly had the potential to rush with the offbeat entries in the lower parts; however, it was great to hear the tempo keeping steady throughout, especially in the confidently played arpeggio figures. Next was the second trio, featuring Hannah, Polly, and Hannah. This lively arrangement of ‘Jingle Bells’ had an excellent bounce whilst also coming across with great poise and serenity, well done!

‘Sleeping Beauty Waltz’ featured some lovely high notes from the first flutes (a feature that was maintained throughout the concert), and ‘Danse des Petits Cygnes’ from Swan Lake had a great bobbing tempo. In pieces which are usually sung such as ‘We Three Kings’, I would advise players to take a look at the lyrics and ensure that they breathe in places which fit with the vocal phrasing – occasionally there were breaths taken in what would be the middle of a word. This is a fine detail but something which could really enhance the overall interpretation of the piece. Despite some moments in the first half where players needed to double check the key signature, overall, the concert got off to a very enjoyable start, and the performers definitely deserved the juice and biscuits that was on offer during the interval!

The second half of the concert really brought the Christmas spirit, kicking off with ‘Sussex Carol’, ‘Carol of the Bells’, and ‘God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen’, the last of these being performed by another trio: conductor Lydia, Catherine, and Ellie. This was executed beautifully with a lovely tone from all players. To enhance this performance, I would like to hear more dynamics to capture the nuances of the music. This goes for the whole concert, in fact; now that the notes are secure it would be great to focus on stylistic interpretation to challenge these promising players even more.

‘Executed beautifully with a lovely tone from all players’

Further highlights of this concert were Catherine and Ellie’s duet of ‘Once in Royal David’s City’ which showcased their sustained and soaring playing; ‘Deck The Halls’ which was performed with a wonderfully jovial and festive character, especially through the underlying repeated scales; and ‘Jolly Old Saint Nicolas’ which had an equally appropriate jolly vibe! The concert culminated with ‘We Wish You a Merry Christmas’ including audience participation to truly get us into the festive spirit!

Overall, this was a really lovely concert featuring some very promising playing across the ensemble. The well-loved pieces and friendly atmosphere in the chapel and among the flautists also enhanced this enjoyable evening. If you missed this concert, you can catch Flute Choir again on Wednesday 27th November at 1:15pm in Hatfield Chapel where they will be playing as part of the Music Durham Lunchtime Concert Series. I am certainly looking forward to hearing more from the ensemble over the course of the year and watching them flourish.

Kirsty Dempster