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Dollar Academy Christmas Concerts

The newly renovated Horsecross Arts Centre concert hall in Perth played host to the annual Dollar Academy Christmas Concert this year. On the evenings of Tuesday 12 and Wednesday 13 December, over 300 Dollar Academy pupils (a large proportion of the overall pupil population) enjoyed singing and playing their instruments upon what is a world-class stage, regularly featuring some of the finest musicians in Britain and Europe. The programme was a delight—full of grand gestures, musical surprises and delights amongst many moments of real delicacy and beauty. Weeks upon weeks of preparation and rehearsal time had, for every musician, led to this moment on stage.   

The Christmas ConcertsThe Chamber Choir greeted audiences in the Assembly foyer before the main event in the concert hall itself, and the festive atmosphere was infectious. By the time everyone had taken their seats, it did indeed feel that the stresses and strains of pre-Christmas season had been (if only briefly) banished. Christmas had arrived. 

The concert itself carried the audience along through an offering of music that ranged from the jolly-traditional, the hauntingly lovely, the innovative and bold.  Those in the audience can tell that, every child shared this sense of pride and exhilaration: ties were squarely knotted, shoes polished, every eye on the conductor, every rest bar carefully counted, every entry made as perfectly as possible. The standard of musicianship on display was impressive indeed.

Orchestra and mass choirs joined forces for the lively ‘The Bells of Joy’ to open the concert—the sparkling, syncopated interpretations of ‘Joy to the World’ were delightful. The audience then relished their chance to participate in a singing of ‘O Come All Ye Faithful’ before a wonderful mixture of traditional and modern carols from a wide range of ensembles and choirs followed. The Prep Choir (performing on Tuesday evening only) delivered a very beautiful song ‘All Over the World’, before the Junior Choir sang ‘Il est né le divin enfant’, a traditional French carol. 

Over 300 pupils took to the stageThe senior choirs and String Orchestra offered a resonant ‘Magnificat’ by Pergolesi before ‘Variations on "Jingle Bells"' nearly stole the show. A rich and surprising set of witty variations on this well-known carol.  Each of the two soloists - Georgia Robertson (FVI) on Tuesday and Gabriella Greenwood (FV) on Wednesday - was virtuosic and terrifically assured in their skilled, musical interpretation of the operatic variation. The spontaneous applause led neatly into one jazzy movement after another, delighting everyone in the hall.

The Male Voice Choir was next with ‘The Beautiful Day’ by L Bricusse, and this arrangement featured the pure tones of soloist Tom Macfadyen (FIV). The String Orchestra then played ‘Pieds en l’Air’ (Tuesday) and, on Wednesday, the Wind Band played the ever-popular ‘It’s Beginning to Look Like Christmas’. The audience then had another chance to stretch their legs for ‘God Rest You Merry Gentleman’ before the Chamber Choir impressed with their usual high standard, singing ‘Hodie Christus natus est’. Soloist Laura Koechlin (FI) was the soloist for ‘Away in a Manger’, in a voice that echoed so beautifully round the hall that many could scarcely believe they were hearing such a voice from one so young. Then, the senior choirs and String Orchestra offered ‘Celtic Silent Night’ with violin solos by Nikita Safanov (FV) on Tuesday and Martina Sillence (FVI) on Wednesday.

The ambitious penultimate piece on the programme was John Rutter’s ‘Brother Heinrich's Christmas’, which offered a delightful and intimate-feeling story of a monk and his donkey, working hard to come up with a new carol for the Christmas service. The delicate orchestration and wonderful narration by Zach Lonberg and Olivia McKay (both FV) was further complemented by the projected images of original artwork. Claire Donald, Katrina Fyfe, Alexandrina Ghetiu (all FVI), Donald Gillies (FI) and Brishti Sengupta (FII) had illustrated the story, and their whimsical, charming work helped even the youngest in the audience engage with the tale. Angus Scott (FI) and Isabella Schmidt-Cornelius (FII) also contributed artwork. The concert ended with ‘Noel’, a collage of well-known carols, played with aplomb and real energy by the Orchestra.

Following the main concert, Dollar Academy Jazz Orchestra performed in the foyer afterward, enabling languorous release, and a casual chance to chat with one’s friends and neighbours, after the concert’s main events. Every member of the Music Department and every pupil involved in this remarkable event must be thanked for all their hard work and heartily congratulated on an outstanding performance. 

Photos by Airborne Lens