On Sunday 20th January, St Mary’s musicians created some very special musical memories, with a day’s residence at the Royal Academy of Music, London. This was followed by our much-anticipated evening concert, ‘Inspire!’ as part of the school’s Cantabile Concert Series, raising funds for the Armed Forces Fund.

A whole day at the historic Royal Academy of Music allowed St Mary’s musicians to enjoy the beauty and heritage of an iconic British institution, before donning concert dresses and performing in the Duke’s Hall, alongside the stars of today; Hilary Summers, Clare Halse, Charlie Page and of course Alistair McGowan certainly thrilled everyone with their sharp humour, inspirational musicianship and sheer star quality. The host of the evening, Petroc Trelawny from BBC Radio 3, presented the evening with his customary stylish tone and panache.

The programme included a new initiative, a bespoke Chamber Orchestra which set the scene with a stirring Pirates of the Caribbean, under the baton of Sarah Loveridge. Rebecca Cavill’s musical direction of Chamber Choir ensured excellence with a sizzling baroque chorus from Handel’s Acis and Galatea. The Opera Ensemble, led by Bethan Dudley Fryar, were blessed in Ombra mai fu with Hilary Summers as their Grammy Award-winning soloist, before having fun with a sparky unique arrangement of La donna é mobile from Verdi’s Rigoletto. Kirsten on her flugelhorn added to the drama of the arrangement celebrating ‘women are fickle!’.

Two pupils who were major school prize winners also enjoyed the opportunity to perform at the concert: Elan, as winner of the Sir Bryn Terfel Song Prize, sang Eric Coates’ I heard you singing with subtlety and poised beauty and Hannah showed that a Head Girl and winner of the Cecilia James Cup can certainly energise a drum kit with aplomb! Chris Totney made the new organ resound with authority, a major addition to the Duke’s Hall made possible by Sir Elton John’s fundraising.

Junior Consort gave a moving rendition with a plea for every child to have a safe haven in life in Sager and Foster’s ’s The Prayer. The celebrity artists joined the St Mary’s musicians in enjoying the stunning acoustic and beauty of the Duke’s Hall, and Hilary Summers’ Music for a while by Purcell, Charlie Page’s intoxicating Losing my Mind by Sondheim, and Clare Halse’s You are my lucky star from Singin’ in the rain transported us all magnificently. Alistair McGowan wowed the audience with his razor sharp impressions and sensitive piano solos, creating the stillness of Satie’s introspective piano pieces beautifully.

The magical evening was brought to an extrovert grand finale with two spectacular chorus items featuring young men from the Cardinal Vaughan Memorial School and Royal Academy of Music undergraduate baritones, Daniel, Alex, Johannes and Niall. Gilbert and Sullivan’s hilarious chorus from Iolanthe, March of the Peers was specially arranged for the evening and the full company certainly rocked the stage with many a Tzing! Boom! To close the evening, Clare Halse re-joined the fun and, with her St Mary’s backing singers, Hannah, Adrianna, Izzy, Charlotte, Iona and Tessa, combined forces with the massed choir of boys, girls and chamber orchestra for a fabulous toe-tapping Our time, from Merrily we roll along, Sondheim. Headmistress, Dr Kirk, gave her heartfelt thanks and the whole stage came to life and reprised Our time with the words: ‘Years from now, we’ll remember and we’ll come back, buy the rooftop and hang a plaque. This is where we began!’

It was an inspirational evening and we’d like to thank everyone who was involved and who attended, helping us to raise money for the Armed Forces Fund.

Special thanks to our celebrity artists, who gave us some wonderful feedback too:

'I really enjoyed being part of the concert and was quite blown away by the talent of the professionals and students alike.' Clare Halse

'What an evening! It was a joy to share the stage with such youthful talent.' Hilary Summers

'An absolute pleasure to be there. Gorgeous!' Charlie Page

'Bravo for organising such a spectacular evening - I was thrilled you asked me to be part of it.' Petroc Trelawny

'I enjoyed myself so very much. And what talented schoolchildren! There’s hope!' Alistair McGowan


Mrs Bethan Dudley Fryar, Director of Vocal Studies