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Jaw-dropping performances and A-list alumni: RNCM’s 50th birthday extravaganza hits all the right notes

Last week, The Royal Northern College of Music (RNCM) set the stage ablaze with an extraordinary lineup of performances to mark its momentous 50th birthday celebrations.

RNCM’s 50th Birthday

The air was filled with anticipation as esteemed musicians, alumni, and guests gathered at the RNCM Concert Hall to immerse themselves in an unforgettable evening of musical mastery.

RNCM is a true marvel, with outstanding facilities including state-of-the-art performance spaces, a 600-seat concert hall, a 100-seat opera theatre, and a 100-seat recital hall. It is a beautiful setting on the bustling Oxford Road.

The RNCM has produced many successful alumni who have made significant contributions to the music industry.

Their graduates can be found performing in leading orchestras, opera companies, chamber groups, and as soloists worldwide. Some notable alumni include Sir Stephen Hough (piano), Sir Simon Keenlyside (baritone), Hannah Roberts (cello), Lucy Deakin and Sir John Tomlinson, to name but a few.

And, judging by the standard of performances on the night too, you can bet your bottom dollar many more will be featuring soon.

RNCM String Orchestra and Chamber Choir

Kicking off the festivities at 6:30 pm, the RNCM String Orchestra and Chamber Choir took centre stage, enchanting the audience with a captivating repertoire.

Guests were surprised by the first number of the night as singers from the choir revealed themselves in the audience with claps, rhythmically pacing along to the music, taking part with each other in what looked like the child’s game, patty-cake.

Arranging themselves amongst the audience, they belted out a glorious rendition of Katy Lavinia Cooper’s Cattle Call to kick things off in style.

Under the baton of guest leaders, including Caroline Pether on violin (Manchester Camerata) and Lily Whitehurst on violin (BBC Philharmonic), Alex Mitchell on viola (Manchester Camarata) the ensemble displayed their exceptional artistry.

Next up was a joyous rendition of the Danish String Quartet’s “O Fredrik, O Fredrik.”

Edvard Grieg’s timeless “Holberg Suite” reverberated around the beautiful concert hall, as a partisan crowd revelled in the beauty. Composed in 1884 by Grieg, it was also written to celebrate a birthday. The 200th anniversary of the birth of the Danish-Norwegian playwright Ludvig Holberg.

The Danish String Quartet once again graced the stage, infusing the atmosphere with the lively and spirited “Jasspodspolska.”

The real standouts were the vocal pieces, written by alumni Shruthi Rajasekar.

The three vocal compositions written by alumna Shruthi Rajasekar for the Royal Northern College of Music’s 50th birthday celebration were a true highlight of the evening, adding a personal touch and showcasing her exceptional talent as a composer.

Each piece was carefully crafted to reflect the theme of “folk” and explore the concept of “home” in different contexts.

Rajasekar’s first composition, “Heart of Earth,” drew inspiration from the evocative imagery of Laura Purdie Salas’ poem “Farmers Market.” The piece beautifully captures the sense of abundance and the cycle of nature, using playful and singable melodies that were accompanied by a unique communal clapping “game.”

This interactive element fostered a sense of collaboration and unity among the performers, reminiscent of childhood clapping games.

In her second composition, “Bahaari Baarish,” Rajasekar delved into her heritage, infusing the piece with the rhythmic syllables and melodic elements of Carnatic and Hindustani music.

The polyrhythms and intricate vocal techniques found in these traditional Indian musical systems were transformed into a mesmerising choral arrangement. The combination of Indian classical influences and choral harmonies created a captivating fusion of cultures, celebrating the beauty of spring rains and the rich heritage of Indian music.

For her final piece, Rajasekar paid homage to the city of Manchester with “To Manc, with Love.” Inspired by the poem “Great Northern Diver” by Michael Symmons Roberts, the composition featured a recitation of the poem over oscillating gestures from the string orchestra.

Rajasekar carefully selected key lines from the poem and repeated them, allowing the words to take centre stage. With this piece, she not only honoured the city of Manchester but also celebrated the diverse community of students who come together on Oxford Road to learn and contribute to the vibrant artistic scene. By involving current students in the creative process, Rajasekar created a heartfelt ode that resonated with both past and present members of the RNCM community.

You can hear the whole concert back by clicking here.

RNCM Symphony Orchestra

Transitioning to the next part of the evening, the RNCM Symphony Orchestra took command of the Concert Hall at 8 pm.

Led by acclaimed conductors Alpesh Chauhan and Agata Zajac, along with the exceptional talents of Alexandra Dariescu on piano and Soraya Mafi as soprano, this segment promised an exceptional musical experience.

Thomas Adès’ “Three-Piece Suite from Powder Her Face” kicked off the orchestra’s performance, captivating the audience with its intriguing melodies. Florence Price’s “Andantino-Allegretto” from the Piano Concerto in One Movement followed, showcasing the brilliance of Dariescu on the piano.

The atmosphere swelled with anticipation as the orchestra transitioned to Leonard Bernstein’s dazzling “Glitter and Be Gay” from Candide, delivered with breathtaking artistry by Mafi’s powerful soprano vocals.

Undoubtedly, one of the highlights of the night was her towering voice and performance, which brought rapturous applause from a dazzled audience.

The grand finale of the Symphony Orchestra’s performance brought Ottorino Respighi’s magnificent “Roman Festivals” to life.

Roman festivals a magnificent orchestral composition that depicts scenes from ancient Roman celebrations and festivals.

It was composed in 1928 and is the last part of Respighi’s “Roman Trilogy,” which also includes “The Fountains of Rome” and “The Pines of Rome.”

The mood was certainly celebratory as they finished a glorious rendition of this classic.

RNCM Session Orchestra

As the night progressed, the energy intensified at the RNCM Theatre, where the RNCM Session Orchestra took the stage for a nostalgic journey through the sounds of 1973.

Here’s where the party really kicked off, with people up and dancing in the aisles, loving the beautiful melodies unfurling before them.

Under the guidance of director Andy Stott, the orchestra paid tribute to the iconic songs that defined an era.

The audience swayed and sang along to timeless classics, including Wings’ “Live and Let Die,” Elvis Presley’s “Always on My Mind,” and Billy Joel’s iconic “Piano Man.” Shirley Bassey’s soul-stirring rendition of “Never, Never, Never” evoked heartfelt emotions, while Diana Ross’ “Touch Me in the Morning” transported listeners to a world of pure nostalgia.

The standard of singing on display was breathtaking, and each singer absolutely knocked it out of the park.

Renditions of Steely Dan’s “Reelin’ In the Years,” David Bowie’s iconic “Life on Mars?,” and Dolly Parton’s timeless hit, “Jolene” got everyone in a jubilant mood.

Bringing the evening to a triumphant close, the RNCM Session Orchestra enveloped the theatre with the infectious rhythm of Stevie Wonder’s “Higher Ground,” leaving the audience on their feet, dancing and applauding with unbridled enthusiasm.

It was a fitting end to a beautfiul and eclectic night of music.

The future of music in Manchester

From the enchanting melodies of the string orchestra and chamber choir to the orchestral masterpieces that enthralled the Concert Hall, and the electrifying nostalgia of the session orchestra, this extraordinary night showcased the remarkable talent nurtured within the RNCM’s illustrious walls.

The event not only celebrated 50 years of musical excellence but also heralded a future filled with great possibilities for this fine institution and its exceptional students.

The future of music coming out of Manchester is certainly looking bright, in no small part thanks to RNCM.

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