From the outside, nothing would have seemed amiss at the Forbidden City Concert Hall on Saturday. Inside, however, was a different story. An entire audience was on its feet, swaying, clapping, and singing in unison as American singer and conductor Dr. Beverly Vaughn led student performers through a rousing rendition of Dr. Robert Ray’s Gospel Mass.
The piece was just one part of the International Schools Choral Music Festival (ISCMS) gala concert, the culmination of the four-day Lumen choral music festival hosted this year by Dulwich College Beijing (DCB). The event brought together students, teachers, and world-class practitioners for special master classes and music workshops.
This year’s special guest was internationally-renown Welsh composer and musician Karl Jenkins, the most-performed living composer in the world. (If that doesn’t ring a bell, check out this classic De Beers ad from 1996. Sound familiar now?) The gala concert marked the world premiere of his new composition, Celebration (Qing Zhu), specially commissioned for Lumen and containing Chinese influences.
The ISCMS festival involved a total of 500 student musicians and faculty from 29 international schools across Asia-Pacific and the Middle East, including local schools like Harrow, BCIS, BISS, WAB, and – of course – DCB. On Saturday, they took to the stage to perform a varied program that ranged from American gospel to traditional Irish music. The orchestra alone numbered 144 musicians, twice the size of an average ensemble.
The evening kicked off with selections from the Broadway classic West Side Story conducted by American Dr. Robert G. Hasty, followed by Karl Jenkins’ Gloria/Te Deum. The first half was rounded out with a toe-tapping rendition of a medley from Ronan Hardiman’s Lord of the Dance.
For Gloria/Te Deum, the performers were joined onstage by the graceful Katie Targett-Adams, a Scottish-born, Hong Kong-based singer, songwriter, and harpist. Unfortunately, problems with the microphone prevented most of the audience from hearing her the first time around, prompting gala emcee Shane O’Shea to ask: “Do you want to hear her do it again?” The answer, as it turns out, was a resounding “yes.”
After a brief intermission, the night continued with Dr. Beverly Vaughn’s aforementioned gospel music extravaganza, complete with student soloists, waving instruments, fist-pumping choir members, and a student facilitator (“Follow Camille!”) who showed the audience the right way to sway, bump, and clap.
The very last piece was Karl Jenkins’ Celebration, conducted by Jenkins himself. The physical confines of the concert hall were stretched to their limits with the addition of an entire row of student drummers at the front of the stage. The powerful five-minute piece provided a fitting artistic and emotional climax to the night, belying the modesty of its creator and conductor.
In short, this year’s ISCMS gala concert was an exciting affair, full of style, heart, and soul.
For another spectator’s take on the concert, check out Christopher Lay’s blog post on the topic. Stay tuned on beijingkids’ website for an exclusive interview with Katie Targett-Adams.