Ben Westlake's Clarinet concert in St Mary & St Giles Church this afternoon was definitely an event to remember with pleasure.  When I arrived at the church at 1.45 pm to set up the refreshments, Ben was 'warming up' (running through his final piece for the concert) and I knew we were in for something special.  Ben's younger brother James then took his turn, and for me as a mediocre flute player, it was wonderful to hear how the instrument should be played, and this was just the warm up!

At 2.05 pm the crowds started to arrive, in a constant heavy stream.  By 2.20 pm we were bringing additional chairs from the choir vestry, as most of the seating in the nave and many gallery seats were taken.  In the kitchen Fiona and Eleanor got additional cups ready as we could see that one table's worth of cups and saucers was nowhere near enough for the size of the audience.  The nice thing was that the warming up continued for a while as people arrived, and the sense of expectation was palpable.

As chair of the organ fund group, I had the compere role for the concert, the first time our baby grand piano was put through its paces in a dedicated concert setting (played beautifully by Daniel King Smith, who was very complementary about it).  Ben introduced some of the pieces during the course of the concert, and his second piece, the Aria by Eugene Bozza, he dedicated in memory of Sir John Dankworth, who died yesterday aged 82, as this was a piece that the great jazz musician, originally a clarinettist, had played on his saxophone.

The first half of the programme was as follows:

  • Solo de Concours (Andre Messager) - this is one of the pieces Ben will be playing for the woodwind final of the BBC Young Musician of the Year competition later this week
  • Aria (Eugene Bozza) - Ben
  • Annie's Song (John Denver) - James
  • Flute de Pan: Pan et les Oiseux (Jules Mouquet) - James
  • Drei Miniaturen (Krzysztof Penderecki) - Ben
  • Fantasy on themes from "Der Freischutz" (Fritz Kroepsch, Weber) - Ben

These were followed by the interval (I asked everyone to form an orderly queue) in which we served tea, coffee, cakes and biscuits.  At the start of the second half I explained about the reasons for the purchase of the baby grand piano - to help towards fundraising events by attracting good performers as our upright piano is not up to the task (the new piano is also being used almost weekly in our church services).  The second half of the programme was as follows:

  • Sonata No 1 in F minor, Op 120, No 1, 1st & 2nd movts. (Johannes Brahms) - Ben
  • Danny Boy - Londonderry Air (Trad, arr James Galway/Phil Coulter) - James
  • Concertino Op 107 (Cecile Chaminade) - James
  • Memory (Andrew Lloyd Webber) - James
  • Una Voce Poco Fa (Ivan Muller/Rossini) - Ben
  • Grand Duo Concertante, Op 48, 3rd movt. (CM von Weber) - Ben

At the end I presented Ben, James and Daniel with 'thank you' gifts and Fr Ross wished Ben well for the BBC competition - he is an outstanding clarinet player and had mesmerized all of us with the range and quality of his music.  Everyone in the audience (all 227 of them!) heartily agreed.  We hope to welcome Ben, James and Daniel back for another performance in the near future.

The count of the retiring collection indicated that we have raised £800 towards the purchase of the piano, £33.12 towards tuning and maintenance and £20 gift aided to the organ fund, which is wonderful.  I would like to thank Ben, James and Daniel for offering to play for us today, Cathy Westlake for enthusiastic and very effective publicity and making contact with me in the first place about her two sons and their music, all the organ fund group for setting up, refreshments, counting and tidying up afterwards, Fr Ross for his encouragement and everyone who attended and helped to make the afternoon so special.

Cathy Westlake had arranged for the concert to be filmed, so that Ben and James can post video of their performances on Youtube.  Apparently these should be up on the site within the next week, so do look out for them.  I did a couple of video clips, but haven't reviewed them yet for uploading, and I took a few photos - see the gallery below.