Friends Come Together to Perform at Youth Festival

Friendship, the theme for this year’s Henley Youth Festival shone through at the performance events, with many young performers choosing to perform with their friends.

The Henley Youth Festival performances kicked off this year with Music Makers at Rupert House School. Young musicians, aged 5 to 11, entertained the audience with both solos and group performances, showcasing their talents on the piano, violin, and singing. From the works of famous classical composers, to modern Disney hits, the variety of music on the set list made sure that there was something for all tastes.

The show, compered by Alfie Hay, was opened by the Henley Suzuki Violin Group, a group of four who played Mineut (No. 2) by Bach. This was followed by eight dazzling solo performances, with each young musician displaying their confidence and skill. Even when some pieces didn’t go quite to plan, the soloists managed to keep their cool and finish the song with style. Following on from the soloists was Valley Road School Choir, who sang Hard Knock Life and Maybe from Annie. Finally, the show rounded off with a ‘flash mob’ rendition of Ode to Joy by Beethoven. Though they had never practised together before, each group managed to play their part in time with the others, whether on violin, piano or singing. Even the audience joined in to sing a special Henley Youth Festival version of the final verse.

Maureen Idowu was the Guest Musician for the event, attentively watching each performance so as to provide detailed feedback for all the young musicians. She said afterwards, “It’s been lovely to sit here and have this wonderful concert and to hear all the performances. Normally I’m the one at the front working hard playing so its been a great treat to be able to sit here and listen to all these different performances.” Addressing the performers, she said, “You’ve obviously worked very hard and I know how long it does take to get these pieces together. Some of you will have been practising for months and months. Well done, keep up the good work. We must have music in life, generally, and I hope you all go on and continue performing. It’s really worthwhile.”

HYF GIG NIGHT, UNPLUGGED & VARIETY took place at the Kenton Theatre with 59 young performers taking part.  Thirty-six music and dance acts performed across the three nights in this year’s FRIENDSHIP themed festival. Many acts interpreted this year’s theme through music or movement – some were fun, some brought the crowd to tears, other acts were more thought provoking.

Revival kicked-off GIG NIGHT, the first of HYF’s comeback shows at The Kenton Theatre on 10 March. The Year 7 rock band line-up from Chiltern Edge played two original numbers ‘Sunshine’ and ‘Don’t Keep me Waiting’ and a White Stripes cover.

Talented singer/songwriter Joe Ryder (aged 16) played three original songs on his guitar. The Henley College student made the crowd feel ‘Alive’ with his ode too lost love. He showcased a new number ‘I Need You in My Life’ and finished his set with a softer number ‘Hold On’.

Blankfield love to play indie and ambient music loud. The five-piece band from Sir William Borlase School all aged 17 played three covers and closed the show with an original entitled ‘Stranded’.

Other acts included piano-vocalist, Annie Skaanild, singer Louise Jennings and Gillotts’ duo Felix & Didi singing and playing guitar and drums respectively on covers by White Stripes, The Beatles and The Black Keys.

The music continued Friday evening with the Henley Youth Festival’s acoustic show. HYF UNPLUGGED opened with ‘We’re going to be friends’ by the White Stripes sung by Issac Urch on the guitar.

Eddie Pratt plays classical guitar and has played the youth festival many times before. This year Eddie performed ‘Romanza’ about a Spanish romance.

“I wanna be your left hand man…” sang a young Edward Palmer as he played Riptide’ by Vance Joy on the Ukelele. Edward followed this up with a second piece on the Clarinet.

Ben & An Baldeon both played classical piano solos, impressing the audience with the feeling they put into their music; and brother and sister Hakan & Eda Atabek performed a beautiful violin duo by Dvorak. Meanwhile Maya Kirbas, who was booked to play the violin, asked if she could play her adapted version of Prelude in C Minor. She stunned the audience with her wonderfully dramatic performance of Bach’s piano classic.

Other musicians performing piano solos included Grace Pratt, Juliette Hogan, Amirah Sheikah, Pauline Sabat, Martha Golledge and Ayden Yasin who had just gained a Merit in his Grade 4 piano exam. Violin solos were performed by Anjali Shankar, Ernesto Yildirim and Ishana Simakuvar.

It was a packed house at the Kenton Theatre for HYF VARIETY on Saturday evening, the final show of the 2022 Henley Youth Festival’s performing arts programme.

‘Girls Just Wanna Have Fun’ and so do friends Yasabella. Their 80’s inspired dance act was hi-energy and the crowd upbeat until Yasmin & Isabelle’s poignant finish read “We did this for them” next to the Ukraine flag.

Eight girls from Springbox Gymastics showcased acrobatics in flaming hot costumes to ‘Fireball’. They packed ribbon work, splits, back flips and aerial cartwheels into their routine which the show’s presenter Oliver George, a Henley College drama student, described as fabulous.

Milo McGinn who has been playing electric guitar for three years, entertained the audience with his version of ‘Bad Moon Rising’; and The Maxwell Sisters, Alix & Holly, sang “Let Me Be Your Star’ from the musical Smash. It was the second time this duo had performed at HYF – their vocals are strong and confident with a beautiful tone.

Gillotts’ students Amber O’Connor & Ella Hanley closed VARIETY with their interpretation of the festival’s FRIENDSHIP theme to ‘Say Something’. This modern dance was all about two friends supporting each other and getting through life’s struggles together.

Other Acts included dance groups Henley & Berkshire Dance and Stagecoach Henley; dance duos Frances Sadler & Ariana Niedesczinska (Valley Road); and solo performers Juno Taylor (Gillotts), Alana Gove (Valley Road), Freya Gove (Valley Road).

Photos by Cheryl George, Amy Nicholas and Homeyra Tahbaz