Portsmouth High School celebrated 135 years this month with a Gala Concert at the Cathedral of St Thomas, Old Portsmouth. The concert featured ‘What Will the Children Remember’, a newly commissioned work written for the school by Toby Hession, which was based on extracts of diaries and letters from the girls evacuated to Hinton Ampner during the Second World War.
In September 1939 the school was evacuated to two country houses in Hampshire. The Junior School went to Hinton Ampner and the Senior School to Adhurst St Mary. Portsmouth High School buildings in Southsea were requisitioned by the Army then occupied by the Navy; the WRENS were housed at the Junior School in Kent Road. Once the war was over, the school returned to Portsmouth from the beginning of the summer term in 1945.
The composer, Toby Hession, 20, comes from Peterborough, and currently reads music at Clare College, Cambridge, where he holds a Choral Scholarship and an Instrumental Award.
‘I had never, until now, set texts to music. Many composers never do so at all. Perhaps the main reason for this is diarists never anticipate their words being set to music.’
Toby used portions of text from GM Martin (who was a Junior School teacher), Mrs Val Creese who currently lives in Australia and Mrs Margaret Aylen who lives in Southsea and was in the audience, alongside other Portsmouth High School alumnae who had been evacuated.
Mrs Aylen, 89, said ‘It was a beautiful concert. Toby’s piece was all based on my letters home and I thought he did superbly. It was very flattering to be featured and I remember writing the letters as if was yesterday.’
‘It was fantastic to see over 120 girls singing and playing,’ said the composer, Toby Hession. ‘The fact the girls were enjoying themselves too was so affirming. It turned my composition from something selfish into something very selfless which was wonderful.’An audience of over four hundred, including the Lord Lieutenant of Hampshire, Mr Nigel Atkinson, The High Sheriff of Hampshire, Mr Tom Floyd and The Lord Mayor of Portsmouth, Councillor David Fuller, filled Portsmouth Cathedral.
‘The Lady Mayoress and I thoroughly enjoyed the Gala Concert and we were very impressed with the excellent talents of the performers,’ said the Lord Mayor. ‘The soloists were fantastic and we were all made very welcome. In my opinion there are some seriously talented rising stars who could go far.’
A combined group of over 200 musicians sang and played through the evening which included works ranging from Beethoven and Debussy to John Williams and Habañera from Carmen.
Mr George Tinsley, Director of Music at the school said:
‘The concert was a success that surpassed all expectations. For me, the highlight was Toby Hession’s composition, which brought together generations of Portsmouth High School pupils and staff. In our 135th year as a school it was wonderful to hear, relayed through the young voices of our choir, the exciting and poignant stories experienced over 70 years ago by former pupils sitting in the audience. I believe that we were not only telling history but also making history.’
Soloists included: Felicity Bryant, 15, Jia Feng, 14, Abi Harindra, 17, Louise Harris, 17 and Lucy Haynes, 18.
‘It is such a privilege to listen to such extraordinary music that has been specifically created for Portsmouth High School girls to sing,’ said Chairman of Governors Mrs Anne McMeehan Roberts. ‘The girls played and sang with such tenderness and passion and thank you to Toby who was as thrilled to write the piece as we were to listen to it.’