"Something's happening.... It's music". So proclaimed the teaser film that launched Saturday's BBC Ten Pieces Secondary prom, and then the music began, Wayne Marshall unleashing the full might of the Royal Albert Hall's organ on Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D minor, as red lighting bathed the hall. It was a take-no-prisoners start to a concert.

Dan Starkey presents at the BBC Ten Pieces Prom © BBC | Guy Levy
Dan Starkey presents at the BBC Ten Pieces Prom
© BBC | Guy Levy

The BBC deserves much praise and recognition for what it has achieved with Ten Pieces, which so far has seen 3.4 million Primary and Secondary school children around the UK engage with classical music. Launched in 2014, the initiative offers schools a list of ten classical pieces representing a wide range of styles and eras, all supported by written and multimedia resources. Rather than simply learning about the pieces, though, the aim is for schools to then use them as a springboard to further creativity across the rest of the curriculum. Primary schools were the focus of the first year, but last September saw the addition of a secondary offering aimed at 11-14 year olds.

This weekend's two Ten Pieces Secondary Proms represent the culmination of what hopefully has been a year of classical music-inspired creativity for young people in secondary schools across the country; a chance to come and hear them live, performed by the BBC Philharmonic with Alpesh Chauhan, and for some of the young people themselves to have a platform to show off their own Ten Pieces-inspired musical, dramatic, dance and visual arts creations. The Proms have clearly been embraced too, and by no means just the targeted age range; bereft of their own Ten Pieces prom this year, Saturday saw many primary age children in the audience (along with plenty of infant siblings), including my own nine-year-old daughter. Older teenagers had also rocked up by themselves, as had adults.

It was a great first show, too: frothy, fast paced, visually colourful, and full of filmed inserts to match the multimedia ethos of the year's resources. Naomi Wilkinson presented from the stage with a lovely combination of naturalness, authority and sense of fun, joined by poet Lemn Sissay delivering “picture the circumstances the composer was working in” monologues. Comedy came from actor Dan Starkey, dressed up as an enthusiastic-but-hapless Joseph Haydn. Further onstage cameos came from former footballer Dion Dublin (using football terminology to describe what a concerto's all about, which was actually rather good!), Newsround presenter Leah Boleto popping up in Valkyrie-themed filmed inserts as she chased mysterious flaming gold ring sightings around London landmarks. Well scripted, enthusiastic, light of touch but equally unafraid of plumbing the darkness required for such works as the Shostakovich' Tenth Symphony and Vaughan Williams' The Lark Ascending, it was all excellently done.

The Ten Pieces Choir perform Verdi’s <i>Dies irae</i> and <i>Tuba mirum</i> © BBC | Guy Levy
The Ten Pieces Choir perform Verdi’s Dies irae and Tuba mirum
© BBC | Guy Levy

As for the music itself, this was a programme that demanded a thoroughly chameleon-like band, able to make light work of profound gear changes, and this requirement increasing tenfold in the second half as we moved from Gabriel Prokofiev's Concerto for Turntables to Vaughan Williams to Anna Clyne's Night Ferry and on to Wagner. On the whole, Chauhan and the BBC Philharmonic rose to the challenge magnificently, giving us Haydn with period spring, lucidity and lightness, and a thundering Verdi Requiem. The latter had raised my eyebrows on paper, for how were a Ten Pieces Choir comprised of early teens, swelled by a few BBC Singers, going to deliver on this Goliathon? Hell though, they delivered; it became one of my daughter's take-away favourite moments. It was only the Wagner that felt a little less comfortable in its skin.

Of the soloists, it was BBC New Generation Artist Esther Yoo who owned the morning with a performance of The Lark Ascending that achieved an audience hush of a level that surely must be a first for an all-age concert; innocence, beauty, pain and effortlessness melded in a way that will lodge for years in the memory, and the audience roared its approval.

Esther Yoo performs William’s The Lark Ascending with Alpesh Chauhan and the BBC Philharmonic © BBC | Guy Levy
Esther Yoo performs William’s The Lark Ascending with Alpesh Chauhan and the BBC Philharmonic
© BBC | Guy Levy

The contributions from Ten Pieces participants were no less impressive in their own ways, and were often the pieces that my daughter connected with the most.

Every prom feels like a celebration. However, Ten Pieces was especially so. It also served as a thought-provoking lesson to music journalists who last year had been quick to criticise the list for unadventurous musical choices, perceived gaps, or allegedly sub-quality works. Firstly, the audience reaction across the age ranges indicated that every single piece had hit its mark. Secondly though, the Prom showed that the BBC could really have picked ten completely different pieces and still had a success on their hands; the whole point of the past year's music-making, and the whole point of the prom – culminating with Wilkinson's final exhortation to the young audience goers to now find the classical on their phones or tablets, and “just press play” – was that the list was just the start of the journey.

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