A top class performer

Almost half a century after he last performed in a school concert with the CNS orchestra, acclaimed violinist Stephen Rowlinson is returning to Norwich for a very special event. Derek James reports.

His musical career began at school in Norwich – and took him to the stars.

It was 47 years ago that Stephen Rowlinson last played in a school concert with the orchestra of the City of Norwich School.

Tomorrow he will once again be surrounded by scores of children clutching instruments and music and nervously waving to parents in the audience.

Stephen, who has just retired after 30 years as a violinist with the London Symphony Orchestra, was inspired to become a musician by his time at CNS.

Tomorrow, Friday April 1, he will be playing alongside CNS pupils and staff at St Andrew's Hall as the school celebrates its centenary. He was just 18 the last time he led the orchestra, of what was then a boys' grammar school, in a concert at St Andrew's Hall.

From there he went on to the Royal College of Music, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and the London Symphony Orchestra. His career has taken across the globes with concert tours in America, China, Japan, India, the Gulf states and all over Europe. He was also part of the orchestra which played on the soundtracks of the Star Wars films. He can be heard on the soundtrack of many, many films, including the latest Harry Potter, and is about to start recording for the final Harry Potter movie.

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Stephen began playing the violin at Lakenham Junior school. 'The headteacher came into the room and asked whether anyone wanted to play the violin. I wasn't the kind of child who ever put my hand up, but I just felt my arm going up. It was a kind of compulsion!' he said.

He went on to join the CNS orchestra and the Norfolk Youth Orchestra and has very fond memories of his old music teacher, Hugh Skeens.

Earlier this month he returned to CNS to rehearse with today's school orchestras and music groups. 'It was very, very weird. There are so many ghosts, so many memories,' he said.

He was a pupil from 1956 to 1964, when the teachers were called masters and wore academic gowns. 'We were there to work. And we worked!' he said. 'I got a huge amount out of it. It set me up for life. I loved learning about things.'

Today Stephen, 65, lives in London. He is married, with two grown-up daughters, but still has a brother and a cousin in Norfolk.

Present-day CNS music teacher Zoe Rasmussen has organised tomorrow's centenary concert and said: 'With the school's reputation for excellence in music, it has been a mammoth undertaking to prepare students for such a unique event.

'During the process of inviting former students to come back and perform with us, it has been lovely to hear the happy memories recalled at CNS and of the high standard of music making.

'Many past students have become highly successful professional musicians and are quick to point out that this is in large part due to their musical education here.

'This proud tradition lives on and every year CNS students leave us for music college or to undertake further studies in music.'

The centenary concert begins at 7.30pm tomorrow in St Andrew's Hall. Tickets are �6 for adults, �3 for children and �15 for a family of two adults and two children.

Other VIP past pupils who will also join the school orchestra for the first time in many years, or decades, include Peter Stevenson, who had a distinguished career as a professional musician and was an examiner for the Associated Board for 30 years and opera singer Andrew McWilliams, who performed at Prince Charles' 60th birthday celebrations.

The programme includes Elgar, Mozart and excerpts from Handel's Messiah and the chance to see professional and staff musicians perform alongside the school's jazz bands, concert band, percussion groups and choir.

And if, like Stephen, you were once a CNS pupil – and are keen to see how the school looks today – you are invited to a special centenary open day from 11am to 4pm on Saturday. Walk in through the 'forbidden' front door, find your old form room or see if you can spot your friends in the photographic display.