In a pioneering development, the National Youth Orchestras of Scotland have added a new orchestra to its family which now encompasses eight playing groups. There are now three orchestras providing a full development pathway for talented players aged 8 to 25, starting with the Junior Orchestra, through the new Senior Orchestra and culminating in the flagship National Youth Orchestra of Scotland. Leading the way in Scotland, especially in a climate of cuts to the arts, it is particularly heartening to see significant commitment being made to nurturing our young musicians. The long list of sponsors, from large organisations to individuals, demonstrates considerable support to give the young musicians the experience and thrill of rehearsing and performing challenging repertoire to a high standard.

National Youth Orchestra of Scotland at Perth Concert Hall, 2012
National Youth Orchestra of Scotland at Perth Concert Hall, 2012

Following their summer school in Perthshire, this year’s NYOS summer concert at Glasgow Royal Concert Hall promised much excitement, with a performance of Shostakovich’s Tenth Symphony at its core. The concert opened with Dvořák’s Carnival Overture, an exuberant and tuneful celebration of nature, life and love. Conductor Christopher Seaman kept things well under control, giving clear directions to the players bringing out each section of the orchestra as they got turns at the tunes. In what was going to be a big evening for percussion, I was impressed both by the lightest of fingertip touches on tambourine and the remarkable cymbal flourishes in upswings which I thought might take the player with her at times. In a quieter moment, there was a lovely violin solo from leader Daniel Rainey.

Judith Bingham was commissioned to write Celticity by the Youth Orchestras of Scotland, Wales, Ireland and Northern Ireland, and it was Scotland’s turn to perform this engaging work exploring Celtic origins. Beginning with muted strings and soft rolls of thunder from the bass drum, woodwind took a melody which developed into fire forging music, complete with busy percussion, including an anvil. There was also a showcase part for two harps, expertly played by Mairi and Steaphanaidh Chaimbeul, sisters from Kyle of Lochalsh. I was longing for these Celts to forget their forges and battles and lighten up a little, as the piece ended in a rather morose yet atmospheric seascape.

The mood brightened considerably in a wonderful performance of Alexander Glazunov’s Violin Concerto in A minor, Op. 82, with rising star Esther Yoo, who at nineteen years old already has an impressive performing career. (Here, she was replacing the indisposed Alina Pogostkina.) The work has three linked movements, requiring a virtuosic performance from the solo violinist who hardly ever stops playing wonderful flowing tunes from the first bar. The part calls for much double-stopping and a dazzling cadenza at the end of the slow movement, and Yoo did not disappoint. The orchestra played particularly supportively, never more so than the start of the last movement as the double basses signalled the players to take up the final triumphant dotted theme introduced by the soloist.

The biggest thrills in an already exciting evening were to come with a blistering account of Shostakovich’s monumental Tenth Symphony. It was particularly impressive to watch young players get to grips with a serious piece exploring the composer’s fear of the future after Stalin’s death. The first movement’s long string introduction started with the lower strings setting the sombre tone, with following solos from clarinet and flute brightening the piece and growing to a climax before the whole orchestra let loose; later, things calmed down with piccolo solos over quiet plucked chords. The second movement was taken at almost impossible speed, with the strings throwing everything into the urgent rhythmic pulse, followed by the whole orchestra. It was a breathtaking and exciting experience for us in the audience as the wall of sound with penetrating side-drum held us in complete thrall. A quieter but still restless third movement followed ending with staccato piccolos drifting off into silence over hushed strings. Finally, Shostakovich’s last movement, signed with his DSCH motif carried through the turbulent and urgent music to a big exciting ending. There was cheering and ecstatic applause at the end as Christopher Seaman brought the various soloists, sections and finally full orchestra to its feet.

For us listening, this was certainly a performance which will be remembered. For the players, who took on an enormous challenge and came through with flying colours, it will be an experience to cherish: a great credit to the young musicians and their tutors.

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