It has been a sunshine-filled week of musical preparation in Perthshire. Just down the road at Balado, riggers have been putting the final touches to the huge T in the Park Festival, but at Strathallan school just outside Perth, another preparation has been happening. A hundred of Scotland’s best and youngest orchestral musicians, together with specialist tutors and pastoral staff have been working towards the NYOS Junior Orchestra’s summer concert. Children as young as eight from all over Scotland, from Shetland to Dumfries and Galloway and all points in between arrived to attend their summer residential course. Their Dutch conductor Roland Kieft explained that they are learning not only how to play in an orchestra, but also how to live and work together. By all accounts it has been a great week with the young musicians from all sorts of backgrounds tumbling out of rehearsals and playing outdoor games in the summery weather.

© Mark Savage
© Mark Savage

The Junior Orchestra is the youngest in the NYOS family of three full youth orchestras, and tellingly both tonight’s violin soloist Jessica Coleman, and Peter Longworth, composer of this concert’s commissioned piece were members of the Children’s’ Orchestra, not so very long ago. It was particularly interesting to spot a few faces in the orchestra from Big Noise, Stirling’s El Sistema orchestra, as several talented youngsters have made the jump from what is essentially a social project using music, to the full NYOS musical training and development.

With The Games almost upon us in Glasgow, William Walton’s Coronation March for George VI, Crown Imperial, opened a programme chosen to reflect the Commonwealth. It is a piece not without its challenges but Kieft kept things well under control and together, bringing out lots of dynamics from bold fanfares in the brass to the more measured march in the strings, and in Perth Concert Hall’s generous acoustic, not letting the percussion dominate.

The orchestra was joined by Aberdeen-born Jessica Coleman for Max Bruch’s Violin Concerto no. 1 in G minor. A seasoned Youth Orchestra member and soloist now studying at the Royal College of Music, she clearly enjoyed playing this piece with the orchestra she used to lead, and who did a remarkably good job of supporting her in this well-known work. Once again, controlled playing was the order of the day, particularly from the strings, and Coleman made her instrument really come alive in the strong opening movement and sing out expressively in the Adagio. The big tune in the final movement calls for a virtuoso performance and again, Coleman provided an impressively strong lead. What really stuck with me was the sight of the violins getting to grips with this passionate music, playing their hearts out, bows in unison, every inch being used. You had to constantly remind yourself that the oldest were barely teenagers.

Peter Longworth, trumpeter and composer, was commissioned by NYOS to write a piece commemorating the Commonwealth Games, and his Ludi – Partita for Orchestra will be played by the Junior, Senior and National Youth Orchestras at their concerts. It is a work in four short movements: Launch, Races, Lull and Down to the Wire scored for full orchestra, celeste with plenty of percussion and a bass clarinet. The music itself, although full of good ideas was rather fragmented, with snatches of tunes and sudden pulses from the brass but was rather disjointed and drifted off into silence. The players did really well to rise to the challenge of this difficult music and took this piece on board.

The final work, The Three Elizabeths by Eric Coates, written in 1944 to represent Elizabeth I, The Queen Mother and the present Queen, was much more successful with frothy patriotic tunes aplenty for everyone. Lovely solos from the oboe and lead violin in the reflective central movement Elizabeth of Glamis were lovely, and the whole orchestra relished the pomp and big tunes of the final movement. It was a pleasing end to an evening of new found musical camaraderie and beginnings.

It was 35 years ago when the National Youth Orchestra of Scotland  was founded, and how things have grown since then: as well as the three full classical orchestras and chamber group, NYOS has its own jazz family of orchestra, training group and jazz chamber ensemble. There is a busy programme of some 25 concerts over the summer, including appearances at the Edinburgh and Three Choirs festivals. We are so very fortunate to have this active organisation reaching so many young players and giving them the chance to develop their musical talent.

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