The JeugdOrkest Nederland (Netherlands Youth Orchestra) have musicians ranging in age from 14 to 20, yet the artistic quality of their members is impressive. Tonight’s program seemed perfectly suited to their sensibilities; from Kyriakides’ complex and challenging Nerve, to the beautiful melodies and catchy rhythms of Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto no. 2, and ending in a bombastic and extremely energertic performance of Tchaikovksy’s Symphony no. 6.

Jurjen Hempel © Marco Borggreve
Jurjen Hempel
© Marco Borggreve

The first piece was Yannis Kyriakides’ Nerve, written by the composer for the summer tour of the JeugdOrkest. It plays with words and music: on two big screens above the stage sentences were projected, reflecting what could be the inner life of the musician on stage (and encouraging her to “become Serena Williams” – to shake stage fright). The JeugdOrkest were obviously very comfortable with this complex piece and played it faultlessly. At times the music was reminiscent of composers such as Varèse and Pintscher in its emphasis on percussion and dissonant soundscapes. I felt that it lacked some focus, however; somehow the piece seemed unfinished.

Without a pause the orchestra and pianist Nino Gvetadze, who had walked onto the stage during Nerve, delved into Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto no. 2. Gvetadze gave a striking performance: her playing was warm and full of depth, while her fingers flitted like spiders across the keys. The strings could have been a bit more dramatic: the sweeping sounds of the violins in the opening movement should be one of the most striking moments of the Concerto, but they failed to radiate that drama. It was not until the final movement that the strings, and in particular the violins, really got into it. In contrast, the first flute played extraordinarily, receiving well-deserved applause after the piece.

There were a few moments during this concerto where it sounded like Gvetadze wanted to speed things up, whereas conductor Hempel and the orchestra were quite content with the pace they were at. These small differences in tempo were barely noticeable, however, and all in all the orchestra and especially the soloist delivered a solid and pleasant performance.

Tchaikovksy’s Symphony no. 6 is perhaps one of his most famous works. Also known as the “Pathétique”, it’s an impressive and full-blooded Russian work that is still rightfully popular. For the first time this evening I felt that the orchestra was occasionally shaky: the French horns and clarinet in particular slipped somewhat. The performance was still a good one, with the cellos and brass saving the day and adding confidence, warmth and enjoyment into the symphony. Above all what stood out was the tremendous energy with which the orchestra played, pushing itself onwards and upwards.

It’s always interesting to see what the difference is between professional orchestras and youth orchestras, especially since the skill of young musicians has increased so dramatically. All the different musicians and all the groups of instruments were excellent in their own way; some small mistakes were made here and there but nothing that was damaging to the enjoyment of the music. However, what I would say the main difference between this orchestra and professional orchestras is that even though these instrument groups work so well on their own, the combined sound leaves something to be desired. The different nuances and the differences in volume were signs that this is an inexperienced orchestra, but I left the concert thinking that if that’s all they have to work on, the future of classical music sure is looking bright.

***11