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Review: Classical: National Youth Orchestra of Scotland Sage, Gateshead 24/40

August 1, 2014

Alfred Hickling



The National Youth Orchestra of Scotland has a personality very distinct from Britain's other young ensembles. The intake is greater, ranging from ages 12 to 25, and it is the only youth orchestra to offer specialist courses in jazz.

The swing element could be keenly felt here in the exuberant opener, William Walton's wonderfully erratic Johannesburg Festival Overture, which the composer described as a "non-stop gallop . . . slightly crazy, hilarious and vulgar". The young players obeyed those instructions to the letter.

There was a more abstract, postbop influence drifting through the central piece: Sally Beamish's Trumpet Concerto, commissioned by the NYOS for performance at the 2003 Proms with Hakan Hardenberger - then, as now, the stellar soloist. Hardenberger combines the agility of a baroque player with the soul of Miles Davis, though the orchestra's trumpet section responded with some stunningly secure obbligato support of its own.

The cool, urban tone of Beamish's concerto was partly based on the imaginary metropolis of Italo Calvino's novel Invisible Cities, though if it put one in mind of any particular place it might be Detroit, with its desolate landscape and crumbling car factories. For the clamorous finale, the percussionists explored the scrapyard timbres of a fuel tank and brake cylinders, even attacking suspension springs with hammers.

Richard Strauss's massive An Alpine Symphony was a bold choice that left the orchestra with a mountain to climb. It made a certain sense, as the ensemble has the forces to cover it, and Strauss's tone poem was based on memories of a near-disastrous Alpine excursion he made when a teenager himself. Michael Francis's account had some vividly realised episodes, though sheer weight of numbers is not enough to convey the work's spiritual message. It was a brave attempt, though the scrappy arrival at the summit felt more numerous than numinous.

Alfred Hickling

The programme is repeated at Three Choirs festival, Worcester, (0845 652 1823) today and Usher Hall, Edinburgh, (0131-228 1155) tomorrow.



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Source: Guardian (UK)


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