There was so much to celebrate last Sunday: the 10th anniversary of the CBSO Youth Orchestra, born of a merger with the Midland Youth Orchestra and maintaining a heartening growth from strength to strength; the UK premiere of a wonderful new commission from one of our leading composers: and the bursting upon the scene of one of the most exciting young conductors it has ever been my pleasure to witness.
The premiere was Mark-Anthony Turnage’s Passchendaele, co-commissioned with help from long term CBSO supporters John Cole and Jennie Howe, and written in commemoration of the horrific events of the First World War.
Beginning with awe-inspiring trombone intonations, progressing through magical woodwind intimations and persuasive strings, it continues through a brass summons to a percussion-led outcry, all the while with a seamlessly arching line of anger and grief.
It was so moving to hear this Youth Orchestra paying homage to the doomed youth of a century ago, and moving, too, to witness the authoritative conducting of young Ben Gernon, himself a CBSOYO alumnus.
Fittingly, the programme’s other two composers had in fact served in the Great War. Vaughan Williams was represented by his Housman song-cycle On Wenlock Edge, its clattery orchestration sometimes blessedly subsiding into hushed tones which the musicians conveyed with the utmost sensitivity.
John Mark Ainsley was soloist, his particular kind of tenor timbre, questing and ruminative, well-suited to this period piece, though I did wonder about its audibility throughout the auditorium. The long kiss he blew to the orchestra at the conclusion was a delightful, eloquent tribute to players and conductor.
And Vaughan Williams’ great friend, Gustav Holst, was represented by his Planets Suite (Colin Matthews’ ingenious Pluto addition was included, but I continually find it superfluous as a thunder-stealing follow-on to the magical mystery of the swirling Neptune).
Here Gernon was at last able to reveal his interpretative colours. Mars was swift but still always menacing, Jupiter was sprightly yet always impressive (what a fabulous timpani partnership!), and each of the other movements was well-coloured and defined.
And the CBSO Youth Chorus in both Neptune and the controversial Pluto were simply splendid, ethereal and confident. What a hope for the future we have.