The National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain has long been acclaimed as one of the most awesomely accomplished ensembles in the country – and with 160 youngsters making up the complement, that’s quite some accolade.
And that was certainly confirmed in Tuesday’s performance of the epic Alpine Symphony by Richard Strauss, a work crammed with almost every instrument in existence at the end of the 19th century (including some which didn’t make it much further into the 20th, such as the breathing-machine advised for long-held woodwind notes), and one whose tight architecture rises paramount above incidental special effects.
Conductor Semyon Bychkov drew a grippingly well-hewn account of this demanding score from his young charges, so well-coached during a post-Christmas residency at Denstone College near Uttoxeter, and the many spotlit solos were confidently handled, not least by Annie Lydford manipulating the mighty Symphony Hall organ.
But beyond this spectacle there was also evidence of the wonderful educational work NYOGB engenders, beginning with the extraordinary Bow-Wave by Peter Weigold, under the composer’s direction
Prepared during the few days at Denstone, in collaboration with the musicians themselves, this proved a tour de force of performance, played from memory, expressively choreographed, and exploiting the additional strengths of the youngsters, not least cellist Alex Rolton’s accordion-playing.
And the orchestra provided a subtle, alert, delicate backing to the well-balanced communicative virtuosity of London Voices in Luciano Berio’s Sinfonia, with its collage of post-it notes of musical and literary quotations.
In the 60s this was a heady expression of subversiveness and cross-art forms. Today it is a dated museum-piece, with nothing beyond that glass case to communicate. But the students and Bychkov did it proud.