Symphony Hall, Birmingham

Friday 6th January, 2017, 7:30pm

Artists

National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain

John Wilsonconductor

Tamara Stefanovichpiano

Programme

Lauren Marshall – Suspended Between Earth and Air (conducted by Joshua Mock)

Brett DeanKomarov’s Fall

SzymanowskiSymphony No 4 (Sinfonia Concertante)

RachmaninovSymphony No 2

It’s cold outside. But step inside the concert hall and the world’s greatest orchestra of teenagers is fired up and ready to put on a show of orchestral brilliance.

The journey begins in the chilly isolation of outer space, lands in the middle of a lively Polish party and ends in the radiant warmth of a showstopping Russian symphony. Your guide for the evening is John Wilson, charismatic conductor and conjurer of musical magic.

Brett Dean’s Komarov’s Fall is music that sharpens the senses. Its eerie opening requires precise and fearless playing as sparse, icy strings and woodwind glisten in the silence of space. As the tragic drama unfolds, jagged percussion and urgent brass take over the story of the Russian cosmonaut who became a hapless victim of the ruthless 1960’s space race.

For a fun-filled feast of toe-tapping rhythms, joyful dances and cheerful marches look no further than Szymanowski’s Symphonie Concertante. It is a cross between a symphony and a piano concerto and was one of the composer’s favourite pieces. With playful banter between the orchestra and piano, it is energetic and spirited, just like a stage-full of teenage musicians.

The finale of the evening is Rachmaninov’s Symphony No. 2, the ultimate Russian Romantic symphony. With big, bold melodies and lush, glowing harmonies, this music will smoulder and blaze in a performance of irresistible sparkle and flamboyance.

Totally teenage orchestral brilliance. Come and hear it.

BBC Radio 3 Live Broadcast –

Available on BBC Radio iPlayer here until 5th February 2017

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Review by Roderic Dunnett, MusicWeb, SeenandHeard:

Click here for full review

…     “This is an orchestra of marvellous flair and panache, profoundly intelligent, miraculously accurate, immensely responsive to scores of different hues, romantic and modern, producing a thrilling overall sound that is sheer joy to listen to. “Aurally volcanic” was how The Observer dubbed these breathtakingly talented young players. And indeed there were plenty of full-blooded explosions throughout this concert.

The chief surprise was an unexpected opener, Suspended between earth and air, by Lauren Marshall. She studied at the Purcell School and is currently NYO’s Principal Composer. This work turned out to be a miracle of inspiration. To behold at the outset eight trombones and a mass of horns arrayed in front of us, with a vast, possibly quadruple, spread of woodwind and strings, was in itself pretty astonishing, even if the NYO has more than 160 players to call upon.

But the impression made by Marshall’s largescale yet compact, beautifully argued piece and its use of a bigger-than-Wagner sized orchestra was astonishing: so atmospheric, indeed, that it actually managed to upstage Brett Dean’s Komarov’s Fall, a piece with which it had affinities both in subject matter (the might of the universe) and deployment of thickly massed orchestral sections. The start alone made a wondrous impact: low tympani, growling soft trombone, yielding to a striking early string build-up and some vivid chattering — almost a conversation — from the percussion. Some of the birdlike chirruping in the strings sounded uncannily like Szymanowski (the opening of his Violin Concerto No.2), which was especially appropriate given what was to come.     […]

[…]    There followed another piece of inspired programming by the NYO: one of the very rare live performances one can hear of Szymanowski’s Sinfonia Concertante (Symphony No.4). It is the work the Polish composer sketched late in life in an attempt to keep alive his performing on the platform when tuberculosis was beginning to play havoc with his health. Though the composer attempted to keep the solo part restrained, it is in fact a pretty full-blooded concerto, with a great deal of virtuosity which calls for an able soloist. Tamara Stefanovich brought colour and life and vivacity to the solo role, ably supported by the orchestra as a whole.

It is too unwieldy a task to elaborate on every detail of this work, which responded so well to the Symphony Hall acoustic. The start was mysterious and quizzical as it should be, with pizzicato cellos and basses, later a hinterland of flutes and clarinets, and the piano part characterised by the octaves and other parallellings that form part of its identity. The violins’ delayed entry was wonderfully robust, and they led in the falling-third patterns which become so essential to the argument. After a faultless surge from horns and trombones — I did not hear a single hint of a brass fluff all evening, which is a rare treat — the timpanist ushers in the cadenza, a great medley of material from the movement’s themes. Finely performed as that was, the orchestra’s scampering to a sudden, rather Ravel-like close, was yet more brilliant.     […]

[…]     The final movement gained equal impact thanks to the enduring quality of the NYO’s playing. The swellings and subsidings, all meticulously measured out, continued from earlier movements, the sensitive violas again supplied a plangent link, and the horn flutters — all eight of them beautifully synchronised — sounded like something out of Wagner. The movement, like the others, contains some tricky junctures calling for total attention and excellent conducting, which Wilson, nursing each section with intimacy and encouragement, and an unerring twinkle in his eye, dutifully supplied. In fact it was the links throughout the Rachmaninov, as in the Szymanowski, which showed off to great satisfaction the intelligence and attentiveness of these player en masse. The explosion of timpani and bass drum, and cymbals too, at the close, perfectly engineered, demonstrated with a final burst the magnificent effort put in by all their fellow players. Only occasionally one sensed the massed violin sound could be a little edgy, a mite domineering. But all in all, this was a concert to die for.”

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Review by Andrew Clements, Guardian:

Click here for full review

…     “Wilson energised and balanced everything very precisely, but even in Symphony Hall, which can probably clarify such massive textures better than anywhere else in Britain, there were moments in both works that suffered from problems of scale. Tamara Stefanovich’s fabulously secure solo playing tended to disappear altogether at the climaxes of the Szymanowski, while, though played with enormous verve and skill, the outer movements of the Rachmaninov seemed glutinous and flabby. Even the beautifully sculpted clarinet solo in the slow movement sounded oddly out of place in such a larger-than-life performance.

The published programme began with Brett Dean’s Komarov’s Fall – his short, touching memorial to the first astronaut to die in space – but before it one of the orchestra’s cellists, Joshua Mock, had conducted a beautifully paced account of Suspended Between Earth and Air, by NYOGB’s principal composer scholar, 16-year-old Lauren Marshall, which unfolds a sequence of striking musical images – fluttering woodwind, dense packed clusters and a final, enigmatic chorale – in a wonderfully assured way.”

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Review by Vincent Coster, Blog:

Click here for full review

…     “Tonight they played another concert that is a testimony to the fine work of this orchestra and proudly supports the fact that their ethos is a noble and worthy one. It was evident from the very beginning when we were treated to a surprise piece not originally listed. One that was written by the orchestra’s principal composer Lauren Marshall called Suspended Between Earth and Air. The piece itself was one of those typical modern compositions, which oscillate sharply, jagged and sharp in their contortions, and this too was wonderfully constructed in that mode. It was a treat and fitted in with the direction of the concert, setting us up perfectly for the next piece which was Dean’s piece Komarov’s Fall. So well blended where these two pieces that one thought they had stumbled into the film score of a futuristic nightmare set deep in the cold wastes of space. I for one hope we hear more of this young composer in the future, and that this piece gets performed more often.

Hardly had one time to breathe or recover from the modernistic style which begun this concert when the Orchestra took us backwards to an earlier part of the modern period with Karol Szymanowski’s Symphony No 4 (Sinfonia Concertante), this time joined on stage by Tamara Stefanovich. Together they treated the audience to such a wonderful rendition of a difficult and strikingly beautiful symphony.”     …

 

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Space Discovery

Symphony Hall, Birmingham

Friday 5th August, 2016, 7:30pm

National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain

Edward Gardner conductor
CBSO Youth Chorus

Iris ter Schiphorst     Gravitational Waves (new work)
R. Strauss                      Also sprach Zarathustra
Holst                                The Planets
including
Colin Matthews        
Pluto, the Renewer

£5 under 25s offer in association with Classic FM (only available at Symphony Hall, Birmingham)

Open your ears to the music of the universe as the world’s greatest orchestra of teenagers embarks on a voyage back through a century of space discovery.

The journey begins with Gravitational Waves by German composer Iris ter Schiphorst. This is music for the here and now, for the beginning of a new era in astronomy. Fasten your seat belts and prepare for a thrilling ride to new musical frontiers as the original sound of the gravitational wave echoes through the orchestra and individual players gradually become one united force.

Next are two of classical music’s must-hear pieces: Strauss’s Also sprach Zarathustra, with its glorious, spine-tingling opening fanfare made famous by Stanley Kubrick’s film 2001: A Space Odyssey, and Holst’s The Planets completed by Colin Matthews’ Pluto:The Renewer. This music never fails to stir the emotions with its huge melodies and luscious harmonies and in the hands of these young musicians, it will fizz with an explosive, barely containable energy.

The countdown is on – join us for a fearless, totally teenage cosmic adventure.

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Review by Rian Evans, Guardian: (for same programme at Snape Maltings 4th August)

Click here for full review

…      “Growing out of mystic Neptune’s dying notes – sung by the girls of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra youth choir – the feeling here was of an implicit and organic connection with the original suite. Moreover, the shimmering solar winds of Pluto took the ear back, orbit completed, to the work specially commissioned to launch the evening.

Iris ter Schiphorst’s Gravitational Waves was inspired by new scientific research validating Einstein, and it summoned a novel and symbolic mix of visual, aural and vocal gestures. The synchrony, whereby the players first wore white or black masks, then embodied the waves of the title in perfectly choreographed movements rippling through the serried ranks, created an arresting counterpoint to the imaginative, otherwordly soundscape realised by Ter Schiphorst and co-composer Uros Rojko. Evanescent and evocative, embracing known and unknown, it captured something of the awesome history and infinity of time.”

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Review by Penny Homer, BachTrack: (for same programme, BBC Prom 29, 6th August)

Click here for full review

…     “More impressive, however, was their handling of the outer planets, whose mature themes might have been beyond such young players. Not so; Saturn, the bringer of Old Age proved the best of all the movements. From its haunting start, the slow march towards death felt visceral and personal – I felt the weight of each passing second. Jupiter was also excellent; driving forward to what we now know as I Vow To Thee My Country, full of warmth and power. Uranus is the movement that I have in the past struggled to recall its identity – no more after the freshness brought to it here, its rousing climax quickly contrasted with a taut subito p to end. Neptune showed that the delicacy lacking in Venus was not beyond the orchestra, and was utterly transfixing. This delicacy extended to the balance with the off-stage voices of the CBSO Youth Chorus, giving them enough space to emerge. For such a seemingly small involvement, Neptune is a surprisingly tough ask for the voices, coming in high and quiet after a long period of silence. These difficulties weren’t quite surmounted and at times the tuning was a little unsettled, but the fade out was perfectly judged.

In his programme note for Pluto, the Renewer, Colin Matthews remarks that its dedicatee, Holst’s daughter Imogen, “would have been both amused and dismayed by this venture”. It was probably a sentiment that continues to be shared by many – after the beautiful fade out of Neptune, what could possibly come next? And yet if such a venture had to be undertaken, thankfully it was done in great style, breaking out before Neptune had fully died way. For the most part Matthews provided a thorough re-working of all the ideas in each movement while never veering into pastiche. The only awkward moments were the Mars motives, which jarred, although the orchestra attacked it all gamely, and the CBSO Youth Chorus voices were more confident with their involvement here. An interesting exercise, and fortunately not one detracting from Holst’s vision, or the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain’s brilliance. I expect bright futures for many of them.”

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Review by Brian Barford, ClassicalSource: (for same programme, BBC Prom 29, 6th August)

Click here for full review

…     “Iris ter Schiphorst’s Gravitational Waves is prompted by the recent detection of emissions set in motion over a billion years ago by the collision of two black holes. Schiphorst uses sounds from the scientific project heard through a sampler and reflected in the orchestra as well as a broadcast narrative. The soaring brass, scurrying strings and metallic percussion offer a sense of infinity. There is also a strong sense of visual performance, for the musicians don masks, sway in unison, make vocal interjections, and at the end raise their arms in a gesture of hope for the future. It proved an arresting piece to see and one imagines it was enjoyable to present.

Richard Strauss’s Also sprach Zarathustra is a problematic work to bring off convincingly. The Nietzsche element can be unattractive although one should remember that Strauss subverts the text at the conclusion where nature not metaphysical inspiration has the last word and the piece ends with a question mark. Also, following the now-famous ‘2001’ opening Zarathustra is a free-form fantasia that can seem meandering.

Gardner and the NYO welded all of the sections into a convincing whole. The horizon-searching opening was delivered in ringing style, underpinned by the Royal Albert Hall organ at its most sonorous. The music for solo strings was played with feeling and the players made up for what they may have lacked in opulence with real ardour and intensity. There were thrusting horns in the “expression of joys and passions”. The Viennese waltz was elegant with a fine violin solo from Millie Ashton and the Midnight Bell episode was given a tremendous dark intensity and the eerily ambiguous close beautifully rendered. Overall, this was a well-paced account delivered with thrilling virtuosity.”     …

 

 

 

 

Sir Mark Elder and the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain

Part of Birmingham International Concert Season 2014/15 Concert Package, SoundBite, Birmingham International Concert Season 2014/15 and Orchestral Music

Friday 7th August

Symphony Hall

National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain
Sir Mark Elder conductor

Programme includes:

Tansy Davies Regreening (new commision)
Mahler Symphony No9 81’

The National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain isn’t just the largest symphony orchestra in the UK; it’s one of the most virtuosic, and every one of its concerts is a gala occasion, supercharged with energy and emotion. So imagine the sensation of hearing Mahler’s Ninth Symphony performed by these 163 exceptional performers, under the inspirational direction of Sir Mark Elder.

A luminous, mesmerising energy makes every concert by the world’s greatest orchestra of teenagers thrilling.

Re-greening, written by Tansy Davies especially for this brilliant orchestra, is performed without a conductor and completely from memory. With ritualistic focus the musician’s move, sing and play, visceral connections are made and musical currents crackle from player to player, awakening an ebullient Spring from her long Winter slumber. Following it, Mahler’s awesome, ‘affirmative love-song to life’ performed by 163 twenty-first century teenagers committing themselves totally to its turbulence and radiance will be a transforming experience.

Tansy Davies is one of the UK’s most inventive composers. Her music has a lucid, visual quality that engulfs the senses. Sometimes joyful and exuberant, sometimes brooding and mystical, it is always an exhilarating ride. It’s the perfect music then, for an orchestra of teenagers with bucket loads of spirit and a hunger to share their passion for music with everyone. Free from the usual stage confines, the musicians are in full focus for Re-greening. With exquisite playing they send reverberations straight from the heart to the ground below, summoning up new life.

Mahler’s Symphony No. 9 is consuming in its emotional intensity and these inspiring musicians pour themselves into it completely, driving through the tumult and anguish to reveal that hope will endure and life must and will go on. It is music that speaks directly to the soul. Life and all its joys and sorrows are encapsulated within it. There are moments of overwhelming grief but even at its bleakest a heart beats through the music determined to hold onto life and find joy.

It will be totally uplifting, totally inspiring, totally brilliant. Come and hear it. You will feel totally alive.

Oliver Condy, Editor of BBC Music Magazine, explains his recommendation:

The award-winning National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain and brilliant conductor Sir Mark Elder make a formidable team.

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Review by John Quinn, SeenandHeard, MusicWeb:

Click here for full review

…     “The performance was a triumph. This symphony is one of the greatest and deepest symphonic works of the twentieth century. It is enormously exacting, not just technically but also emotionally, and these young musicians accepted and rose to its manifold challenges with relish – I noted that even on the back desks of the violin sections evident physical commitment was shown throughout the evening. The long, remarkable first movement began promisingly, the strings phrasing beautifully in the opening pages; the rest of the orchestra took their cue from that. In all sections of the orchestra the playing was impressively secure and highly motivated. There were some 160 musicians involved and there were a few occasions, both here and in the other three movements, when despite the sensitivity of the players, one was aware that the orchestra is larger than one would normally hear in this music. Yet never did the large ensemble sound unwieldy and Elder and his players were most attentive to dynamics and other matters of detail. The performance was gripping and the exposed writing in the last few minutes of the movement were impressively negotiated. This is fantastically difficult music to play, let alone to play with such assurance, but these young musicians were never daunted by Mahler’s demands.

At the start of the Ländler second movement, taken at a steady, sturdy pace by Elder as on his CD, the second violins really dug into their music as, subsequently, did all the string sections. This was a robust and strongly projected account of the music in which Mahler’s sardonic humour was brought out very well. There was a genuine Mahler style in the orchestra’s playing.  The Rondo-Burleske was on fire from the start, the playing acute and the rhythms sharply articulated. This was music that benefitted hugely from the sheer commitment of these young musicians. But even amid the tumult there was a clearly evident attention to detail on the part of both conductor and orchestra. In the slower central section with its premonition of the Adagio to come the NYOGB’s principal trumpet had just the right silvery tone. In this section I felt Elder’s tempo was a bit too swift; the music wasn’t as nostalgically peaceful as it should be. When the Rondo material returned no prisoners were taken; the movement was driven to a scalding conclusion, the final pages being positively incendiary.

For the great concluding Adagio Elder dispensed with his baton, the better to mould the music expressively. This is a huge test for any orchestra but the opening paragraphs augured well; the string playing was outstandingly eloquent, the musicians manifestly giving their all.”     …

Review by Andrew Clements, Guardian (for same programme but at Snape Maltings)

Click here for full review

Review by Colin Anderson, ClassicalSource (for same programme at Royal Albert Hall, Prom 31)

Click here for full review

Review by Jonathan McAloon, Telegraph (Prom 31)

Click here for full reivew

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National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain

Part of Birmingham International Concert Season 2013/14 Concert Package,

SoundBite and Birmingham International Concert Season 2013/14

Saturday 9th August

Symphony Hall

National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain
Edward Gardner conductor
Louis Schwitzgebel piano

Stravinsky Petrushka (1911) 34’
Prokofiev Piano Concerto No 1 16’
Harrison Birtwistle Sonic Severance 2000 3’
Lutosławski Concerto for Orchestra 28’

 

This summer, the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain brings its infectious energy and artistry to a programme that bursts with character. As “the most uplifting orchestra in the world” (The Times), the all-teenage ensemble joins Edward Gardner (CBSO Principle Guest Conductor) for a celebration of imaginative music-making.

Experience the colourful storytelling of Stravinsky’s ballet Petrushka paired with the dramatic intensity of Lutoslawski’s Concerto for Orchestra, two pieces that spin folk tunes into vibrant musical fireworks. On the same journey, light the sparks in Prokofiev’s first Piano Concerto with dazzling young pianist Louis Schwizgebel (BBC New Generation Artist), who won second prize at the Leeds International Piano Competition in 2012.

6.15pm in the Symphony Hall Foyer: hear cutting-edge, fresh new music from NYOGB’s unique resident teenage composers performed by the orchestra’s players. This is a free event.

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Summer Prom: National Youth Orchestra

Birmingham International Concert Season 2011/12

Part of Birmingham International Concert Season 2011/12… more events…

Wednesday 1 August

Symphony Hall

National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain
Vasily Petrenko conductor
Joanna MacGregor piano
Cynthia Millar ondes Martenot

Programme includes

Varèse Tuning Up 5’
Nico Muhly Gait (BBC commission) 20’
Messiaen Turangalîla-Symphonie 75’

encore -Anna Meredith – Hands Free

– (video here)

Described by The Times as ‘the most uplifting orchestra in the world’, the vast National Youth Orchestra comprises 165 of the country’s most talented teenage stars. Hear them here first with their equally exuberant Principal Conductor Vasily Petrenko, pianist Joanna MacGregor and ondes Martenot expert Cynthia Millar. Together they awaken the wonders of Messiaen’s uplifting testament to time and love, the breathtaking musical kaleidoscope that is Turangalîla-Symphonie.

BBC Music magazine’s Editor, Oliver Condy, recommends tonight’s concert: “Vasily Petrenko is one of the UK’s fastest-rising conducting stars. He’s already worked wonders with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic and he’s expected to do the same for the fabulous National Youth Orchestra. Bringing together musicians from every corner of the country, tonight’s concert has a true Olympic feel.”

Before the performance, see the NYO’s Creative Hub perform compositions by talented teenage composers at 6pm.  www.thsh.co.uk

Full report on the youngest ever leader of the National Youth Orchestra – here

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Review by John Quinn, SeenandHeard:

Click here for full review

…     “The other great exuberant showpiece in this work is the last movement, ‘Final’. After some seventy minutes of demanding performance the NYO still had reserves of energy, enthusiasm and, one suspects, pure adrenalin, to deliver a performance of this movement that was full of vitality and sheer joie de vivre. Petrenko, conducting with the clarity and energy that had galvanised his players throughout the evening, inspired them to bring the symphony to a triumphant conclusion. The ovation from the audience was richly deserved.

The NYO brings this programme to the BBC Proms on Saturday next, 4 August (19:30). The concert will be broadcast live on BBC Radio 3 and will be well worth hearing.”

Review by Fiona Maddocks, Observer:

Click here for full review

…     “This was a whirlwind performance, tubas, trombone and trumpets blasting out thrillingly, cymbals crashing with a celestial grandeur the composer would have loved. At the end, the swooning, elastic, electronic cries of the ondes martenot rode these torrents of sound like a storm-tossed Neptune surfing the waves. As an encore the NYO performed part of Anna Meredith’s HandsFree, in which instruments are abandoned and the body – clapping, stomping, hissing, clicking – becomes music, ending with nearly 200 teenagers thrusting their arms in the air in perfect unison.”    …

 

Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:

Click here for full review

…     “This ten-movement kaleidoscope puts huge demands of concentration and stamina as well as technique upon the players, and these musicians rose to the challenge magnificently under the irresistible personality of conductor Vasily Petrenko’s direction. Stentorian brass, sensuous woodwind, strings both sumptuous and flickering, percussion clicking, shimmering, affirmative, all worked triumphantly in the cause of this amazing, life-enhancingly erotic piece (will someone please unearth a recording of its 1948 premiere under Leonard Bernstein?).

The two ever-present soloists, Joanna MacGregor’s pianism florid and discreet by turns, Cynthia Millar bringing a lifetime of experience in this piece with the gallimaufry of kit which makes up the Star Trek-sounding Ondes Martenot, knew how to balance their contributions to the work of the orchestra, and acknowledged their young colleagues genuinely at the end.”     …

 

Review by Nick Breckenfield, ClassicalSource, (for performance at Royal Albert Hall – Prom 29)

Click here for full review