Youth and Fine Inspiration; Christopher Morley Reflects on a Year of Classical Music in the Region

The Birmingham Post (England), December 30, 2005 | Go to article overview

Youth and Fine Inspiration; Christopher Morley Reflects on a Year of Classical Music in the Region


Byline: Christopher Morley

Whenever the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain makes a New Year visit to Symphony Hall my list of highlights culled from the forthcoming 12 months gets an automatic kickstart.

As happened early in January, when a concert from these amazingly gifted young people featured an irresistible account of Gershwin's Piano Concerto. Soloist Michael Chertock found just the right blend of glitz and romance, and Keith Lockhart was the suave conductor.

The NYO returned to the region in August, bringing to Malvern's Forum Theatre an exciting all-English programme of Paul Patterson (his showcase Orchestra on Parade!), Tippett's Ritual Dances (four harps, no less) and Elgar's First Symphony, Tadaaki Otaka the unobtrusively wise conductor.

Celebrating its first birthday, the CBSO Youth Orchestra gave a searing reading of Tchaikovsky's PathAtique Symphony under Paul Daniel at Warwick Arts Centre in Coventry, where they also despatched John Adams' testing The Chairman Dances with immense flair. The Birmingham Schools' Symphony Orchestra collaborated with prize-winning youngster Benjamin Grosvenor in a gratifyingly mature performance of Chopin's elusive Second Piano Concerto at the Adrian Boult Hall in November, Peter Bridle conducting, and earlier this month Symphony Hall witnessed an exhilarating Beethoven Symphony no.7 from the Three Cities Orchestra (students of Birming-ham, Lyon and Frankfurt Conservatoires) under the genial Rolf Reuter.

We had many memorable performances from the CBSO at Symphony Hall during 2005, beginning in January with an intensely exciting Strauss Ein Heldenleben under Vassily Sinaisky, Gregor Sigl triumphant in the tricky solo violin contributions. February celebrated the centenary of the birth of Sir Michael Tippett with a perceptive Child of our Time linking this pacifist oratorio with the Stuart masque tradition. Martyn Brabbins conducted, and the CBS Chorus added a tremendous presence.

In May the CBSO played a taut, tense Mahler Sixth Symphony under Ilan Volkov and a seat-of-the-pants Beethoven Five from Sakari Oramo.

This season we have heard a genial Dvorak Fifth Symphony (one-time principal guest conductor Walter Weller making a welcome return) and a powerful Dvorak Nine from Alexander Anissimov. Kazushi Ono presided over a commanding, intense presentation of the final scene from Wagner's Die Walkre, with IrAne Theorin a touching Brunnhilde and Matthew Best an involving Wotan. At the other end of the music-theatre spectrum the so-versatile CBSO players responded enthusiastically to the sheer class of Rodgers and Hammerstein's South Pacific, Martin Yates conducting and Kim Medcalf as Nellie heading a starry cast.

Gil Shaham was soloist in a dark, glacial account of Sibelius' forlorn Violin Concerto, Thomas Dausgaard the supple conductor, and Sakari Oramo continued his delving into John Foulds' inexplicably neglected orchestral music, coming up with the heady Dynamic Triptych, Peter Donohoe the formidable soloist in what is in fact a piano concerto - and one which these forces will be recording for Warner Classics very soon.

Visiting orchestras providing riches at Symphony Hall included the Chicago Symphony in a world-stopping Mahler Ninth Symphony, conductor Daniel Barenboim taming a brass section notorious for its decibels, the Philharmonia responding magnificently to the natural sense of pulse the octogenarian Sir Charles Mackerras found in Elgar's Second Symphony, the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra engaging the exciting young Venezuelan Gustavo Dudamel as a late replacement conductor in a summer programme which included a well-drawn Sibelius Fifth Symphony, and the Oslo Philharmonic, bringing under Yan Pascal Tortelier a fresh, baggage-less Enigma Variations into Elgarland.

Symphony Hall also hosted a tremendously moving Dream of Gerontius featuring a specially-formed choir drawn from members of the Midlands branch of Making Music, with Michael Lloyd persuading the remarkable amateur Chan-dos Orchestra to a resplendent unfolding of Elgar's searching score. …

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