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Review: Festival of Youth Orchestras 14, Hall One, Sage Gateshead

Rob Barnes takes in the climax of the 10-day festival and is blown away by the young talent on display

Jason Alden The National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain
The National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain

In another classical music coup for the region, Sage Gateshead has been hosting the Festival of Youth Orchestras for the last 10 days, with a range of non-residential music courses, and concert performances by the National Youth Orchestras of Scotland and Wales, and finally, on Thursday night in the festival climax, Great Britain.

This concert repertoire will be repeated at the Proms on Sunday night in London – and we heard it all in Gateshead first! Watch out for it on BBC Four at the end of August.

There were many winners on a night of real excellence from our nation’s very best young musicians, their ages ranging between 14 and 19 – not that you would ever have known it, such was the maturity of their individual and collective performances.

One major winner was the repertoire chosen to show off the NYOGB talents, and it was edgy, adventurous and far from the shores of safety.

They rode the waves of Stravinsky’s thrilling and relentless music for Petrushka, just as they did for Lutoslawski’s celebratory Concerto for Orchestra.

NYOGB downsized for Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto #1, giving the opportunity for Louis Schwizgebel – at 27, an adult in this company – to show how he could handle the huge contrasts in this work.

It all worked very well, as did the introductory piece for the second half, an orchestral fanfare by Harrison Birtwistle, which set the scene perfectly for the tour-de-force Lutoslawski work ending the concert.

There were many moments where soloists could show their individual mettle – the interplay between trumpet, flute and bassoon in Petrushka was memorable, as were the double-basses in the Lutoslawski.

Edward Gardner OBE was involving and expressive as he conducted the huge orchestra of over 150, keeping them tight and focused where extreme concentration was needed, particularly noticeable in the fragmented music of Stravinsky.

A well-known football pundit once said ‘you can’t win anything with kids’, and just as he was wrong then, these kids showed a performance maturity well beyond their years, and very much won the hearts and admiration of this audience who cheered their efforts loud and long.

Rob Barnes


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