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Review: National Youth Orchestra of Scotland at The Sage Gateshead

The National Youth Orchestra of Scotland gave an exuberant performance at Sage's Festival of Youth Orchestras

*****
The Sage Gateshead
The Sage Gateshead Music Centre

The flower of Scotland’s next generation of classical musicians was on show in Hall One as part of the ongoing Festival of Youth Orchestras, with nearly 120 of them filling the stage and parading their exuberant talents in a broad programme.

English composer William Walton described his Johannesburg Festival Overture as “a non-stop gallop, slightly crazy, hilarious and vulgar”.

Composed in 1956 to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the founding of that city, NYOS brought the necessary energy and drive to live up to Walton’s summary.

We heard a very British orchestral sound of the time, reflecting the sunnier days of Empire with Africa suggested in some token percussion.

NYOS commissioned Scottish-based composer Sally Beamish to write a trumpet concerto for the great Swedish trumpeter Håkan Hardenberger to perform at the BBC Proms in 2003.

We were delighted to hear this reprised – and what a feast of percussion and trumpeting exuberance was on show! With its unconventional scoring and complex rhythms, Beamish’s work is a true test of an orchestra’s ability. This one passed it in fine fashion.

Richard Strauss scored his 1915 symphonic poem, An Alpine Symphony, for 125 musicians, with its 22 continuous sections depicting an 11-hour period – pre-dawn to twilight – spent climbing in the Alps.

Surely one of the most pictorial pieces in the classical canon, we were treated to a majestic sunrise, blue skies and fresh air, an avalanche, cow-bells, a mountain storm and, ultimately, a calm nightfall.

Often sounding like a film score, it was 50 minutes of glorious music, with significant contributions from percussion and brass and with the horn players swapping between traditional horns and muted Wagner tubas. The pitching was consistently good, especially in the quieter sections.

Full marks for an evening of musical invention and excitement, finely conducted by young Englishman Michael Francis.

The National Youth Orchestra of Wales performs at Sage Gateshead on Friday and the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain on August 7.

Rob Barnes

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