Review: National Youth Orchestra of Wales, St David’s Hall, Cardiff
Where should we look to find hope and inspiration in these troubled times? Might we turn to that doughty friend of the common man, Liz Truss? Oh dear, give me a break. Alternatively, could the dapper, expensively-shod Rishi Sunak lead us to the sunny mountain top? Alas, no. Indeed, politicians of all stripes are currently likely to lead us down a dead end of disillusionment.
What of religion? As Philip Larkin feared, that “vast moth-eaten musical brocade” used to try but is probably no longer the answer.
No, hope in the future must surely lie with young people. And then glorious music. The two came together in this inspiring concert by the National Youth Orchestra of Wales, conducted by Kwame Ryan and joined by violinist Jennifer Pike.
It was indeed refreshing to the soul to listen to the orchestra play with an impressive diligence and enthusiasm.
The impact of Covid meant that this was the orchestra’s first concert at St David’s Hall since the summer of 2019.
The orchestra boasted a large number of new members who were clearly delighted to be playing in front of such a large audience.
There have sometimes been concerns that the orchestra might draw its members mainly from the professional middle classes and those who attend private or independent schools.
Such concerns were dispelled by First Minister Mark Drakeford, who addressed the audience at the start of the concert. He was keen to point out that the orchestra drew its members from all parts of Welsh society, including those attending comprehensive schools, and highlighted the National Music Service which aims to ensure that all children and young people are able to take part in and create music. With music education in many state schools in Wales and the rest of the UK in such a shamefully parlous state, that was good to hear.
The concert opened with a short, energetic and captivating piece called Argentum (Latin for silver) by British composer Dani Howard.
The orchestra rejoiced in the vibrancy of the music which took us on an exhilarating journey of discovery.
It was difficult not to be enchanted by the playing of violinist Jennifer Pike in the next piece in the concert, Korngold’s violin concerto.
There is something wistfully melancholy about the delicately coloured first movement. Its subtleties were beautifully captured by Pike, while conductor Kwame Ryan gently urged his young musicians to accompany her with similar delicacy.
The second movement’s demands were deftly handled by Pike and the orchestra, while the helter-skelter final movement was played with controlled exuberance.
Pike told the audience that she had been inspired by the young players during rehearsals. This performance demonstrated that they had been inspired by her and had learnt much from her poised professionalism.
Most concerts these days include Ukrainian music. Pike chose a Ukrainian folk song for her encore which she played with the orchestra’s leader, Esme Lewis. It was quietly haunting.
The performance of the final piece in the concert, Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade, was slightly disappointing. There was sometimes a lack of drive and want of what one might call “oomph” in the musical rendering of the stories told by Scheherazade to the cruel sultan Shahryar.
One feared that here the Sultan might sometimes have lost patience, with disastrous consequences. Of course, these fine musicians will learn through experience and allow their undoubted talents to flourish.
The concert ended with a fiery performance of an excerpt from Korngold’ score for the film, Captain Blood. The audience was clearly delighted, leaving the concert hall full of inspiration and hope for the future of Wales.
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