Review: Rare performances from Youth Orchestra

Canberra Youth Orchestra, Dukas, Bottesini and Sibelius, conducted by Rowan Harvey-Martin, at Llewellyn Hall, December 16. Reviewed by Helen Musa

A SUNDAY performance of remarkable originality concluded a bumper year for  Canberra Youth Orchestra and marked a departure of concertmaster Natalia Harvey for further studies at the Australian National Academy of Music. 

Retiring concert master Natalia Harvey and conductor Rowan Harvey-Martin with orchestra

Retiring concert master Natalia Harvey and conductor Rowan Harvey-Martin with orchestra

With artistic director and  eminent  violinist Rowan Harvey-Martin holding the baton, the fall orchestra began with an evocative performance of “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” by Paul Dukas, revealing a capacity not only to strike the strident notes for which youth orchestras are often known, but also to elicit a sense of mischief and near-silence from their instruments.

The central work in  the concert was a very rare performance – too rare, as Harvey-Martin noted – of the Double Bass Concerto No.2 in B minor by  Giovanni Bottesini, performed by soloist Kyle Daniel, who, along with cellist Emma Rayner, clarinettist Tom Azoury  and pianist Emily Buckley, had won the 2012 Canberra Youth Music Concerto Competition.

This unusual performance was varied in tone, with Daniel’s bass so dominant and haunting that it would have it benefited from a much larger string orchestra.

The final work of the concept was a fiery version of Sibelius’ Symphony No1 in E minor Op.39,  a work perfectly chosen to show off the sensitivity and versatility of these musicians.

As one of their tutors remarked to me, “the great thing about these players is that they don’t know how hard what they’re doing is.”

2012 marks the 50th anniversary of Canberra Youth Orchestra and it has chosen to celebrate the year in the best possible way, with  musical performances.

The year has demonstrated the orchestra’s commitment to community-focused events in  the light-hearted “Not Strictly Ballroom” in March, a touch of  Tchaikovsky, Strauss and Offenbach for Government House Open Day in the same month, and special-purpose performances for  Legacy and Questacon.

A collaborative inclination saw them  join Canberra Dance Development Centre in June for a Shakespeare-oriented program of Sibelius, Walton, Prokofiev and Delius and, the Llewellyn Choir in November 4, in spectacular performances of Borodin, Orff and Bernstein.

But Canberra Youth Orchestra does not restrict itself to popular favourites,  and without doubt the high point of the year was the September concert in Llewellyn Hall, featuring pianist Bernadette Harvey, by showcasing the orchestra’s capacity in the Australian premiere of Kevin Puts’ Piano Concerto “Night.” as well as works by Aaron Copland, Pehr Henrik Nordgren and Carl Vine.

We look forward to seeing what the orchestra has in mind for the coming centenary year.