LAST night’s performance by the Canberra Youth Orchestra was both an affirmation of its place at the top of youthful instrumental-playing in the ACT and at the same time an indication of a trend towards popularising the orchestra.
Whether it represented quintessentially Occidental (defined by the orchestra as Western) music or not, the repertoire chosen for the young musicians, who were supported by 11 mature guest artists, offered a broad exposure to musical styles and, dare one say, a bit of fun.
It is the first main-stage performance since the sotto voce merger of Music for Everyone and Canberra Youth Music to become Music for Canberra in January, so we have yet to see whether this constitutes a marriage of administrative convenience or of artistic purpose. MFE, after all, grew out of the community-oriented singing organisation Gaudeamus and CYM came from the elite stream of playing that ultimately feeds into the Australian Youth Orchestra.
Going by last night’s entertaining but slightly raffish repertoire, it’s a merger with potential.
First up was a lively performance of two movements from Sinfonietta Op. 188 by Swiss composer Joachim Raff. Written for pairs of flutes, oboes, horns, bassoons and clarinets supported by a small string ensemble, the highlight was a mischievous exchange between clarinettist Gen Kinoshita and the flute section.
After this opening, the Chinese-Australian conductor Shilong Le, trained at Narrabundah College and the ANU School of Music, took up the baton for the remaining three work, beginning with the first of second movements from Bartok’s Suite No.2, Op.4, a lush almost romantic piece. While Ye was assured in his conducting, the musicians seemed reserved and tentative in this exploration of harmonies.
There was nothing tentative in the highly controlled performance of French composer Séjourné’s Concerto for Marimba and Strings. Canberra-born percussionist, Adam Cooper-Stanbury, a rising musician now studying at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, was the soloist in this work, which allowed him full scope for drama, underscored by a sensitively-restrained string section, featuring several glorious breakouts by first violinist and concertmaster, Laura Lay.
The final work, the symphonic suite “Estampas Mexicanas” by Mexico’s Jose Elizondo, brought out the full vigour of the orchestra and it was notable that orchestra’s members watched the conductor to achieve the uniquely Mexican rhythms. But to me it was the unique second movement, which used percussion and pizzicato to invoke an Aztec ritual, that was the highlight of the performance, quietly and evocatively performed with the watchful Ye ensuring perfect balance.
This evening of music from Switzerland, Hungary, France and Mexico probably was Occidental as they said, but with such extraordinary variety in the program and the odd Oriental moment from Bartok, it just goes to show how universal music is.
Photos by Peter Hislop