AMONG the breathtaking array of roles undertaken by musician Leonard Weiss at the moment in Canberra, his position as conductor for the Canberra Youth Orchestra must surely be the most influential.

Leonard Weiss conducting, concertmaster Helena Popovic in background
Leonard Weiss conducting, concertmaster Helena Popovic in background

Certainly the work he  does conducting ensembles like the National Capital Orchestra, the ANU Choral Society and the Musica Da Camera String Orchestra is very important within the community, but nothing can be quite so significant as the development of musical skills in the young.

The orchestra now comes under the umbrella of ‘Music for Canberra’, under whose auspices it has recently arranged with the ANU for academic recognition of performance in the orchestra, which is now considerably larger than once it was.

Last night the CYO presented its first in the series of so-called "Icon" concerts at Llewellyn Hall, the series title being a reference to the status  of the major composers whose work they play – in this case Mozart, Tchaikovsky and Puccini.

Attended by one of the largest audiences for the CYO seen in  memory, the demanded outpaced the booking agency, seeing ticket buyers queuing around the School of Music —always a good sign.

Under Weiss, the orchestra’s players, whose ages we heard were largely between 17 and 23, undertook an ambitious and completely mixed program.

Louise Page takes to the stage
Louise Page takes to the stage

After a rousing opening by Ferdinand Herold’s rousing “Overture to ‘Zampa’,” which allowed the instrumentalists free rein, Canberra soprano Louise Page took to the stage for a recital of arias by Mozart and Puccini, concluding with the song “Com the partiro” made famous by Andrea Bocelli and a joyous encore of “The Hills Are Alive…”

Page is an animated, seasoned performer, especially in the role of the Countess Almaviva from Mozart’s “Marriage of Figaro” and worked easily with the orchestra, who followed in an extraordinary disciplined accompaniment that never overwhelmed the voice.

It was notable that the three famous Puccini arias chosen from “La boheme”, “Tosca” and “Madama Butterfly”, all begin with the voice of the soprano herself – in other words, the players had no choice but to follow. This was a demanding exercise, but one that taught the instrumentalists how to create colour. One or two entries were a little slow in the final aria from “Butterfly”, but this was a terrific exercise for the young musicians.

The same could not be said for the cheesier “Com te partiro”, which requires a degree of ease that allows the musicians to let the romanticism rip.

The full CYO
The full CYO

The second half of this thoroughly pleasing performance tested the skills of the orchestra. The more violent elements of the third and fourth movements of Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 6 in B minor Op, 74 - the 'Pathetique' -  brought out the best in the musicians, who gave a strident performance, finishing with great control, as the impressive cello section faded to nothing, subtly guided by Weiss.

This was a most unusual selection of works for the CYO, providing opportunities for the musicians to learn different technical and emotional skills in a concert that must be pronounced an outstanding success.

All photos by Peter Hislop

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Ian Meikle, editor