Ambition and Virtuosity was an apt name for SYO’s latest concert as the pieces selected were certainly ambitious and all require their own virtuosic performances.
The concert in Sydney Town Hall (August 5) was opened by the Sydney Youth Orchestra Philharmonic under the guidance of Brian Buggy OAM. If the SYO was the Australian XI, the SYO Philharmonic is Australia A, but there was little to tell them apart in quality. Brian Buggy, in his stylish velvet jacket, leaned into the performance, moving his body as much as the baton, as he guided the young musicians through the Act I Prelude to Wagner’s Mastersingers of Nuremberg.
Any Wagnerian work is monumental and this overture is no exception. It isn’t as dark perhaps as some of his more overtly emotional pieces, but his thematic phrasing and orchestration are as expertly rendered here as in any of his most celebrated compositions. And none of the epic sound or drama was lost in this performance, an impressive feat for such a young orchestra.
But the star turn was next, the SYO with Naoko Keatley performing Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto. Naoko stood out boldly against the orchestra, partly because of her bright blue dress against the black of the ensemble, but mostly because of her playing. It is a tricky work, full of the sort of romantic passion Tchaikovsky is famous for, and completely demanding of virtuosity, and Naoko did not falter. Her bow flew, her fingers were a blur, and we were all held in awe. When it was the orchestra’s turn and she had a chance to rest, you could see her in the music. She didn’t appear to be just listening and waiting for her turn, she was feeling it flow around and through her. Then when her turn came, it continued to flow through her and into us, the lucky audience.
None of which is to suggest that the orchestra was remotely lacking, quite the opposite. Like most great concertos, Tchaikovsky’s demands as much of the orchestra as the soloist, and only if they succeed can the soloist truly shine. The SYO met the challenge. The music weaved its magic seamlessly; there were none of the little wavers I noted in their last concert, and they showed that with diligence and enthusiasm, youth is no barrier to great orchestral performance.
This was even more evident in the final piece of the night Dvorak’s Seventh Symphony. This was an ideal selection for a youth orchestra as it gives every section, and many individuals, a chance to shine. It also capped off the night well, all three works come from the late Romantic period, but carry their composers’ distinctive styles, all of which pack a punch. Dvorak is a personal favourite of mine, so I went into this concert with excitement and trepidation at hearing one of his symphonies. I need not have been concerned.
The seventh has all of Dvorak’s range of moods, even if they don’t reach the extremes of the transcendent ninth (my all-time favourite symphony), and this is expressed through the instrumentation, which is what made it such a good showcase work for this talented orchestra. Full professional orchestras may provide more polish, but they don’t have school to attend.
Their ambition was high, but they had the virtuosity to reach their goal. Bravo SYO!