Homage to 10 years of youthful singing

The National Youth Choir of Scotland celebrated its 10th anniversary with a gala concert that mustered an incredible 186 singers in a well-filled Usher Hall in Edinburgh.

The 2006 Choir was joined by 75 former members and they were accompanied by the Royal Scottish National Orchestra. Christopher Bell, the artistic director of the choir, marshalled the substantial forces from the podium in a concert that delivered choral singing of the highest standard, with no concessions required to youth or anything else.

The massed singers were in splendid voice right from the opening bars of the first work, a beautiful account of A Rose Tree Blossoms by American composer Alan Hovhaness. It was a typical example of the eclectic repertoire that Bell assembles for the choir.

NYCoS grew out of Bell's appointment as chorus master of the RSNO Junior Chorus in 1994. It first performed in 1996, and has grown substantially since then.

As well as the main choir, it runs a training choir and a national boys'

choir. It supports regional youth choirs in Edinburgh, West Lothian, Dumfries, Dundee, Stirling, Falkirk and Renfrewshire, and seven full-time equivalent staff running vocal workshops using the Kodaly method in Glasgow schools.

That philosophy of building from the roots replicates Bell's approach with the RSNO Junior Chorus, and has clearly paid dividends. The blast of joyous singing that opened Handel's Zadok the Priest was emblematic of the power and precision of the choir, and a vivid statement of its obvious delight at being there.

Vaughan Williams's Serenade to Music allowed eight singers from the choir to take centre stage as soloists, and they provided further evidence of the quality now emerging from the ranks.

At the other end of the scale, Tom Baird dealt confidently with the solo role for boy treble in section two of Leonard Bernstein's Chichester Psalms, which closed the first half of the concert in impressive fashion.

The distinguished Scottish soprano Wilma McDougall joined the assembled forces for the single work in the second half, Poulenc's Gloria. Once again, the choir produced glorious, beautifully balanced singing in this engaging, slightly quirky piece.

A memorable evening for the choir, sponsored by the Dunfermline Building Society, ended with the short, elegiac I Have Had Singing. The words reflected the experience of an old man at the end of his life in music, but the young singers who made up this choir, and the many more currently working their way through its multi-level structure, have the prospect of much more to come.

Bell readily admits that the progress made by NYCoS in its first decade has exceeded all expectations, in educational and performing achievements. With a bedrock such as this to build on, and increased funding from the Scottish Arts Council next year, the prospects for even greater development seem secure.


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