Chance to hone talents stage by stage
The modest attendance at the Usher Hall last Thursday may be put down to competition from the well-established Edinburgh Youth Orchestra, which was giving a concert only two days later with Julian Lloyd Webber as its star guest, performing the Scottish premi re of Philip Glass's cello concerto.
NYOS could not compete, but the children's orchestra has already seen violinist Nicola Benedetti move on to the international stage. She is a former leader of the orchestra and has demonstrated how much can be achieved by young Scots with sufficient talent.
The children's orchestra, which is open by audition to 8- to 14-year-olds, is about nurturing talent, even if the majority of its players are on a more modest level than Benedetti. Public performance is important, but the real gains for the young musicians lie in the cycle of going through the intensive preparations for the concert, and in the opportunity to progress through the ranks of the NYOS ensembles.
Violinist Josephine Robertson is an example. She led the children's orchestra for three years and is now leading the NYOS String Ensemble, a group formed in 2004 for the children's orchestra's ground-breaking visit to China.
In the second half of the Edinburgh concert, the string ensemble gave a polished and expressive account of Dvorak's popular Serenade for Strings under conductor Julian Clayton and provided a perfect example of the benefits of the NYOS continuity.
The children's orchestra worked through three pieces in a long first half, reserving its most concentrated efforts for Malcolm Arnold's Symphony No 5.
Stark marshalled his young forces admirably in a demanding programme, which also included Humperdinck's Hansel and Gretel and Anton Webern's early Passacaglia.
Michael Foyle, the current leader of the orchestra, who also played with the string ensemble, has demonstrated his potential. He was selected to tour with the Scottish Ensemble last December and will now move on to the National Youth Orchestra of Scotland.
The cream of players from the NYOS move on to the post-school, pre-professional ensemble Camerata Scotland, which replaced the string ensemble for the Glasgow concert on Friday.
The graded progression that NYOS offers has paid dividends for many young musicians, though the bedrock for everything is the work going on in schools around the country.
Scanning the long list of children's orchestra members, it was clear that the musicians did not come only from the big population centres in Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdeen, but also from lesser known corners such as Fladdabister, Duror of Appin, Sleat, Gulberwick, Roy Bridge, Skelmorlie, Halkirk, Fordangenny, Rosemarkie, Inellen and Point. So the orchestra's reach is genuinely national.
Allowances did have to be made for the youth and inexperience of the players in Edinburgh and Glasgow this week. Their intonation, projection, ensemble awareness and ability to shape and express the music was not perfect, nor could it be. It was, however, impressive and the discipline of learning to work together with their peers in the precise demands of a symphony orchestra will have developmental gains that go way beyond simply playing music.