Kenny Mathieson wonders at the National Youth Orchestra's ability to renew itself without any drop in standards
National Youth Orchestra of Scotland. Glasgow Royal Concert Hall, January 5. Edinburgh Festival Hall, January 6
It would be disingenuous to hold up the impressive attainments of the young players of the National Youth Orchestra of Scotland as typical of the standards being achieved in our schools. They are clearly the cream of the crop, but they do illustrate exactly what can be done when the right balance of will, opportunity, resources and talent is struck.
Despite continuing difficulties in securing adequate funding, particularly from major commercial sponsors, the National Youth Orchestra's New Year concerts in Glasgow and Edinburgh are an established fixture on the Scottish musical calendar.
Its members are recruited from right across Scotland, and augmented on this occasion by guests from Austria and Ireland. They are honed into collective shape in the course of a concentrated week-long winter school, and delivered into the hands of an experienced and sympathetic conductor for the performances.
This year, the conductor was Nicolae Moldoveanu, and it was obvious from both his own broad grin and the enthusiastic acclaim of the players as he took his bows after the concert at the Edinburgh Festival Theatre that the chemistry had been right.
That had been palpable enough in the course of the evening, which began with a polished and confidently executed account of Berlioz's colourful overture, Le Carnaval Romain. Dong-Suk Kang proved a fine choice of soloist in Sibelius's violin concerto, and played with a highly effective combination of liquid fluency and steely bite. The accompaniment in this work is no routine matter, but the orchestra coped well, despite being a little short on projection and depth of string tone at times.
It can never be accused of shirking a challenge, however, as it demonstrated in tackling Bartok's Concerto for Orchestra in the second half. The music provides a real test for all sections of the orchestra, not only in its manifold technical demands, but also in its kaleidoscopic shifts of mood.
The players responded in breathtaking fashion, with each section of the orchestra functioning as soloists at some point. The wind and brass were particularly impressive, but strings and percussion were only a fraction behind, and the overall combination added up to music-making of a high order.
This is no more than we have come to expect from an orchestra which seems able to renew itself on an annual basis without any discernible drop in standards - a real cause for satisfaction in troubled times for music education.
Further information on NYOS and its concert seasons is available on 0141 332 8311, fax 0141 332 3915, e-mail email@example.com
Looking for arts events for Scottish schools? Turn to the new TES Scotland web site on www.tes.co.uk