Youth players show steps to fringe of fame
This spring concert, in Glasgow's well-filled Royal Concert Hall, was one of the most ambitious undertakings yet attempted by the National Youth Orchestra of Scotland, although that particular ensemble was not involved on this occasion. Instead, NYOS devoted the concert to performances from the two classical ensembles at either end of their age and experience range, the National Children's Orchestra of Scotland and Camerata Scotland.
The event took on unanticipated newsworthiness by being the first public engagement of the Earl (the patron of NYOS) and Countess of Wessex in the wake of the countess's resignation from her public relations company.
Richard Chester, the director of NYOS, in his brief thank you to the concert's sponsors, Stirling Shipping, made the point that the more than 130 strong National Children's Orchestra had to turn away 150 hopefuls who auditioned each year. He saw this as a tribute to the work of instrumental teachers throughout Scotland, and it was clear from the playing that their efforts had produced considerable progress.
The orchestra is open to eight to 14-year-olds. Although, inevitably, standards of individual consistency varied throughout the demanding programme conducted by Nigel Murray, overall the discipline and sound production was good.
Grieg's "Hall of the Mountain King" took off at an uusually fast pace and briefly threatened to founder but the players pulled through. They fared better at forte than piano, where their inexperience became more apparent, but they brought plenty of energy and commitment to Dvorak's "Slavonic Dance in G minor" and gave a vivid account of Offenbach's overture "Orpheus in the Underworld". This produced their best brass playing and a fine solo from violinist Erica Buurman. Both winds and brass were rather exposed in John Maxwell Geddes's "Dances at Threave", which never really came alive.
Best of all, though, was a crisp and confident performance of Bach's rarely heard "Concerto in A minor for Four Pianos", with the visual enhancement of four grand pianos at centre stage. Louisa Laing, Eugenie Younger, Isla Pitkethly and Mary Erskine played the solos in assured fashion, and the string sections provided excellent support. If NYOS itself is the next staging post for this group of youngsters, those with the necessary desire and talent may ultimately find themselves in Camerata Scotland.
NYOS formed Camerata Scotland as a kind of pre-professional stage in the development of students who were ready to move beyond the main orchestra. They gave sparkling, beautifully played accounts of Mendelssohn's "Italian Symphony" and overtures by Schubert and Mozart under conductor Gerard Korsten and provided ample proof that NYOS's primary-to-professional strategy is paying rich dividends.