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Youth players up to the challenges

The National Youth Orchestra of Scotland's annual New Year concerts in Edinburgh and Glasgow provided the customary challenging programme for the young musicians. They proved well capable of coping with the crucial subtleties as well as the more virtuoso demands of the music.

As ever, the central belt provided the bulk of the musicians, but the orchestra draws widely in its search for players, from Thurso in the north to Castle Douglas in the south, Aberdeen in the east to Oban in the west.

Two players came from even farther afield, a viola player from the United States and a harpist from Liechtenstein. Both took their places as part of an exchange programme between NYOS and the European Federation of National Youth Orchestras.

NYOS likes to develop a good relationship with its conductors and Sian Edwards is a regular. She guided the players through a highly attractive but potentially booby-trapped programme.

The first half was devoted to two works which demanded both a firm grasp of subtle and intricate musical detail and the ability to evoke atmosphere. In many respects these present more difficult challenges than virtuoso works but the orchestra coped well.

Ms Edwards guided them through Stravinsky's exotic score "The Song of the Nightingale" in clearly delineated fashion and the players responded with an evocative but concentrated account of it.

They were joined by violinist Mihaela Martin in Szymanowski's unconventional Violin Concerto No 1, a piece which shared something of the Orient-inspired exoticism of Stravinsky's ballet, but in the Polish composer's own highly coloured rhapsodic style. The orchestral balance occasionally tilted too far in favour of the brass, but otherwise this was an impressive account.

Ms Edwards kept an arguably over-tight grip on Tchaikovsky's Symphony No 6, a work which challenged the emotional maturity as well as the technical ability of the players. They remained attentive to the emotional weight of the music throughout and, if they did not quite succeed in delivering its full measure, it was a highly creditable performance.

It was clear that a great deal of hard work had gone into the week-long winter school at the orchestra's new base in Merchiston Castle School in Edinburgh.

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