mon 08/08/2022

National Youth Orchestra/Kristjan Järvi, Leeds Town Hall | reviews, news & interviews

National Youth Orchestra/Kristjan Järvi, Leeds Town Hall

National Youth Orchestra/Kristjan Järvi, Leeds Town Hall

Our young musicians demonstrate yet again the value of music education

A glance at the programme hinted at the identity of the orchestra: you don’t perform Prokofiev’s Scythian Suite and Janáček’s Sinfonietta in the same evening unless you’ve industrial quantities of brass and percussion to spare. This was riveting, transcendent stuff, and the most uplifting evening I’ve spent in a concert hall for years. Plus, the echoing barn of Leeds Town Hall is the ideal size for a 170-piece orchestra, a perfect place to experience Janáček’s hocketing brass fanfares. This was the closing concert of the NYO’s winter tour, and an incredible achievement for an orchestra that only assembled two weeks ago.

The Scythian Suite, Prokofiev’s 1915 attempt to echo Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, is a glorious B-movie of a work. Rhythmically it’s less subtle than the Stravinsky, but it’s full of glorious melody, which Kristjan Järvi exploited to the full. He’s terrific to watch – swaggering, swaying and swooning like an illustration by Dr Seuss. He brought a fairy-tale delicacy to the quiet music near the end of the first movement – helped by such a vast, technically proficient string section. And what a pleasure to see him looking so delighted at the tentative applause which followed the second dance. The garish, abrasive sunrise at the close of The Glorious Departure of Lolly and the Followers of the Sun was ear-splitting, the final extended chord a shout of pure joy.

Janáček’s Sinfonietta was even more impressive, the brass writing which bookends the piece delivered with real panache and impeccable intonation, which is no mean feat considering the number of players doubling up. Järvi’s tempi were often swift, though he eased beautifully into that glorious moment in Janáček’s second movement where juicy trombone chords and frenetic string ostinati frame a striking, simple trumpet motif. Wonderful, wonderful music, and a piece which needs live performances as good as this to remind you that it’s a 20th-century masterpiece. It was good to see a grinning Järvi so generously applauding his young players, and touching to see the affection reciprocated.

The NYO sensibly slimmed down for the two concertante works forming the rest of the programme. Berg’s Violin Concerto was almost unbearably poignant as played by the young American violinist Tai Murray, aided by ultra-refined wind and brass orchestral solos. And it was remarkable to hear this 12-note work sound so, well, accessible and communicative, borne out by the largely cough-free listening audience. Liszt’s Totentanz formed the only non-20th-century work on the programme, a devilishly entertaining but slightly silly piano and orchestra showpiece. Stewart Goodyear’s technique dazzled with every note brightly, clearly audible, and it was a pleasure to see so many of the orchestra grinning during Liszt’s radical assault on the "Dies Irae". This was a moving evening and a timely demonstration of the strength of music education in the UK and what we stand to lose should funding cuts undermine it.

Add comment


Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters