T.The two double bass players grinned as they landed big pedal notes on the bottom of the massive chords. One string player nodded his fortune to another before an exposed solo. These are not things you see in most orchestral performances, but the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain is not most orchestras. This kind of unguarded joy in making music is common among members.
In this concert, the magic crackled in the second half. Richard Strauss’s Zarathustra Speaks Again – a rambling symphonic treatise on Nietzsche and the famous 2001 Space Odyssey – conducted by Alexander Bloch, has twice as many woodwinds and brass and 11 It was served in an extra large size on a double bass. But it wasn’t just the heart-rending climax, the orchestra was also greatly enjoyed. A blistering virtuoso passage sent in panache and a bucketload of post-Wagner schmaltz, all as gorgeous as they should be.
The rest of the concert was a strange beast. Introduced by members of the orchestra enthused by the power of music to change the lives of young people and the fact that “creativity is a vital skill.” Of course, they are right, but I wonder who wrote these policy-biased scripts and who they were targeting. Musicians are certainly not the unfortunate fellows who say they want to be involved in classical music and are offered free tickets to concerts.
I heard some of this sophisticated rigidity. Anna Clyne’s score for her 2016 ballet Rift was impressively smooth, but not the urgent, heartfelt rendition I associate with her NYOGB. The Waltz on the Blue Danube, on the other hand, was a strangely painless encore for an orchestra that usually programs so boldly. Also, in Britten’s “Four Sea Interludes”, there was a moment when the tension before the concert started came to the fore. But even if its Dawn opening lacks the delicate subtlety that makes it evocative, it’s hard to believe that Sunrise sounds in this elemental driven by two tubas, two contrabassoons and eight trombones. Rarely. The closing storm, too, was full of instinctive thrills – nauseating trombone sounds, nightmarish timpani blasts, brutally stolen woodwinds – of these musicians’ tremendous communication. Talent overwhelmed all others.