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GET OUT MORE..............................CONCERT REVIEW

CBSO YOUTH ORCHESTRA (Symphony Hall, Sunday, February 18th)


The CBSO's youth wing has been showing what it can do at Symphony Hall. Steve Beauchampé went to catch them in action.

The CBSO Youth Orchestra comes together twice each year, during the February and October half-term periods, for a week of intensive rehearsal at the CBSO Centre in Berkley Street, culminating in a public performance in either Birmingham's Symphony Hall or at Warwick Arts Centre.

Formed in autumn 2004 as a successor to the 48-year old Midland Youth Orchestra, the CBSO YO comprises around 100 locally based players, aged between 14-21 and who have reached Grade 7 (strings) or 8 (wind, brass, percussion), selected following auditions held each summer.

Despite the age of the younger players, the approach is wholly professional, with the selected music aimed partially at emphasising the CBSO's reputation for bringing to audiences challenging and exciting work with which many may be unfamiliar.

Thus in 2006 Alexander Arutiunian's Trumpet Concerto and John Foulds' Overture Le Cabaret featured alongside Elgar's considerably better known Enigma Variations.

Indicative of the CBSO YO's reputation is the fact that soloists of the calibre of pianist Joanna MacGregor and trumpeter Alison Balsom have been willing to rehearse with and appear alongside these young players, many of whom might be expected to forge careers as professional or semi-professional musicians, or as music teachers.

A few may progress to the full CBSO, indeed some have already stepped up temporarily when the orchestra has featured a work that required extra musicians beyond its regular resources.

Making a return visit to CBSO YO duties, conductor Paul Daniel - Music Director of English National Opera (1997-2005) and considered a possible successor to departing CBSO Principal Conductor Sakari Oramo - was joined for last night's concert by internationally renowned violinist Tasmin Little.

Opting for a popular opening number, Walton's guaranteed crowd-pleasing Spitfire Prelude and Fugue taken from his score for Leslie Howard's 1942 film First of the Few, is bouyant and optimistic from the outset, the Prelude a chance for both brass and strings to warm up, the Fugue equally stirring and string laden, the orchestra's exuberance fuelled by Daniel's expansive baton style, bouncing on his toes, the podium's cage seemingly the only thing preventing his leaping into the orchestra to conduct in situ.

The piece finishes with a crashing brass climax, the audience's appreciation almost as loud.

Another purveyor of film scores, Erich Korngold, features next, his Violin Concerto in D major culled largely from a quartet of his movie soundtracks.

The orchestra now appended by Tasmin Little, the score evokes images of Alfred Hitchcock, of Cary Grant and 1940s Hollywood, a dream for the string section, not least because it offers these young players the opportunity to work with, and admire, a world class soloist in complete control of her instrument.

Yet overall the piece is too languid, too wistful, too much of a lullaby for strings. It's consumately handled all round, but is ultimately deserving of no more than it's status as background mood music in the 20th Century's classical repertoire.

Streamlines, a CBSO Youth Orchestra commission by British composer Tansey Davies, follows the interval and is an altogether more interesting affair - jagged and uncompromising, with ideas regularly tested and dropped throughout the score.

It speaks volumes for the CBSO YO's musical ambition and authority that it's leadership feel confident to entrust the world premiere of such an unconventional piece to their young charges, confident in the outcome.

The night's major work, Tchaikovsky's Symphony Number 2 (also known as Little Russian), closes proceedings in style. A highly regarded piece, 'classically' structured, it's lavish arrangement in complete contrast to the juddering juxtapositions found in Davies' neo-avant garde experimentation.

Richly textured, this is a work which tests and stretches the players throughout its 33 minute duration, the orchestra's full panopoly of instrumentation (including xylophone, marimba and harp) called into the fray.

There's action all over the stage, Daniel's baton rising, falling, sweeping, darting between the orchestra's woodwind, brass, string and percussion sections as each battles for predominance, as the thrilling, roaring, foot stomping climax kicks in.

Close your eyes and this could be a fully professional orchestra of
experienced, adult players. Meeting every challenge thrown at them, the CBSO YO produced a near faultless performance. On tonight's evidence the future of orchestral music in Birmingham is in the surest, strongest hands.


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