The Sydney Youth Orchestra’s first major concert for 2017, Intrepid Voyagers, was a dazzling and highly successful farewell concert to Sydney before the orchestra embarks on a landmark musical education tour of Europe.
The audience was taken on a magical heart-warming orchestral journey when the Sydney Youth Orchestra performed in the world class Verbrugghen Hall at the prestigious Sydney Conservatorium of Music.
The excitement, energy and fervour of passionate musicians under the inspiring guidance and fostering of the esteemed Australian based conductor Alexander Briger AO was a tapestry of exquisite sound that resonated with emotion and narrative.
The distinctive charisma of youthful exuberance was infectious. The concert was a glorious tribute and testament to the talent, diligence, dedication and enthusiasm of the musicians.
Eighty eight of Sydney’s most talented young musicians, aged between sixteen and twenty five will travel to the musically significant and magnificent cities of Vienna, Budapest, Salzburg, Prague and Berlin.
In the Intrepid Voyagers concert the SYO showcased some of the repertoire they will be performing overseas. “SYO provides access and opportunity to so many wonderful artists, repertoire and music experiences throughout each year; I know that the future of Australia’s cultural landscape is in good hands when I see the talent that we are nurturing each and every day” said Yarmila Alfonzetti CEO.
The SYO concert premiered George Palmer’s poignantly descriptive composition In Paradisum. This piece was commissioned by the family and friends of Timothy O’Brien, who died in a tragic drowning accident in January 2016, aged just twenty.
George Palmer is a prominent Australian composer and a former Justice of the Supreme Court of New South Wales. Palmer’s lyrical and introspective compositional style explored sweeping emotional contours. The music was essentially celebratory while maintaining the dignity of a funeral prayer.
The SYO breathed solemnity into the music as they built the sounds of grief then sensitively tempered the mood through the gentle cries of spirited youth and whimsical notations.
The music frolicked with the ardent optimism of youth through the beautiful sway of musical curves as they meandered amid the more intense plaintive expression of the music.
Alexander Briger’s clear vision for the music was delivered by the orchestra in the turbulent wistful lament, the essence of innocence, the celebration of a cherished life and the jubilant and festive welcome into the heavens.
The music vibrated with the personality of the young man as the themes explored the wonder of life and the enigma of death. The contemporary Australian core of the music ensured sustaining the presence and effervescence of Tim in this musical gesture.
The Czech composer Anton Dvorak’s Symphonic Variations on an Original Theme Op. 78 gave the orchestra the opportunity to further explore deep emotional content and brilliant musical ideas.
Dvorak’s orchestral mastery began with the main theme and then the orchestra played through twenty seven variations ending in a fugal finale.
The string section heralded in an intensity that evolved into an expansive pastoral dance, bubbling with movement where phrases bounced and were echoed between instruments. The tone was stirring and smouldering then friskily alive with filtered light and soft ambient shades.
A richly expressive violin solo was played with ardent intelligence and impeccable musicality and led into a passing gust of liveliness suddenly changing to a more ponderous and reflective mood.
The audience was beckoned on a journey of joy as the music danced and frolicked, a cascade of tonal nuances, sound arcs spiralling downwards into the fugal finale.
The SYO was a frenzy of sound cavorting back to the theme with a mocking element imbued with power and jubilation.
Alexander Briger communicated to the SYO the sentiments within the music and the orchestra led the listener into the melody and underlying emotional response. Through Briger’s deep connection with the composition and podium presence the orchestra confidently embraced the musical dynamics.
The SYO was charged and ready for the challenge of Modest Mussorgsky’s inventive Pictures at an Exhibition, a memorial to his friend the artist Victor Hartmann. An exhibition of his artworks inspired Mussorgsky and the composition was his response to the paintings, drawings, watercolours, designs and jewellery. Mussorgsky originally penned it for the piano in 1874 however it was orchestrated by Maurice Ravel in 1922.
Pictures at an Exhibition is a suite of ten pieces and Modest Mussorgsky linked the suite’s movements in a way that describes the viewers own walk through the exhibition. The Promenade establishes the gallery scene lush with visual images reflected in the sounds of a solo trumpet and tutti brass and later the massed strings invite observation, questioning and discovery.
The viewer begins closer scrutiny observing the shapes, tones, lines, textures and colours of the artworks. The awkward dwarf is portrayed in the irregular rhythms and forceful outburst of the orchestra in the Gnome.
The Old Castle where the principal melody is played by the alto saxophone is a poetic and grave portrait of a medieval troubadour singing. The winds in Tulleries capture the sketch of children excitedly playing in the famous French garden. In Bydlo two oxen laboriously drag a heavy ox cart in the forlorn sounds of the solo tuba.
The scampering and pecking sounds of the farmyard are echoed in the Battle of the Unhatched Chickens. In the sixth scene Two Jews: One Rich One Poor are reflected in the interplay of two contrasting musical themes. The cheerful quality of The Market at Limoges is offset by the eighth movement The Catacombs where brass chords create eerie shadows.
The last two renowned scenes begin with The Hut on Fowl’s Legs where the grotesque witch Baba-Yaga prowls wickedly.
The majestic blazing finale The Great Gate of Kiev brings a stirring close to Pictures at an Exhibition.
This final depiction, a descriptive masterpiece was communicated by the orchestra with resolute unity, deep commitment and technical excellence. It was therefore not surprising that it will feature in SYO’s last concert in Berlin on Friday the twenty first of April.
The pictures were rendered alive by the powerful performance of the orchestra and the persuasive and singular direction of the conductor. The variety and moods of the pictures within the exhibition invoked was accentuated by the animated and robust playing of the orchestra.
Both In Paradisum and Pictures at an Exhibition were thematically connected in honouring the short but remarkable lives of Tim O’Brien and Victor Hartmann.
They were commemorative portals and the orchestra was absorbed in the respect and celebration of unique people as they conveyed the clarity, balance, beauty and emotional resonance of the music.
The Sydney Youth Orchestra were articulate and dynamic in their profoundly moving performances. They will explode onto the international music scene with confidence, talent and musical perception that belies their tender years.
Rose Niland, Special Features Sydney, The Culture Concept Circle, 2017
All images, courtesy Sydney Youth Orchestras