National Youth Orchestra / Tortelier Barbican, London
Tuesday 14 January 1997
By a happy coincidence, not only is the orchestra 50 this year but so too is the conductor of Friday night's concert, Yan Pascal Tortelier. By all accounts, his first experience with the orchestra has been a completely exhilarating one: indeed, love at first sight. Young lungs and young fingers benefit in volume from numbers and, of course, the National Youth Orchestra will want to include as many of the nation's astonishingly talented as possible, but it is an awesome sight to see 20 first, 20 second violins, seven oboes, seven bassoons, 10 horns, 12 double-basses, four harps... With these numbers - in all 155 - the job of control alone would be an enormous challenge. But the greater challenge must be the encouragement of these players, the responsibility of making the event one they will not forget, creating fun for children as young as 13.
Tortelier seems to have been an inspired choice. Not only is he tall enough to see everyone on stage (so making them feel important) but his manner suggests real affinity with his young charges in a programme of seriously challenging music. Szymanowski's Concert Overture, a schizophrenic work that veers between the worlds of Richards Strauss and Wagner, was an original opener and, true, the orchestra seemed a touch buttoned up.
In Rachmaninov's Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, Tortelier ran into the occasional moment of dodgy ensemble but this is a fearsomely tricky work, certainly not helped by huge numbers, albeit a marvellous showpiece for the different departments. The transition from variation 17 to the Hollywood tear-jerker variation 18 was superbly arrived at, with solo pianist Howard Shelley alternating exquisite dreaminess and electric virtuosity.
And to end the concert? Appropriately enough, children playing music about children in Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet, from which nine movements were extracted. The 10 horns made much of their allotted pain while the intonation from scores of fiddles in Prokofiev's perilously high and exposed notes was breathtakingly true. And as for the speed (and accuracy) of the scampering strings in "The Death of Tybalt", not even the Vienna Philharmonic run faster.
The following day, Tortelier inaugurated the Royal Philharmonic Society's new venture of an annual lecture, amiably rambling round his world of music with all the wit, charm and eccentricity once associated with his father. I wonder when the Royal Society of Arts last heard a pack of wolves in full cry? Clearly, a conductor passionate about wolves must be a perfect match for the NYO.
tv Review: Miranda Hart and co deliver the festive goods
tvReview: Older generation get hot under the collar this Christmas
comedy Erm...he seems to be back
tvReview: No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa
tv Gymnast Louis Smith triumphed in the Christmas special
Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites
TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 The Boy in the Dress, TV review: David Walliams' Boxing Day treat is a celebration of being different
- 2 Exclusive: Abusers using spyware apps to monitor partners reaches 'epidemic proportions'
- 3 Andy Murray takes to Twitter to show off his Christmas jumper
- 4 Katie Hopkins speaks out on childhood obesity: 'Parents of fat children should be prosecuted for child cruelty'
- 5 Top 10 travel destinations for 2015: From Haiti and Alaska to Namibia and Iceland
Downton Abbey Christmas special 2014, review: Love is everywhere, actually
The Boy in the Dress, TV review: David Walliams' Boxing Day treat is a celebration of being different
The Interview finally gets US release after Sony hack and terror threats – but reviews of North Korea satire are mixed
Madonna Rebel Heart: Pharrell Williams collaboration and 13 more songs leaked
Vagina canoe artist defends herself over ‘obscenity’ charges
British actor Idris Elba cannot star as James Bond because he is black, says shock jock Rush Limbaugh
Rozanne Duncan: Ukip expels councillor for 'jaw-dropping' comments made in BBC TV interview
Germany anti-Islam protests: 17,000 march on Dresden against 'Islamification of the West'
Ukip member gets into Christmas spirit with Union Flag plea to Santa 'for our country back'
BBC director Danny Cohen: Rising UK antisemitism makes me feel more uncomfortable than ever
Katie Hopkins speaks out on childhood obesity: 'Parents of fat children should be prosecuted for child cruelty'