National Youth Orchestra/ Petrenko, Royal Festival Hall


It must be hard comprehending death when you’ve barely begun living - but the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain has a corporate sixth sense about the subtext of music that never ceases to amaze.

Their latest programme reflected on the impermanence of life through two works from the beginning and end of the last century: Ex NYO member Judith Weir’s 1999 pre-millennial cantata We Are Shadows muses on the hereafter through poetry; Mahler’s unfinished 10th Symphony poses many questions – philosophical and textual – that will forever remain unanswered.

Judith Weir’s journey begins with the weary traveller of Emily Dickinson’s “Preface” seeking refuge and sustenance at the inn of the last happiness only to be greeted not by a jolly landlord and brimming tankards but the sepulchral roar of trombones, the rumble of a thunder sheet, and the words “Who are these below?” The answer comes at journey’s end from, paradoxically, a group of children whispering the words “We are Shadows” (Umbra sumus). But the greatest paradox of all is that Weir’s clear-sighted, unpretentious, word-setting and clean, open, and often graphic instrumental textures suggest clarity and not ambiguity on the mystical questions of death and reincarnation. Some of the sonic imagery was undoubtedly conceived with goulish young imaginations in mind: like the sound of dozens of string players thrumming on the bodies of their instruments as if to suggest a host of creepy crawlies getting to work on human remains.

The remains of Mahler’s 10th Symphony - as fashioned into the most credible of performance versions of Deryck Cooke – will always pose more questions than are answered but the one certainty, so movingly projected in this most accomplished performance under Vasily Petrenko, is that Mahler was looking forward and not backwards when he made his last exit. The most testing and exposed viola line in music might seem like a desolate place to start but an aspirational theme in violins soon provides the promise of renewal and the depth of sonority achieved by the ample alliance of NYO strings and horns was impressive indeed with those searingly high attacks in violins terrifically unanimous.

And so it continued through the mad 20th century baroque of the meter-challenging scherzo and piled up dissonances of the finale until that seraphic flute theme achieved transfiguration in the strings with a level of heart and maturity that once more provided hope for our musical futures.

Arts and Entertainment
War veteran and father of Peter and Laust Thoger Jensen played by Lars Mikkelson

TVBBC hopes latest Danish import will spell success

Arts and Entertainment
Carey Mulligan in Far From The Madding Crowd
FilmCarey Mulligan’s Bathsheba would fit in better in The Hunger Games
Arts and Entertainment
Pandas-on-heat: Mary Ramsden's contribution is intended to evoke the compound the beasts smear around their habitat
Iart'm Here But You've Gone exhibition has invited artists to produce perfumes
Arts and Entertainment
U2's Songs of Innocence album sleeve

tvU2’s latest record has been accused of promoting sex between men

Arts and Entertainment
Alison Steadman in Inside No.9
tvReview: Alison Steadman stars in Inside No.9's brilliant series finale Spoiler alert
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

    Everyone is talking about The Trews

    Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
    'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

    'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

    British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
    Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

    Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

    Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
    14 best kids' hoodies

    14 best kids' hoodies

    Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

    The acceptable face of the Emirates

    Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk