Teenage kicks come to the Royal Albert Hall

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The Independent Culture

Whatever else might still be in store for us during this Proms season, I guarantee in advance that nothing will match the achievement of Saturday's Millennium Youth Day. The sheer administrative work involved must have been a nightmare, not to mention the constant ferrying of vast youthful forces in or out of the Royal Albert Hall.

Whatever else might still be in store for us during this Proms season, I guarantee in advance that nothing will match the achievement of Saturday's Millennium Youth Day. The sheer administrative work involved must have been a nightmare, not to mention the constant ferrying of vast youthful forces in or out of the Royal Albert Hall.

Kick-off was at 2.30pm, with the National Children's Orchestra and Bernstein's Candide overture, followed by the National Children's Wind Ensemble, Chamber Orchestra (top-notch in Respighi's The Birds), Children's Choir, Youth Choir, Youth Brass Band, Youth Wind Orchestra and, later on, a spectacular bonding of selected forces for Walton's Belshazzar's Feast under Paul Daniel. Prior to Walton, Bill Ashton had led the National Youth Jazz Orchestra in Paul Hart's Out of Hamelin where, at the very end of the work, flautist-piper Gareth Lockrane led all of his players bar one off the arena stage. Philip Wilby's dramatic suite A New World Dancing raised the roof much as Belshazzar did at the end of the evening. Granted that the daytime audience was made up largely of mums, dads and siblings, but it was a privilege to witness so many youngsters having so much fun with an art form many will tell you is under threat. If they tell you again, send them to the next Proms Youth Day (I'm optimistically assuming there'll be one).

Keeping for a moment with the teenage theme, if Prokofiev's First Symphony is his "Classical", the Second might be called his "Kevin" Symphony (apologies to Harry Enfield), a raspberry-blowing offensive that's as rudely disruptive as the First is trim and well mannered. Prom 35 saw Alexander Lazarev and the Royal Scottish National Orchestra ploughing (though never hurrying) through the relentless opening movement and relishing every violent harmonic clash. The theme-and-variations second movement is marginally more considerate, though its big-foot final climax ricocheted dramatically from one end of the hall to the other. Come the unexpectedly quiet coda and Lazarev shared his final cue with the arena, swinging round to let them know it was over.

The concert's centrepiece had been an elegant account of Shostakovich's First Cello Concerto where Alban Gerhardt made an especially warm statement of the slow movement. By contrast, Lazarev's Tchaikovsky Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture was impatient and, in the heart-breaking love music, oddly metrical. And why add a bass drum to the already raging timpani roll that closes the work?

Nor was Jukka-Pekka Saraste's BBC Symphony Pathétique in Prom 36 anything to write home about, though Saraste at least held fast to his tempo in the march-scherzo. Sibelius's En Saga had opened the programme with crystal-clear arpeggios and some uncomfortable speed changes later on. But it was worth the trek just to hear Christian Lindberg bark, chatter, guffaw or protest his way through Berio's 1999 Solo for Trombone and Orchestra. And yet for all its outlandish gestures, Solo does have a discernible harmonic base. You nearly always know where you are.

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