National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain
January 7 2019
Royal Concert Hall, Nottingham
Review: William Ruff
Exciting repertoire, high-octane energy and prodigious talent on an epic scale
It’s not just the size of the NYO that suddenly made Nottingham’s Royal Concert Hall seem small, although you started to get that shrinking feeling as soon as you realised that the 164 members included 10 horns, 8 trombones, 12 percussion players, 4 harps and 7 bassoons. I could go on but you get the idea. No, it wasn’t just the orchestra’s epic scale which made Monday’s concert so thrilling, it was the players’ high-octane energy and prodigious talent which threatened to burst the seams of the 2500-seater Hall.
Rick Dior’s Science Fiction was the opening piece. Projected onto a screen above the stage were clips from early sci-fi films. Their crude special effects could have seemed just weird or funny – but not when accompanied by the music’s sense of high drama, its irresistible rhythms and vast range of sonic spectacle. There were no strings but just about every instrument so far invented to be blown or hit. At times there was a danger of sensory overload and it would have been helpful to have had two pairs of eyes (like the onscreen monsters) to watch both the projected images and the players’ musical gymnastics.
Once the stage had been reset, the full orchestra, under their dynamic conductor Kirill Karabits, performed John Adams’ Doctor Atomic Symphony, a piece which emerged from his opera of the same name. It focuses on the character of physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer and the first atom bomb detonation in 1945, so much of the music is tortured and turbulent. The NYO’s performance was full of almost unbearable tension with growling brass, manic strings, screaming woodwind. Ensemble was tight and precise with the spotlight shining on a wide array of soloists but especially on the principal trumpet whose poignant aria in the symphony’s final section was so expert and so moving.
The second half was more conventional. Sibelius’ 2nd Symphony was again impressive for its precision, as the composer’s musical fragments were woven into a compelling whole. I’m not sure that the opulence of such a large orchestra was quite what the composer had in mind but it didn’t obscure the magic of the slow movement and added mightily to the splendour of the ending.
The National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain conducted by Kirill Karabits