Saturday 9 April 2016

Blaze of Youth indeed - Chad Hoopes, Kristjan Järvi and the National Youth Orchestra

National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain at the Royal Festival Hall
National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain at the Royal Festival Hall
Stravinsky Fireworks, Firebird, Michael Daugherty Fire and Blood; Chad Hoopes, National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain, Kristjan Järvi; Royal Festival Hall
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Apr 8 2016
Star rating: 5.0

Fireworks all round from over 160 young performers

At the reception before the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain's concert at the Royal Festival Hall on 8 April 2016, it was announced that the orchestra is becoming on of the South Bank Centre's associate orchestras. The concert itself, conducted by Kristjan Järvi featured Stravinsky's Fireworks and complete Firebird ballet along with Michael Daugherty's Fire and Blood with violin soloist Chad Hoopes. Hoopes was the 2008 Junior Prize winner at the Menuhin Competition and the concert formed part of the celebrations for this year's centenary Menuhin Competition.

A very full Royal Festival Hall platform saw more than 160 young performers on stage. They opened with Stravinsky's early Fireworks, a showpiece where the young composer showed both his indebtedness to and independence from his teacher Rimsky-Korsakov. Stravinsky's ear for orchestral colour is certainly striking, and the work encouraged Diaghilev to commission The Firebird from Stravinsky. Fireworks was notable for the fascinating flickering, impressionistic texture which Järvi got from the young musicians. It was a lovely fluid performance, with some brilliant detail.

Diego Rivera - Detroit Industry Murals, North Wall, 1932-33. Detroit Institute of Arts.
Diego Rivera - Detroit Industry Murals, North Wall, 1932-33. Detroit Institute of Arts.
Contemporary American composer Michael Daugherty wrote Fire and Blood in 2003. It is a three movement concerto inspired by the car plants of the American motor industry, notably the murals which Ford commissioned from Diego Rivera which are full of machines and men at work. Daugherty's concerto is a large scale, rather romantic piece with some jazz influences in the writing. Whilst often big and vibrant, Daugherty's scoring is often quite neo-classical and very sympathetic to the violin which is often in dialogue with the orchestra.

Chad Hoopes gave a very virile and impressively commanding account of the violin part. Lyrical yet complex in style, with more violent interruptions from the orchestra, we even had something like a cadenza. The final movement showcased the violin and the carefulness of Daugherty's scoring, creating a sense of vibrancy, colour and vigour whilst never overwhelming the soloist. The performance from all concerned was impressive, with the young players of the orchestra achieving a finely sympathetic support to Hoopes' violin. We even got an encore at the end as Hoopes played some unaccompanied Bach, a movement he had played in the first round of the Menuhin Competition.

The second half was devoted to the full Firebird ballet. Now here I have to make a confession, in concert I far prefer Stravinsky's suites and find that much of the walking about to music required in ballet does not transfer well to the concert hall despite the brilliance of Stravinsky's orchestration Also, Järvi seemed to be more interested in the luscious colour and detail of the score rather than dramatic impetus. The performance was full of gorgeous moments and stunningly detailed playing, but the players were never quite able to give us the sustain vigour and brilliant sense of impulse that they did with their encore, when the orchestra positively exploded. There were explosions in the climaxes, and terrifying and brilliant they were, but I felt a lack of overall impetus.

But from the wonderfully mysterious there was much to enjoy in the Stravinsky, a lovely transparency to the impressionistic scoring which required stunning control from the performers, and a brilliance which turned on a pin as the atmosphere changed, so that real violence would immediately be replaced by quiet intensity and the whole ended with a shattering climax.

I have to confess that I had no idea what the orchestra's encore was (and have subsequently been informed that it was the Dance of the Buffoons (Dance of the Tumblers) from Tchaikovsky's The Snow Maiden) but what I do know is that the young players exploded with virile and vibrant colour, in a performance full of energy and delicacy. A brilliant end to a brilliant evening.

The concert was live-streamed on the South Bank Centre's website and is now available on their YouTube channel, see below:

Elsewhere on this blog:

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