Rise Up! National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain excels in Warwick in interpreting protest struggles

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Hanns Eisler, Britten, Shostakovich: National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain / Jaime Martín (conductor) Butterworth Hall, Warwick Arts Centre, 4.1.2020. (CP)

National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain © Jason Alden

Hanns Eisler – Auf den Strassen zu singen Op.15

Britten – Sinfonia da Requiem

Shostakovich – Symphony No.11 in G minor Op.103, ‘The Year 1905′

Protesting is in the air for many a young person today. Few will challenge the rights of those young people to stand-up for what they believe in. 2020 is to be the year the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain (NYO) recognises the political struggles many composers interpreted in their work. Hence their January concerts entitled Rise Up! paying tribute to Dmitri Shostakovich, Hanns Eisler and Benjamin Britten and his anti-war stance.

NYO can be relied upon to produce a January surprise at the end of their ten day workshop at Warwick University; this year’s very pleasing surprise began with the disciplined entrance by 164 players, via Butterworth Hall’s many access points, to their positions on platform before laying down their instruments. With the arrival of conductor, Jaime Martín, the players stood and burst into a protest song with Eisler’s 1928 composition Auf den Strassen zu singen Op.15.

As a committed Socialist, Eisler was keen to support worker struggles against the growth of Hitler’s NSDAP. He bought into the strong tradition for choral singing using an original Bertolt Brecht text written under his pseudonym, David Weber. With only snare drum accompaniment, this ‘overture’ was such a pleasing surprise, demonstrating the wide-ranging talents of many of this country’s outstanding young musicians. NYO musicians expect to be challenged; this was a challenge the players welcomed; even if several admitted during the interval they had no singing opportunities at their schools! Nothing less than a super achievement, taking young people out of their comfort zones to ask them to learn text, harmonies and to gain valuable choral experience.

The masterly construction of 26-year-old Benjamin Britten’s Sinfonia da Requiem Op.20 cannot be challenged; however, how much was the work a ‘cry against war’ is open to question – the commission fee payable by the then Japanese Government was very large. Ultimately, the work was rejected; the fee was not returned! From the opening timpani rumbles, the work whizzes through three movements of very differing moods in just over 18 minutes. The opening slow marching lament, ‘Lacrymosa’, played with such deliberate attention as the crescendo develops, is replaced by the violence of ‘Dies irae’ during which numerous climaxes come and go with saxophones maintaining a modicum of direction. This was stimulating stuff with viola sections taking charge helping the work move quietly into the last movement, working in conjunction with the four harps. Perhaps a peace is attained at the close of ‘Requiem aeternam’ as the early theme returns. Suffice to say the playing brought members of the audience to their feet; an extraordinary first half.

Shostakovich’s father witnessed the horrors of the St Petersburg’s ‘Bloody Sunday’ of 1905. His son listened to the frequently discussed stories at the family home as he grew up. His Symphony No.11 ‘The Year 1905’ in G minor, Op.103 composed in 1957 deals with contemporary themes; it’s about people who fail to remember the horrors of history. Several revolutionary songs Shostakovich learned as a child are included and provided a second opportunity for NYO members to use their lungs in addition to their fingers! The solemn flute entry by Isabella Thorneycroft from Tynemouth was sublime; very quickly Kendal’s Sam Nicholls’s timpani playing caught the eye, as she worked extraordinarily hard for over an hour without a break – stickability paying off. Ella Leonard from Taunton delivered a magical piece of cor anglais playing which deserved the handshake from conductor Martín at the close. Penetrating piccolo playing raised the tension in the Butterworth Hall, the ferocity of the 100 string players was immense, so too the contributions by the brass sections, including the luxury of three tubas. Martín led a very fine interpretation of the work, interacting with the songs and the rhythms rather than hammering them out with overly forced accentuation. Great clarity was achieved. The audience took to their feet at the end of this first of three NYOGB winter concerts; here’s hoping the Barbican (review click here) and Nottingham audiences are equally blessed.

Clive Peacock

For more about the NYO click here.

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