Sydney Youth Orchestras comprises no less than fourteen orchestras embracing ages from 6 to 25 years, with students progressing with experience and being directed to areas to suit their individual talents. They have provided this essential function in New South Wales for 26 years.
To start proceedings in the Verbrugghen Hall on a lively note, we heard the SYO Philharmonic branch conducted by their regular conductor of twelve years, Brian Buggy OAM. Verdi’s overture to “La Forza Del Destino” is a fascinating piece. It is the only example of an overture by one of the great Italian opera composers of the Romantic era which is regularly played as a standalone work. Unlike overtures by Classical composers such as Mozart and Beethoven, it is full of references to arias in the parent opera. The emotive “theme of fate”, which opens the work and provides its framework, comes from the end of Act 1; Alvaro’s aria in Act 4 and Leonora’s prayer in Act 2 also make an appearance. The overture was not played until the Milan opening of the Opera and it was immediately recognised as a short tone poem describing the action to follow. Hearing this beautifully descriptive piece makes one wish that Verdi had composed more orchestral music – the same feeling one has on hearing Bizet’s only symphony. The orchestral playing was difficult to fault – perhaps the crescendos were not forceful enough but the symbols of fate and destiny were clearly defined.
The Senior branch of the Sydney Youth Orchestra took over for the following two works, the first of which was the not too familiar work Taras Bulba by Janáček. He was born in Moravia, now the Czech Republic, in 1819, and throughout his life his music reflected his sympathies with the Russian influences rather than those of Austria and Germany. It was predictable that he should take three episodes from Russian author Gogol’s story which depicts the efforts of a Cossack chieftain. Although all three episodes depict death, of his sons and Taras himself, they focus on the preceding heroism and subsequent enlightenment. Ably led by their well-travelled Principal Conductor Alexander Briger AO, the more mature orchestra was fully able to convey the essence of the story. In the first part, relating the hero’s son’s execution for treason, a sweet violin solo is followed by premonitory chords on the organ. In the second part, the elder son under torture is able to connect metaphysically with his father leading to a climax with bells and a loud major chord. Last, depicting Taras’ own demise, a happy tune precedes a death scream on the clarinet followed by a triumphant indication that his prophecies have been fulfilled.
Brahms’ Third Symphony is perhaps his most introspective. It opens with the ascending F A flat F octave which the composer attested represented his motto “Frei aber froh” (free but happy), but soon resolves into a relaxed tune on the woodwinds which was beautifully handled. This sets the scene for the remainder with the opening theme recurring and then gradually fading away to nothing. The Andante that follows is also low key with dramatic episodes and further interplay by the woodwinds. The third movement is basically a classical Scherzo and Trio with repeats featuring varying instrumentation with the horns prominent in performing difficult passages with clarity. The final allegro contains some of the composer’s idioms with changes in time signatures and a reference to the F A F motto, but again ends with a whimper.
We didn’t need to be reminded that the SYO represents the mature orchestras of the future. It was excellent in its own right and gave enjoyment in spades. It was particularly impressive that the programme featured works not necessarily that familiar so that the many uncles and aunts in the audience had to pay full attention.