fri 19/07/2024

Prom 3, BBC Young Musician at 40 review - multi-layered birthday cake | reviews, news & interviews

Prom 3, BBC Young Musician at 40 review - multi-layered birthday cake

Prom 3, BBC Young Musician at 40 review - multi-layered birthday cake

Fabulous foursomes, five Gershwinistas and tziganery offer three-quarters perfection

The grand final line-up of 23, with the BBC Concert Orchestra behind

How do you go about co-ordinating a spectacular like this, the first ever BBC Young Musicians' Prom? With 23 brilliant soloists from clarinettist Michael Collins, not even the winner of the first event 40 years ago, to 16-year-old Lauren Zhang, who stunned us all with her fleet interpretation of Prokofiev's monster Second Piano Concerto this year, commissions or reworkings dealing with batches were the best idea.

And all of them worked superbly. It was only towards the end that the idea of giving the spotlight purely to the wonderful young conductor Andrew Gourlay and a BBC Concert Orchestra never sounding better slightly lost the evening's focus.

Yet that's a small quibble giving how rich and balanced most of the programme was. Celebration was the essence, avoiding thorny introspection - though there were some much-needed quiet moments - as well as the faded etiolation of post-dodecaphonic new works. Ben Foster's variations on his BBC Young Musician theme set the tone, razzle-dazzle matched to metronomic precision; here and in the very noisy finale, Henry Wood's arrangement of Musorgsky's last exhibition picture, "The Great Gate of Kiev" - not a patch on Ravel's version, despite the organ, and with over-discordant tritonal bells competing from around the hall - viewers at home might have registered the 2018 Category Finalists, but we in the hall didn't. Team for Bruce's SidechainingAfter that, though, there was no doubt about the individuality centre stage. David Bruce's Sidechaining, homage to a complex digital-audio software process whereby, in the composer's words, 'the music in one channel affects the music in another," doodles about entertainingly enough for 10 minutes until its very clever ending. Collins and his (my) contemporary oboist Nicholas Daniel were most in the spotlight here; violinist Jennifer Pike and horn-player Ben Goldscheider were less prominent in the hall (Pike, Goldscheider, Gourlay, Daniel and Collins pictured above).

Absolute equality was the name of the first half's other big entertainers. The biggest thrill of all, for me, was hearing how Part One of Steve Reich's Drumming can sound in the Albert Hall - you never know what's going to work best here - as led by Colin Currie, a mere finalist in 1994, with Owen Gunnell, Adrian Spillett and Sam Walton (pictured below). Reich himself must be/have been impressed: it's not possible to play this piece more vibrantly and precisely than these four did. Rush to get the new CD; I'm doing just that. Drumming quartet at the Young Musician PromTime for soulfulness came, inevitably, with four outstanding cellists - Natalie Clein, Guy Johnston, Sheku Kanneh-Mason and Laura van der Heiden (pictured below) - with the strings of the BBCCO in Sicilian composer Giovanni Sollima's adaptation of his Violoncelles, vibrez! Individual singing timbres were spotlighted in the passing-round of two-note figures; a fast section showcased display, and here was another magical ending, on the cusp of audibility. Cellos at the Young Musician PromTrue spotlighting in song came with a solo each for an unlikely combination of wind in Iain Farrington's Gershwinicity (pictured below). Jazz trumpeter Alexandra Ridout swung with "Let's Call the Whole Thing Off". David Childs wowed us with the expressive quality of the euphonium in "A Foggy Day in London Town" followed by alto saxophonist Alexander Bone in "Fascinating Rhythm" - just a bit more physical relaxation needed there - Emma Johnson offering the introspective high spot of the whole evening in Iain Farrington's Ravelian arrangement of "Embraceable You" and Jess Gillam bringing trademark exuberance to "Oh, Lady Be Good!", capped by the inevitable joint flourish. Five winds in the Young Musician PromWhat followed after the interval should really have been the grand finale: Martin James Bartlett and Lara Melda interchanging with Freddy Kempf and Zhang (pictured below) in the eight most piano-friendly movements of Saint-Saëns's Carnival of the Animals, again adapted and stitched together with unobjectionable segue-music by Farrington. All four pianists are remarkable personalities - even the reticent Zhang, once she touches the keys - but it was Kempf, an underrated grand master, who specially shone at both ends of the dynamic range. He glinted supernaturally in "Aquarium" (complete with a rather truculent glass harmonica) and "The Swan" - BBCCO priincipal cellist Benjamin Hughes gliding to perfection - and gave us the best discords as the most outrageous of the four practising pianists (good visual gags here in Bartlett's turning the score round for Zhang). Pianists at the Young Musician PromIt was right that the charismatic Nicola Benedetti (pictured below), BBC Young Musician "special ambassador", should have the biggest solo spot, her Ravel Tzigane cultured rather than wild (equally valid), with comparable glitter and sophistication from her orchestral colleages. She spoke so well, too, to the enthusiastic but non-irritant presenter Clemency Burton-Hill about the emotion of working with other members of the Young Musician "family" in rehearsals. It was reinforced throughout that the legacy is a living one: former Young Musicians coach newcomers. Many of these players spend their time as soloists, but most were coming together in the spirit of chamber music. It's the ideal in music-making at the highest level. Nicola Benedetti at the Young Musician PromUpholding the valiant Scottish strain after Currie and Benedetti - how we love their country for protesting as exuberantly against the orange visitor this weekend as London did - James MacMillan's Britannia was there to give the orchestra its head. Vividly executed, it meanders a bit too much to keep the young musicians, or merely young musically-minded folk, in the audience riveted throughout, though they might have relished the chance to hear the flailing flexatone - more novelty value after the glass harmonica. They probably enjoyed the Musorgsky/Wood, though, and we got our line-up back for a big bow. Encouraging to see the audience mix, anyway, and going into the less-than-full arena for the second half, I found a healthy mix of student diversity around me. Let's hope that holds for the rest of the season; Prommers do badly need an injection of youth.

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