BY LEAH BLANKENDAAL
Adelaide Youth Orchestra: Maestro 1, Organ Symphony
Elder Hall, Adelaide University, 9 April
“One of the great joys of my life is to be able to introduce the musicians of the Adelaide Youth Orchestra to the great geniuses of the past,” Adelaide Youth Orchestra Artistic Director Keith Crellin writes. So it was in AdYO’s first Maestro concert for the series. Crellin conducted his orchestra through three masters: Nielsen, Liszt and Saint-Saëns, each with fiendishly demanding solo.
The Nielsen Concerto for Flute and Orchestra was first on the menu, performed by Elder Conservatorium student Madeleine Stewart. Written just nine years before the composers’ death, Nielsen’s concerto is broadly neoclassic, with contemporaries in Sibelius, or even Hindemith. Bare orchestration provided little room for error from Stewart, who demonstrated commanding technical proficiency throughout the work. By contrast, the orchestra performed well, although they struggled to meet some of the greater climactic challenges.
Following Nielsen was Liszt’s Piano Concerto No 1. In contrast to Nielsen, Liszt began this work when he was just 19 years old, although it took more than two decades before he completed the work. The result of this is an interesting juxtaposition: youthful themes are met with daring structural choices that resemble a symphony more than a concerto. Lyrical solo and duet sections are contrasted with of full symphonic force. For AdYO, the strongest moments were in the instances of quieter reflection: where 21-year-old pianist Ruiting Ting Yun performed alongside single members of the orchestra. It was here the orchestral colour worked best, blending in and out with the timbre of the piano.
The highlight of the afternoon, however, was Saint-Saëns Organ Symphony No. 1. Composed in the French Classical tradition, Saint-Saëns’ Symphony demonstrates his love of traditional style coupled with a distinct capacity for originality. This was perhaps the best programming selection for a young ensemble. The expanded orchestration provided support for the soloist, whilst Saint-Saëns’ lush harmonic structures and unified moments of grandeur provided space for the players to relax into their performance. Organist Haowei Yang, 16, handled the more lyrical sections with grace and warm expressiveness.
Attempting to stretch the ability of a youth orchestra by challenging with new and interesting works is one of the great pleasures of working with young people. Although these performances are never perfect, it is always exciting to hear a new generation of performers tackle great repertoire for the first time.