NYO musicians leading our five concerts this summer have written their own programme notes, reflecting on NYO's Hope Exchange concerts' repertoire. You can read them below:
Wednesday 28 July, 7.00pm
Saffron Hall, Saffron Walden
Music is the lifeblood of hope, building bridges between generations and traditions.
Betania, NYO Joint Leader
I am extremely excited to be able to play on a concert stage with the NYO once more: I have missed music-making with like-minded musicians at the highest level. The eagerness that the other musicians and I share because of our missed experiences will propel and motivate us to really perform to the utmost of our abilities. We believe in the power of music as the lifeblood of hope, something that is reflected in this programme, which explores how music can build bridges between generations and traditions. In The Fiddler’s Child, the titular character in Cech’s tale is a dreamer, and Dvořák composed his Symphony No.8, his final symphony written in Bohemia, before moving to the US in search of a ‘New World’.
The programme opens with a new work by Laura Jurd (see p4). This is followed by Leoš Janáček’s The Fiddler’s Child, a ballad for solo violin and orchestra based on a haunting ghost story by Svatopluk Cech. The work was completed in April 1913 but it wasn’t performed until November 1917, when it was premiered by the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra in November 1917. Seven years later, it became the first of Janáček’s orchestral works to be performed in England: it was played at the Queen’s Hall and conducted by Henry Wood. I am fascinated by this work, and it’s a great starting point for delving into music of the 20th century.
Britten’s Temporal Variations, completed on 12 December 1936, were originally composed for oboe and piano. In 1994 a student of Britten’s, Colin Matthews, arranged the piano part for string orchestra. I am intrigued to see how a solo wind instrument’s sound will blend and combine with the sound of a string section, as this isn’t a commonly used combination of instruments.
Gabriella, NYO Joint Leader
I am really excited about performing Janáček’s The Fiddler’s Child: this piece has a haunting violin solo part, which I will get the opportunity to play myself. For me, the story behind this piece is important as it symbolises the darker times of the pandemic leading to a brighter future.
The second half of the programme opens with Montgomery's Records from a Vanishing City, a tone poem based on the composer's recollections of the music that she experienced growing up in New York's Lower East Side in the ’80s and ’90s, reflecting the vibrancy and excitement of the artists and different cultures that defined the community as a whole. This piece of music can be seen to reflect NYO: an orchestra made up of young people from different backgrounds that’s constantly striving to be forward thinking and convey a positive message.
Lastly, there’s Dvořák Symphony No. 8 in G Major composed in 1889. The music is very engaging and draws inspiration from the Bohemian folk music that Dvořák loved so dearly. This word that comes into my mind when playing this piece is 'optimism', something we’re all looking to embrace after the uncertainty of the last few months.
Saturday 31 July, 7.30pm
Royal Festival Hall, Southbank Centre, London
Music is the lifeblood of hope and an irrepressible medium of dissent.
Will, NYO Joint leader
It’s so special to be able to make live music again, something that has left a gaping hole in society since locking down in March 2020. What better way to make a comeback than starting with Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 9, a musical quip to the Soviet government and specifically Stalin. Since Beethoven wrote his epic Ninth Symphony there’s been an expectation that composers will “pull out all the stops” when it comes to writing their ninth symphony. So when Stalin commissioned Shostakovich to compose his ninth symphony, the Soviet officials expected a grand display of pride and patriotism; what Shostakovich delivered was his most blatant examples of mockery and ridicule of the Soviet regime, showing music’s power as an irrepressible medium of dissent. I’m really excited that NYO has the opportunity to play this wonderful piece of music and use its riveting force of musical teenagers to bring out the rebellious nature of the work.
Following the Shostakovich is Montgomery’s Soul Force, a one-movement symphonic work portraying a voice struggling to be heard over the constraints of oppression. The title is derived from a quote from Dr Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. Soul Force was composed in 2015 and it’s great that we can perform work from the 21st century. There is so much music waiting to be explored from the last decade and the fact that NYO is helping introduce these to a wider audience is fantastic. It is equally fantastic that NYO is using our influential and loud musical voice not only to promote female composers’ work but also to present political commentary on equality and diversity through our programming, allowing audiences to understand the tolerant and inclusive world of the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain.
Tabitha, NYO Joint leader
The final half of our concert takes us on a journey from the rolling hills of pastoral England to the dark realm of an evil magician.
Dedicated to her son Lance Baker, Ruth Gipps’ Horn concerto is a beautiful piece that conjures images of serene landscapes and countryside with its lyrical and jubilant writing. Gipps wrote incredible music but as a result of being female in a very male-dominated industry, her music did not get the recognition it deserved. It has been fascinating to uncover her past and the impressionistic and neoromantic influences that can be heard in her music. With only one recording made of this piece, interpretation and discussions on musical intent with our soloist, the inspirational Annemarie Federle, have been a vital part of the rehearsal process.
Stravinsky’s The Firebird tells the story of a magical firebird, a powerful magician, and a noble Prince and is essentially a story of good versus evil and the importance of hope. From the beginning, the character of the firebird represents a shining ray of sunlight in darkness, aiding Prince Ivan in killing the evil Kostcheï and freeing the princesses that have been enslaved under a spell. Stravinsky’s enigmatic score pushes each instrument to its boundary, creating exciting colours and beautiful melodies that pull at the hearts of the listener. Through the piece, the jarring rhythms and harmonies eventually give way to a glorious, glittering finale which is invigorating to play.
For me, as a young musician, The Firebird Suite as well as the Horn Concerto and the rest of our programme perfectly encompass the hopes and dreams of all teenage musicians in our society today. Now that concert halls are starting to open up, we are eager to channel our creative energy, which has been cooped up for so long, into this concert. It will be an incredible feeling and we hope you enjoy it as much as we do.
Friday 6 August, 7.30pm,
Symphony Hall, Birmingham
Saturday 7 August, 7.30pm,
BBC Proms, Royal Festival Hall
Where music is the lifeblood of hope and a place where ideals and reality wrestle and are reconciled.
Kynan, NYO leader
I know that I am not the only musician in the orchestra who is beyond delighted to return to live music and play for you – a live audience! – again. When the concert repertoire was released, I was eager to listen to recordings of each piece back-to-back envisioning how it would feel to play the music in the concert hall and imagining playing with my friends again.
The programme transports us through music that depicts ideals and confronts reality. After a new work by Laura Jurd, we travel through music that explores ideals of freedom and multi-culturalism in Jessie Montgomery’s work, to pride in Russian folk music in Prokofiev’s Violin Concerto, and finally the urgent need for optimism which rings out from Beethoven’s ‘Eroica’ Symphony.
The pieces are all quite different in style and are surrounded in different contexts. But when I listened to them, I noticed that they unanimously sounded of jubilant. The pieces all tell a story either musically, contextually (or both!) of hardships, of ideals coming up against an anxious sense of reality. But the composers infuse the music with sounds of hope and opportunity, culminating in a powerful programme perfect for the NYO community. The stories presented vary from deep personal struggles to broader feelings of unity and it gives the whole programme a sense of humanity which allows these expressions of hope to be tangible and relatable.
It is particularly relevant for NYO because as we build back the blocks of our community, we remember the struggles presented by the past year. But we also cherish the opportunity we had to reimagine what it means to be part of NYO and a musician in the modern world. This concert is about celebrating the growth in our community despite hardships and pursuing the opportunity that lies in the future. We invite you to celebrate with us in this programme of hope and optimism.
Sunday 8 August, 7.00pm
Leeds Town Hall Leeds
Music is the lifeblood of hope and a place where our darkest fears may be confronted and overcome.
Gabriella, NYO Leader
On 5 January 2020, I took part in my last NYO full-scale orchestral concert. The memorable event took place at the Barbican Centre in London and little did I know at the time that our lives were about to change dramatically. NYO’s Hope Exchange is an initiative that aims to promote a positive way forward, as we all begin to emerge from the dark moments of the pandemic.
Tonight’s programme explores music as the lifeblood of hope, specifically through music that explores how composers can use music to confront and overcome our darkest fears. After a new work by Laura Jurd exploring communal expressions of hope, we turn to Prokofiev's Violin Concerto No. 2 which premiered in 1935. The concerto starts off with a simple violin melody based around Russian folk music, but this lyricism is infected by an anxious sense of reality as the concerto continues.
Next, Anna Clyne's Sound and Fury is a riveting musical evocation of a world drained of hope. It was premiered by the Scottish Chamber Orchestra as recently as November 2019. Playing this piece takes us as young people on a kind of journey which can somehow be seen to mirror the last few months of reflection during lockdown leading to a new and exciting future.
Finally, we close with Schumann's Symphony No. 4, a piece which evokes an ultra-dramatic world of sublime light and fearful dark, where hope struggles with horrid foreboding. It was originally composed in 1841 only to be heavily reworked just ten years later. Schumann's widow Clara later claimed that the symphony had only been sketched in 1841 and remained insistent that the later grander version of 1851 was the better one. The symphony begins with a slow, intense introduction that creates an impassioned mood, typical of Schumann's Romanticism.