Winter 2018

Fri 5 Jan 7.30pm

Bridgewater Hall, ManchesterBox Office 0161 907 9000
£18 - £28 / £7 under 25s

Sat 6 Jan 7.30pm

Royal Concert Hall, Nottingham

Box Office 0115 989 5555
£10 - £26 / £5 under 26s

Sun 7 Jan 7.00pm

Barbican, London

Box Office 020 7638 8891
£10 - £27 / £5 under 25s


Liadov  The Enchanted Lake
Dukas  The Sorcerer's Apprentice
Bartók  Duke Bluebeard’s Castle

National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain
Sir Mark Elder conductor
Daisy Evans director

Robert Hayward Bluebeard
Rinat Shaham* Judith

Actors from the National Youth Theatre
Chris Riddell

Libretto by Béla Balazs
by arrangement with Universal Edition (London) Limited

* Due to illness Claudia Mahnke is no longer able to perform the role of Judith in Bluebeard’s Castle. We are indebted to Rinat Shaham for stepping in at short notice.

Check out our promo trailer:



Are you sitting comfortably? Then let’s begin a musical journey into the mystical, the magical and the weird. Prepare to be mesmerised by tales of enchanted lakes and bewitched brooms. But every good folk tale has a dark side. Are you brave enough to enter the twisted world of Duke Bluebeard?  
The stories are told by the world’s greatest orchestra of teenagers (celebrating 70 years of musical magic this season) and conductor Sir Mark Elder.  
We begin in the beguiling world of Liadov’s Enchanted Lake, where strings and harp glimmer like moonlight on the water and delicate woodwinds create ripples across its surface. But soon the spell is broken and we find ourselves in a magical workshop where Dukas’s Sorcerer’s Apprentice has brought a broom to life. Watching it pirouette around the room to its famous toe-tapping theme, he soon realises that you shouldn’t mess with magic. 
Finally, proving that once upon a time doesn’t always end happily ever after, we reach Bartok’s Duke Bluebeard’s Castle. An impulsive young bride has turned her back on her family, only to uncover the gruesome truth about her new husband. With sinister strings, shrill winds and majestic brass, this one-act opera is a masterpiece of orchestral storytelling and a spectacular showcase for these versatile young musicians.  

Totally teenage orchestral magic. Hear it if you dare.


NYO Totally Teenage Receptions

Bridgewater Hall, Manchester
Friday 5 January,
Barbirolli Room, 6pm
Book Tickets

Royal Concert Hall Nottingham
Friday 5 January 
Level 4 Foyer, 6pm
Book Tickets

Barbican, London
Sunday 7 January,
Fountain Room, 5.30pm
Book Tickets


We're holding special Totally Teenage Pre-Concert Receptions —unique pre-concert meet-and-greet events for teenagers, hosted by teenagers that are part of the NYO Young Promoters programme - at every concert in our winter tour.

Over snacks, chat with NYO Musicians and NYO Young Promoters, and discover the stories behind the music and our Orchestra.

Entry is free with your Under 25s ticket.





Anatoly Liadov 
The Enchanted Lake



From Caravaggio’s 16th century paintings where candlelit faces glow to the blooming melody of Haydn’s ‘Sunrise’ quartet two hundred years later, artists have always tried to catch the light. In the late 19th century, painters like Monet devoted multiple canvasses to charting the change of light on a particular surface, be it haystacks or lily ponds. In music, Debussy found new luminosity in his delicately orchestrated Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune, and others rushed to mimic its magic. 

Linking it to the concert’s other two works, the Russian composer Liadov subtitled his short tone poem ‘a fairy tale scene’. Across its waters, Debussy’s hallmarks sparkle: a sense of serenity is gently conjured by the harp, and strings drift almost imperceptibly from one chord to another in slow motion. The music almost sleepwalks, moving yet often imperceptibly, continually resisting any gestures or climaxes that might cloud its surface. Melodies, it seems, are forbidden.

Liadov’s skill likes not in how he deploys symphonic forces but how he holds them back. A rumble of distant thunder from the kettle drums is hushed by a pacifying horn; late on, a tentative oboe speaks up, but the flute – effectively repeating its words – seems to console it. Eventually, gently trilling violins seem to rise and rise, almost evaporating before our very ears. Were it not for the vast orchestra in front of us, we might imagine the whole thing was a mirage.

Programme notes by James Murphy.

Did you know?

  • Liadov was originally asked by the impresario Diaghilev to write the music for his ballet The Firebird – before the assignment went to Stravinsky and made his name.
  • The composer is often said to have squandered his promise, being quite the party animal and marrying a rich woman to ease pursuing an income of his own.
  • In fact, he was a dedicated teacher whose pupils included Prokofiev. He also did much to promote other Russian composers including Glinka and Glazunov.

Paul Dukas 
The Sorcerer's Apprentice



Thanks to Mickey Mouse in Disney’s Fantasia, it’s easy for us to envisage the magical scenario evoked by The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. But before the birth of cinema, the music alone had to make audiences believe in the tale of a trainee wizard who summons a broomstick to wash the floor. It’s a sign of Dukas’ inspired orchestration that you hardly need programme notes to follow the story. Plucked violins instantly plunge us into gothic gloom, flutes flutters like candlelight, and a series of foreboding melodic steps lead us like a spiral staircase deeper into the dark. We suddenly find ourselves being tugged along by mischievous woodwind and trumpet representing the apprentice himself. With him, we watch as something inanimate wakes, its faltering footsteps conjured by contrabassoons and clarinets. Then it lumbers into the light, with the bassoons’ woody hue lending the perfect texture to portray a broomstick brought to life. From the ensuing pace, we get a clear sense that the broom won’t stop bringing water from the well. Violin torrents crash around the main theme, vividly depicting the deluge. When the music stops, we imagine the apprentice has felled the broom in its tracks, but then something doubly troublesome emerges: the main riff begins again, not just on bassoons but on clarinets too, just a few footsteps behind – Dukas’ ingenious means of suggesting that, by chopping the broom in half, the apprentice has inadvertently made two.


The melody then can’t stop duplicating itself, leaping to life on one instrument after another, and the entire orchestra hurtles into a musical whirlpool. Finally, a triangle resounds like an alarm bell and furious blasts herald the intervention of a higher force: the sorcerer himself has returned to clean up the mess. 

Programme notes by James Murphy.

Did you know?

  • History may regard Dukas as a ‘one hit wonder’ thanks to this piece, but its influence was huge: Stravinsky practically stole its quicksilver strings for his Fireworks and the impish bassoon is clearly echoed in Holst’s Uranus.
  • The tale of the mischievous apprentice comes from a short story by Goethe, author of Faust. He in turn took inspiration from the ancient Greek tale of Philopseudes in which a farmhand accidentally brings to life a rowdy army of pestles to crush grain.
  • Dukas’ catalogue of works is fairly small. A perfectionist, he burned many pieces he didn’t sufficiently like but – like Lyadov – also devoted much of his life to promoting others, teaching at the Paris Conservatoire and editing new folios of Couperin, Rameau and Beethoven. 

Béla Bartók
Duke Bluebeard's Castle




You know the story. It likely featured in a big book of fairy tales when you were young, given it was written by Charles Perrault, author of Mother Goose. Duke Bluebeard brings home his bride Judith to his vast castle. Inside, she discovers seven locked doors. She bids him to open them, one by one. The honeymoon is over, as startling surprises lie within. This may be the same mystic kingdom as the Lyadov and Dukas, for once again we find ourselves lured in by quietly foreboding strings. A restless oboe stirs: a startled owl maybe, or a flickering flame along the ramparts. Yet this fleeting figure is a key in itself: imagine two adjacent notes on a piano keyboard – the oboe errs between one and the another, a simple ‘semitone’ interval that will glint repeatedly as we venture deep into the castle. A clarinet urges us on: it too will come to have a distinctive presence, coiling round Judith and Bluebeard’s words, almost like the tempting serpent in Eden. A spoken introduction, sometimes heard before the music begins, invites us to question whether what we see in the opera is real, or all in the mind. In concert, with no scenery, this proposition is made all the more tantalising…

First Door

As Judith slips the first key into its lock, a very human sigh arises from the orchestra. It suggests the castle is alive. Moreover, in concert especially, it suggests the orchestra is the castle. Throughout, you might think of the instruments as the castle’s inanimate trappings, just like in Beauty and the Beast, watching, waiting, yearning that Judith might free them from enchantment. The door opens. Strings shiver. A shrill piccolo and xylophone scuttle up and down: it’s an unsettling effect, almost as if the xylophonist were dragging their beaters up and down your ribcage. Within lies all Bluebeard’s shackles and daggers: his torture chamber. Muted brass and jaunty violins make stabbing gestures. The initial semitone becomes a trill of alarm, scurrying across the orchestra. Aghast but undeterred, Judith presses on.

Second Door

Fanfares! We find ourselves in Bluebeard’s armoury, little infantries of wind and brass conjuring the pageantry of victories past. And yet they somehow seem stifled, tinny and twisted, more like the strutting circus musicians of Stravinsky’s Petrushka (written just the year before) than a jubilant military band. Judith notices that blood gilds every blade. Here you may note how hers and Bluebeard’s vocal lines are at odds musically: when she is alarmed, he is solemn; when she is resigned, he is agitated. When Bartók entrusts one with a fairly simple folkish melody, the other leaps jagged intervals in every phrase. Can they ever reconcile? Yet, the stage directions state that as each door opens, fresh light is cast into the castle, so Judith soldiers on, emboldened.

Third Door

For a moment, optimism strikes. Frantic lunges are replaced by serene, suspended chords, aglimmer with twinkling harp and celeste. Judith feasts her eyes on Bluebeard’s stacked gold and jewels, taking little heed of ghostly violin figures and distantly baying horns. Then she realises: the rubies she sees are actually blood-soaked gemstones. The two notes of the opening semitone sounds stridently together, sharpened shards amid all the glitter. 

Fourth Door

Judith’s hopes stir as an exquisite harp cascade casts us into a garden. A pastoral haven is painted first by a plaintive horn then ardent violins, yet both find themselves entwined by woodwind uttering the ominous semitone from the start. Judith notices the roses’ thorns and blood speckling the petals. A flute fluttering like a butterfly repeatedly seems to exhaust itself, spiraling earthbound. The violins, almost wanting to emulate Richard Strauss’ sunny Rosenkavalier (first heard in 1911), find their ardour turning into anguish, redolent of his earlier, darker Salomé. 

Fifth Door

Judith anxiously flings open the fifth door to be met by a blaze of light. The orchestra radiates spectacular major triads as Bluebeard and Judith step out onto a balcony overlooking his vast kingdom. Here we find ourselves in C major, as far harmonically as one can be from F# minor which opens and closes the opera. Bluebeard’s folk-like melody is contented, almost cheerful. Might this courageous woman yet save him? But again, Judith spies not rain but blood falling from clouds: panicked woodwind then strings lurch left and right as she insists Bluebeard hand over the last two keys.

Sixth Door

We find ourselves at a subterranean lake. Droplets fall, casting shadowy ripples. Bartók ingeniously replicates this effect with breathy little flurries of flute, harp and celeste. Has dread ever been better conjured by music? The sound may as well be the musical codification of shudders down your spine. Judith’s stark outbursts are now reduced to a submissive whisper as she discovers the lake consists purely of tears. Bluebeard says they are his, suggesting remorse for all his apparent treachery. It is music of intense regret, fuelling the view of some historians that Bluebeard is Bartók himself (one BB standing in for another), the whole opera reflecting demons of his own, tightly locked away. Judith comes to realise what lies behind the last door: Bluebeard’s slain wives, whose blood has tinged every other room. The fateful semitone pounds over and over. Even yet, she loves him: the violins wistfully pine, echoing the love music of Debussy’s Pelleas and Melisande, another influential work that young Bartók surely heard as he set out to write his own opera.

Final Door

The key turns. The door opens. We drop a semitone and a funereal dirge begins. But wait: in a twist from the classic fairy tale, the former wives are not dead but yet living, silent and resigned to their confinement. Bluebeard animatedly praises them each in turn – the sincerity of his words matched by a strumming harp and tuneful violins. Judith comes to realise her fate lies among them. As he adorns her with jewels, husband and wife strikingly sing together for the first time. She steps inside the room and the door closes behind her. In the fading light, we hear the ominous opening semitone anew. We are back where we started. The story is set to recur, possibly for all time…

Programme notes by James Murphy.


Did you know?

  • Bartók was not the first to write a Bluebeard opera. He was beaten to it in 1907 by none other than Paul Dukas.
  • The libretto, by Béla Balázs, was originally intended for Bartók’s friend, the composer Kodály. When Balázs was exiled for communist sympathies, the opera was banned and only revived near the end of Bartók’s life in 1936.
  • Of the various filmed versions of Bluebeard’s Castle on YouTube, worth a look for its flambuoyant design and effects is the 1963 production by Michael Powell, celebrated British director of The Red Shoes and A Matter of Life and Death.
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