The National Youth Orchestra’s Winter Concert Tour

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Picture Credit: Tracey Whitefoot

The National Youth Orchestra’s Winter Concert Tour, featuring 160 musicians conducted by Sir Mark Elder had a theme of fairytales this year. The three pieces: The Enchanted Lake by Liadov; The Sorcerer’s Apprentice by Dukas and the opera Duke Bluebeard’s Castle by Bartók all have a fairytale feel to them, with each piece getting, in my opinion, progressively darker.

What stands out with this concert, and this orchestra, is the atmosphere. I don’t think I’ve experienced another atmosphere surrounding an opera/recital quite like this one, it’s so joyous, and excited, not just the audience but the orchestra too. Seeing Sir Mark conducting, especially with The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, he was at points jubilant, broadly smiling as he was conducting, everyone- audience, orchestra, conductor all united in joy- a true fairytale!

The Enchanted Lake is a pretty piece, it takes the audience in to the fairytale world, it offers you escapism with Liadov’s subtitle to the piece “a fairy tale scene”, describing it perfectly.

The second piece, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice is a magical piece, recognisable to anyone who has watched Disney’s Fantasia. As I’ve mentioned above, this piece in particular provoked real joy and jubilation, not just amongst the audience but the orchestra too.

After these two short pieces there was an interval followed by the real star of the night- Bartók’s Duke Bluebeard’s Castle. The opera is about Judith having newly married Duke Bluebeard and coming back to his castle and finding that there are 7 locked doors inside. One by one, Duke Bluebeard allows her to open the doors and reveal his devastating and horrible secrets and her own future. This is one of my favourite opera’s, it’s short at only an hour but it packs an emotional punch and the music is just stunning. Door by door the music gets darker, tenser, more mysterious until the final reveal, a gorgeous piece. Robert Hayward as Bluebeard and Rinat Shaham as Judith gave it their all and it showed, their performances were strong and spot on.

Daisy Evans has done a fabulous job directing this piece; involving the orchestra in the staging was a master stroke. At points the orchestra would cover their faces and whisper, evocatively scary. There was also lighting on the floor at the front of the stage, winding back through the orchestra which changed colour many times throughout, with each room having its own colour with the possibility of it changing through the aria depending on the mood of the piece. Illustrations by Chris Riddell were projected on the back wall too, one per room and for the prologue, each with some colour, matching the colour being lit on the floor. There was no staging, and what Evans has managed to do with just some lighting and participation and illustrations has made any potential staging superfluous, she has made a production that is eery, scary, haunting and fantastic- a really inspired decision.

The National Youth Orchestra have shown why they are one of the most talented and brilliant orchestra’s around. Their Winter Concert was an absolute triumph with a theme that resonated through every piece leading to a stunning presentation of Duke Bluebeard’s Castle which had everybody gripped, I can’t wait to see them again.

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