Wellington Youth Sinfonietta paves the way to orchestral careers

Wellington Youth Sinfonietta conducted by Michael Vinten

Excerpts from Swan Lake (Tchaikovsky) – conducted by Vincent Hardaker; Cirrus (Natalie Hunt); Violin Concerto in D (Beethoven)

St Andrew’s on The Terrace

Sunday 11 November, 3.30pm

With this concert the Wellington Youth Sinfonietta marked 20 years years of age (or should it be next year? – it was founded in 1993. There is a tendency to follow the Roman numbering system which was to count the year of a birth or a beginning as year one, so that the completion of that first year is named as year two. The same counting oddity was widely remarked on at the Millennium).

Naturally, gaps in the wind sections have to be filled by guests; flutes and oboes were the only sections entirely taken by young players and they handled three of the four trumpets: the contrasts were by no means as marked as one might have expected.

The excerpts of Swan Lake ballet were conducted by assistant conductor Vincent Hardaker; the orchestra did very well, oboes and later, the flutes gaining confidence as the music went along. One of the phenomena was a tendency of the professionals to dominate proceedings, particular members of the percussion section, whose sounds are endemically prone to overstatement in this church, so that the careful if tentative playing by young students was a bit lost during passages where percussion and brass were involved.

The orchestra had commissioned a piece from Natalie Hunt, a graduate in arts of Victoria University and in music of the New Zealand School of Music; she was Composer-in-Residence for the NZSO National Youth Orchestra in 2009. Cirrus opened with flutes followed by other woodwinds in feathery, transparent suggestions of high cloud, later darkened oddly by dulling pizzicato on double basses; the atmospheric quality recovered with marimba and triangle. The main part of the piece soon became more compact and I could admire the distinction the composer brought to her writing for the full orchestra, the underpinning by bass instruments and the unadorned line spelt out by the brass, all of which displayed her sensitivity to the limitations of young players.. The earlier hint of darkness reappeared with the arrival of insistent drums that threatened a stormy cumulo-nimbus sky.

After the interval Blythe Press entered as soloist in Beethoven’s Violin Concerto, conducted, as was Cirrus, by Michael Vinten. The orchestra opened diffidently enough but their gathering confidence soon established a good foundation for the arrival of the soloist. A frequent problem was the players’ inclination to let rip wherever the marking fff appeared, to the detriment of the quieter passages. Though it was of course important to have professional support in the sections with only one or two young players, I was impressed by their often near indistinguishable contributions alongside the guest players of clarinet, bassoon, horns and trombones. Needless to say, Blythe Press’s performance was highly distinguished, always sensitive to tempos which tended to the slow side, but remained perfectly convincing. His presence clearly inspired the orchestra to playing that might have exceeded their own expectations.

This junior version of the Wellington Youth Orchestra provides an important stage for aspiring orchestral musicians, and their performances, heard in the right spirit, were here admirable.


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