Accomplished performances from Wellington Youth Orchestra with talented Asaki Watanabe in Bruch concerto

Wellington Youth Orchestra conducted by Mark Carter

Glazunov: ‘Autumn’ from The Seasons, Op 67
Bruch: Violin Concerto No. 1 in G minor, Op. 26 (Asaki Watanabe – violin)
Saint-Saȅns: Symphony No 3 in C minor, Op 78, ‘Organ’

St Andrew’s on The Terrace

Sunday, 6 October, 2019, 3:30 pm

Being part of a symphony orchestra is a huge commitment for young people. It involves rehearsals every Monday evening during term time. It also requires a high degree of competence on an orchestral instrument. A full symphony orchestra needs 20-24 violins, and a corresponding number of violas, cellos and double basses as well as a full compliment of winds, brass and percussion. The Wellington Youth Orchestra mustered an almost full complement of instruments and guest players filled in the missing ranks, but it was short of string players.

Glazunov: Autumn
The concert opened with Glazunov’s Autumnfrom his Seasons. Seasons was composed for the Imperial Ballet of St. Petersburg in 1900. It is late romantic ballet music. The performance was distinguished by fine disciplined wind playing. The strings had some luscious sustained rich extended melodies. The orchestra played with a strong sense of rhythm.

Bruch Violin Concerto
Joachim, the great violinist, considered Max Bruch’s first violin concerto that he helped to revise, the richest and most seductive of all great German violin concertos. It is one of the most popular concertos in the repertoire. Asaki Watanabe, concert master of the Wellington Youth Sinfonietta won the WYO Concerto Competition with this work. She is a Japanese exchange student studying at Onslow College. She started learning the violin at the age of two and a half and has competed in annual provincial competitions in Japan since she was thirteen. In Wellington she is taught by Yuka Egochi, the NZSO assistant concertmaster.

From the very first notes of her entry it was evident that she is an assured young violinist. She produced a powerful tone, and played with confidence, with meticulously clear phrasing. She inspired and carried the orchestra with her. Every note was clearly and thoughtfully articulated. She displayed a prodigious technique. Her solo had the strong backing of the orchestra, underlining the emotional sweep of the music and beautifully echoing the phrases of the soloist. It was a phenomenal performance.

Organ Symphony
This is a grand symphony scored for a very large orchestra with piano, organ and enlarged percussion section. The music demands a powerful sound. Though called an Organ Symphony, it is not a true symphony for an organ. The organ is used as part of the orchestra in two out of the four sections of the work. In structure the piece is unusual, instead of the usual four movements of a classical symphony it is in two movements with each movement made up of three contrasting parts. The piano is used as a virtuoso soloist in one section, the organ adds colour and power and is used to add an otherworldly effect in the Maestoso section in the second movement. The piece culminates in an all encompassing fugal passage.

This symphony is a challenge for any orchestra, let alone a student orchestra. It has to be played with abandon, but without losing the structure of the work. The orchestra played with enormous dedication, producing some beautiful string sounds, and the winds and brass with the enlarged percussion section managed the exposed individual parts well. It required courage and confidence to cope with the difficult entries and solos. It is a sweeping romantic work, in places overblown, bombastic, but still an important corner stone in the French symphonic repertoire. It was a creditable performance despite all the limitation of the orchestra, too few strings, and the overwhelming acoustics of the venue. All the musicians who participated would have got a lot out of being involved.

Mark Carter, appointed Music Director last year is the Sub-Principal trumpet of the NZSO. He studied conducting and participated in masterclasses with Sir Colin Davis and Sir Simon Rattle. He is also assistant conductor of Stroma, the contemporary music ensemble and music director of the Hutt Valley Orchestra. He is an experienced conductor, conducting with a clear beat. He appeared to have a great rapport with his young musicians. The concert was a wonderful journey for all involved.

If you missed this concert, and Asaki Watanabe’s playing is not to be missed, you can hear the same programme at the St. James Church in Lower Hutt on 12 October, at 3:30 pm.

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