Wellington Youth Orchestra presents:
ELGAR – Cockaigne Overture (In London Town) Op. 40
BEETHOVEN – Romance for Violin and Orchestra No. 1 in G Major Op.40
DVORAK – Symphony No. 8 in G Major Op.88
Soloist: Lucas Baker (violin)
Wellington Youth Orchestra
Mark Carter (conductor)
St Andrew’s-on-The-Terrace, Wellington
Saturday, 30th April, 2022
This was a delightful program of very appealing music, appropriate for the young musicians of the Wellington Youth Orchestra. The orchestra has grown in size since I last reviewed their concert in 2019, when they were short of strings. This time there were 26 violins, 5 violas, 6 cellos, 2 basses, and a full complement of winds, brass and percussion, and they produced a rich orchestral sound. The program really tested their skills as a coherent ensemble.
Elgar: Cockaigne Overture, Op. 40
Elgar is perhaps a somewhat underrated composer. He flourished in the shadow of his contemporaries, the great late-Romantic European composer like Richard Strauss. His music stayed within the romantic idiom of rich lush sounds. These days he is best known for his Pomp and Circumstance March that is played every year on the last night of the Proms in England. But he was a major symphonic composer as borne out by his symphonies, and in particular his moving and profound concerti for violin and cello. The Cockaigne Overture was commissioned by the Royal Philharmonic Society and was first performed in 1901. Elgar described it as ‘cheerful and Londony, “stout and steaky” … honest, healthy, humorous and strong, but not vulgar’. It is a rousing piece for a large orchestra, and the young musicians got into its exuberant spirit more and more as the piece progressed. It is a work that needed to be played with youthful abandon and each section of the large orchestra rose to the occasion and brought out the picaresque, colorful character of the work, church bells, Salvation Army band, the sounds of Cockney London.
Beethoven: Romance for violin and orchestra No1 in G Major, Op. 40
The Opus number and the publication date of 1802, suggests that this Romance belongs to Beethoven’s Middle period between the Third Piano Concerto, the Creatures of Prometheus Overture and the Kreutzer Violin Sonata, but its simplicity, more in line with music of an earlier time, suggests that he might have written it earlier. In spirit it is a world away from his dramatic Violin Concerto published four years later. The Romance starts with a four bar introduction of double stops of melodic chords that Lucas Baker played with meticulous clarity, and this clarity of playing was the hallmark of his playing all along, a clear tone, and fluency of articulation. He didn’t try to over dramatize the work which in its simplicity harks back to an earlier age of Mozart. There was no drama, just a beautiful singing tone. The reduced orchestra supported in him style.
Dvorak: Symphony No. 8 in G Major, Op 88
Whereas the adjective I would use for the Elgar piece is ‘exuberant’ and for the Beethoven ‘charming’, the word for Dvorak’s Eighth Symphony is ‘joyful’. From the opening melody, played beautifully by the cellos, the symphony radiates warmth and sunshine. Birdsong is played on the flute, and the whole orchestra joins in with a rich sound that exudes a sense of happiness, of being happy to be alive. One captivating melody follows another. There are peasants dancing, a summer rainstorm, and everybody joins in a jubilant celebration. All this requires sensitive playing by the brass and winds – there are trumpet clarion calls, and irresistible melodies for clarinet and oboe, while the flute is always prominent, very clearly and musically played by the principal flutist, Keeon Perkins-Treacher.
All this is challenging for young musicians and they all acquitted themselves superbly. The work hinges on these short solo passages. There is a whole world of late nineteenth century Bohemia in this symphony, with its vigorous folk culture, its colorful landscape and old traditional roots. Perhaps Dvorak tried to capture a world that had flourished, but would soon decline and disappear, something that such of his contemporaries as Mahler, had sensed already. It is a happy world, but not superficially joyous like that of the operetta world of Johann Strauss and other composers of light music. Perhaps only Mendelssohn wrote joyful music like this, but in a different era and idiom.
Playing such music as part of a large, full symphony orchestra is an enriching experience for musicians and particularly young musicians who are just exploring the riches of music. Mark Carter, the Music Director of the Wellington Youth Orchestra is also Sub-principal Trumpet in the NZSO. He had a great vision for building the orchestra, based on his own experience playing in youth orchestras in the UK. He studied conducting with some of the masters, and has clearly a good rapport with his players. His wife, also in the NZSO, as well as his son, Benjamin play cello in the orchestra. Eleanor Carter also played the organ when organ was needed in the Elgar. It takes special tact and understanding to work with young musicians, and Mark Carter managed to get the best playing from his team. It was a most enjoyable concert for all, musicians and audience alike.