Arts concert review

Pairing young musicians with young listeners

Benjamin Zander conducts the Boston Philharmonic Youth Orchestra


Boston Philharmonic Youth Orchestra

Symphony Hall

November 2, 2015

The Boston Philharmonic Youth Orchestra is a vibrant group of 12- to 21-year-olds who devote their Saturday afternoons to practicing together and putting up roughly three performances a year. Many are currently in college as well, including MIT freshman Jueun Lee on the cello. Formed in 2012 as an offshoot of the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra, BPYO aims to provide opportunities for young musicians to grow.

Monday’s performance was a free public event, generously made possible by the Free for All Concert Fund here in Boston. This was the first symphony performance for many in the audience, including more than a hundred students from the Cambridge Rindge and Latin School who had been specially invited. As such, conductor Benjamin Zander prefaced each piece with a description of the composer’s intention and how it compared with other pieces. In adapting to the younger crowd, he obligingly described Debussy’s La Mer as “full of color, OMG.” He also gave essential concertgoer tips – specifically, a “master class in coughing” (the trick is doing it into your sleeve) and advice against clapping unless anyone else is doing so.

The pieces were thoughtfully chosen for the new listener. Glinka’s Overture to Ruslan and Ludmila was a short, energetic piece played vivaciously by the orchestra. Next, Stravinsky’s Violin Concerto in D was a good introduction to far more modern and cacophonous music, which was nevertheless highly rhythmic and inherently danceable. Guest soloist Ayano Ninomiya (an up-and-coming violinist who studied at Harvard and Juilliard) brought the piece to life, coursing through its technical challenges with incredible deftness and passion. Debussy’s La Mer followed this piece as a more “fluid” counterpoint to the comparatively structured “lego” of Stravinsky, as Zander explained. Finally Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5 provided a triumphant conclusion.

Despite the conscious design of the programme, all put together, it was frankly a rather tiring affair. This was mainly because of the high-octane nature of all of the pieces, which the orchestra played with satisfying pomp and vigor. However, the conducting felt distinctly overzealous, as if Zander was fearful of losing his new audience’s attention, and so proceeded to rush through the pieces’ slower moments and raise the volume of every climax. As a result, the pieces lost much of their nuanced texture.

Regardless, the evening was a success for the BPYO, especially for those on stage who were having their inaugural orchestra performances in the incomparable Symphony Hall, and many audience members whom I saw getting lost in the music and head banging to its moving rhythms. These concerts prove to be a great nexus for emerging musicians and listeners, so look forward to their upcoming concerts in February and May next year!