Monday, December 13, 2021

New youth orchestra off to a promising start

An Evening of Fairytales

ACT Youth Orchestra with the Dance Development Centre

National Portrait Gallery

December 8, 2021

Reviewed by TONY MAGEE

Almost 200 guests crowded the foyer of the National Portrait Gallery to witness and enjoy the premiere performance of Canberra’s newest youth music ensemble, ACT Youth Orchestra, conducted by Rowan Harvey Martin.

Ballet students from Dance Development Centre, with ACT Youth Orchestra players
in a sequence from Tchaikovsky's "Sleeping Beauty".

They were joined later in the program by Dance Development Centre, artistic director and choreographer Jackie Hallahan.

Orchestra Patron Lieutenant Colonel Ian McLean (ret.) AM, CSC welcomed guests and introduced His Excellency Dr Alexey V. Pavlovsky, Ambassador of the Russian Federation, who spoke with enthusiasm about the formation of a new youth orchestra in Canberra. 

Ambassador Pavlovsky mentioned that in Russia, it was Tchaikovsky who championed raising music to an equal artistic status as the Bolshoi Ballet, saying that “music of the great composers inspires generation after generation of young players to take up orchestral instruments and share a love of music”, adding “Fairy Tales are the most charming of European cultural traditions”.

Formed at the beginning of November this year, the players managed to prepare an ambitious launch program in just five weeks.

Opening with the overture to Humperdinck’s opera Hänsel and Gretel, the orchestra bounced into life, the players all showing great enthusiasm and dedication as they showcased their accomplishments.

Prokofiev’s ballet setting of Cinderella premiered at the Bolshoi Theatre in November 1945 and is noted for its jubilant music.

Four movements were performed, the third being a beautiful waltz which morphed into “Midnight”, in quarter time, complete with well played harp glissandos, wood block ticking away as the hour approaches, timpani and piccolo plus the entire ensemble, creating a dramatic buildup to “pumpkin hour”!

Excerpts from “The Sleeping Beauty” by Tchaikovsky saw artists from Canberra Dance Centre join the orchestra for a thrilling finale.

The young dancers were costumed beautifully and performed with style and precision, sweeping through ballet sequences with grace and beauty.

Of note also were the excellent pizzicato passages from cellos and violas, a solid foundation from the contra-bass and well played contributions from the percussion section.

The opportunity to dance with a live orchestra and also for an orchestra to accompany ballet dancers was cherished by all and it was obvious that the union of these two ensembles was a great success and also something extremely special.

In conclusion, I should like to mention that throughout the concert, there were some  tuning and intonation issues within various sections of the orchestra which need to be addressed. In addition, rhythmic accuracy was compromised in places.

These blemishes aside, conductor Rowan Harvey Martin managed to rescue those situations admirably. It is also a credit to the players, that when they were in difficulty, they knew they had a formidable maestro to help them out and continue on successfully.

It is within the pressure of a live performance, with an audience, that real learning can take place.

ACT Youth Orchestra has great potential and this launch concert is to be treasured as a great opening to a great future. It is to be hoped that this will be realised during their exciting and ambitious 2022 program.

An uplifting and joyous end to the year.

First published in City News, December 9, 2021