Youth rise to the occasion

29 May 2023

The Western Australian Youth Orchestra punch well above their collective artistic weight in this ambitious and emotive program, writes Emma Jayakumar

Legends, Western Australian Youth Orchestra 
Perth Concert Hall, 28 May 2023  

There is a sense of drama in the air tonight, our orchestral young guns clearly in their element.  In a program featuring dazzling solo and sectional virtuosity, the Western Australian Youth Orchestra (WAYO) shine brightest in the large tutti ensemble moments, particularly the more bombastic moments of Prokofiev’s Symphony No. 5 and Bernstein’s joyous Overture to Candide.  

The Bernstein presents an exacting percussion section that gives way to uniformly excellent woodwind solos rippling through the orchestral texture. Warm strings enter in middle registers with gusto, led by an energetic Jon Tooby with excellent pace and sensitive attention to dynamics, while the buoyant brass section guides a confident conclusion. This piece really fizzes with energy and excitement, just as Bernstein intended – the highlight of the evening for me. 

Arguably the most famous of Vaughan Williams’ pieces, The Lark Ascending is led assuredly by the sweet and introspective playing of soloist Paul Wright. A late addition to the program, Wright steers the ensemble skilfully and stylishly with clarity and pace. The famous opening three ascending chords are played exquisitely softly by WAYO’s strings, and hang suspended in the air while Wright brings to life a highly virtuosic solo with deftness and musical sensitivity.  

Jon Tooby conducts WAYO. He is pictured with baton in the air, intenet on the musicians in front of him.
The future of orchestral music is in safe hands with WAYO. Photo supplied

There are many challenging sections of this work, deceptive in its simplicity and exposed soft horn and woodwind entries. The orchestra has a few moments of messy tentativeness, but Wright – supported by Tooby – admirably moves through with confidence and the piece soars to a gorgeous and melodic conclusion. This is great leadership of a young ensemble from soloist and conductor. 

Paul Jarman’s two sparkling gems of choral writing, Sea of Berries and Pemulwuy, with wonderful orchestration by Lee Bradshaw, showcase the Penrhos College combined chorale. They sing sweetly and with good attention to diction and intonation, well prepared for their role. These disparate pieces are well-written and engaging for young voices, with evocative text and contrasting pace.  

Prokofiev is the big beast to tackle after the interval, and WAYO rise to the challenge with musical intelligence. It’s lovely to see the players smiling often in appreciation throughout this symphony at sections that delight them.  

There is much to love about this piece; it gives every section of the orchestra a chance to shine, and shine they do. Exposed moments of gentle softness are better executed, with wonderful dynamic variation and attention to detail. The ominous and awesome bass moments of the melancholy first movement give way to a pacy second movement with great transitions and perky woodblock and woodwind sectionals.  

Big bombastic brass pops in the third movement yield to exquisite string tutti sections, with solo piccolo and woodwinds providing moments to relish. The fourth movement features a culmination of the evening’s exceptional woodwind playing, particularly B-flat clarinet, flute, and bassoon. French horns push through with dramatic force, while a gun percussion section expertly pilots a thrilling ending.  

This beast is in full flight and admirably rendered by a promising next generation of wonderful Western Australian orchestral musicians.  

Ben Northey conducts WAYO at Perth Concert Hall, 8 July 2023.

Pictured top: Conductor Jon Tooby leads WAYO with skill and style in an emotive program. Photo supplied

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Author —
Emma Jayakumar

Emma Jayakumar is an Australian composer and librettist whose recent major works include commissions for West Australian Opera, the ABC, Darwin Symphony Orchestra, Awesome Arts, West Australian Ballet and Music Book. Emma is an advocate for accessible works for young audiences, as well as new music celebrating diverse Australian voices.

Past Articles

  • Magical musicians weave wondrous textures

    Beautiful threads of music making are drawn together to create a simply wonderful concert experience, writes Emma Jayakumar. 

  • Nolan shows his mettle on the pedal

    Choral leader and conductor Joseph Nolan tackles some of the most challenging and virtuosic organ music with flair, giving the audience a rare view into the process, writes Emma Jayakumar.

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