Opera + Classical Music Reviews

Sim�n Bol�var Youth Orchestra of Venezuela/Dudamel @ Royal Festival Hall, London

14 April 2009

A concert by Gustavo Dudamel and the Simn Bolvar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela is always so much more than the programme of music.

Ending with the usual carnival of colour, swaying instruments and thrown jackets, it can only be described as an event, something akin to a pop concert.

The atmosphere was electric from the start, for this “residency” at the South Bank. It seemed not one more musician could be crammed onto the Festival Hall’s podium as the expectation built, not just in the hall but spilling out into the foyer areas where it was to be transmitted on a large screen, and beyond.

The headlong intoxication of the joy of sound that is this orchestra’s brand undoubtedly makes the music-world (no, the world) a better place. And you can’t ask much more of music. Or can you? It seems curmudgeonly to tread on this celebration of youthful exuberance but it has to be said that beyond the hysteria and welcome dropping of British reserve, there are losses in this ebullient approach.

For the opening of their week-long stay, the SBYOV chose a brilliant showpiece in Bartok’s Concerto for Orchestra. The dazzling soloistic fragments, the searing strings, screaming woodwind and thumping timpani fit this phenomenal group of young musicians like a multi-coloured glove.

Following the thrill of the first half, their performance of Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony after the interval left a bit more to be desired. There was no doubting the sincerity and commitment of this young genius and his talented forces but there needed to be something between the deafening screams and the admittedly delicate textures of the introspective sections.

Too much of the time, the sound was just too big, as though a world record of intensity and volume was being grabbed with gigantic claws. The sudden drops into hushed stillness left nothing in between and it has to be said something of Tchaikovsky’s soul-searching was lost. A dash of maturity wouldn’t have gone amiss at times.

All was forgiven, though, as a group of youngsters sitting directly behind the percussion section jumped out of their skins and fell around with delighted laughter at the first almighty thunderclap of the final movement. What better way could there be of introducing children to the sheer joy of music?

From then on, it was riotous sound and movement all the way, with the standard encores of Ginastera and Bernstein, before the red, blue and yellow jackets donned by the orchestra during a brief blackout were hurled into the audience to be borne off as prized possessions. You don’t see passion and abandon like that every day at the Festival Hall and it’s something every music-lover should witness.

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