REVIEW: National Youth Orchestra, Roundhouse, Chalk Farm

PUBLISHED: 11:50 29 January 2009 | UPDATED: 15:52 07 September 2010

Four star rating It s a rare thing, these days, for significant orchestral concerts in London to venture north of the Euston Road. But there was a time – some 30 years ago – when the Roundhouse flourished as a centre for contemporary music after it was s

Four star rating

It's a rare thing, these days, for significant orchestral concerts in London to venture north of the Euston Road.

But there was a time - some 30 years ago - when the Roundhouse flourished as a centre for contemporary music after it was seized on by Pierre Boulez as ideal for introducing radical new work to curious young listeners.

Looking back, that whole enterprise ranks as a key moment in the cultural history of modern Britain.

Afterwards, of course, it lapsed into dereliction, was rescued a second time and now accommodates everything from Shakespeare to circus spectacles.

But last week it hosted the National Youth Orchestra, a remarkable organisation which by its nature has certain limitations.

You don't go to NYO performances expecting the technical brilliance, immaculate ensemble or interpretative sophistication of the Berlin Philharmonic.

But what you get instead is the enthusiasm of 150 or so prodigiously talented young players who haven't settled into routine.

They approach everything like it's the first time - as it probably is - with keen, alert commitment.

This was what we heard in a programme which started, very much in the spirit of Boulez and the 70s, with an semi-improvised, experimental piece by Peter Wiegold (crude but harmless).

It was followed by Luciano Berio's seminal, late-60s avant-garde collage Sinfonia, with Strauss's monumental Alpine Symphony in the second half.

Both main works were conducted by Semyon Bychkov - a big name in Germany with a formidable reputation as a Strauss interpreter. The patchiness of this symphony, however, suggested he might not be the most effective trainer of young musicians.

That said, it was still a show that sent you home feeling you'd heard something special.

And while the current configuration of the Roundhouse isn't acoustically ideal, it's the right sort of venue for the NYO in terms of image and outreach - just as the NYO is the right sort of ensemble for the Roundhouse's mission to reach young audiences. They belong together. Here's to a developing relationship.


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