Boston Philharmonic Youth Orchestra wraps season in riveting style

May 9, 2016 at 11:04 am

By Aaron Keebaugh

Benjamin Zander conducted the Boston Philharmonic Youth Orchestra Sunday at Sanders Theatre.

Four years ago, Benjamin Zander founded the Boston Philharmonic Youth Orchestra, and in only a short period of time, the ensemble, which consists of elite high school and college-age musicians from all around New England and New York, has become one of the best youth orchestras in the Boston area. Each season, the BPYO offers several concerts and has embarked on European tours, playing some of the most difficult music in the orchestral repertoire.

Sunday afternoon at the Sanders Theatre, Zander and the BPYO concluded their Boston season with music by Debussy, Brahms, and Mahler.

Consisting of 120 young musicians, the BPYO has the polished sound and fine musicianship of a professional orchestra. Sunday’s mammoth program featured playing of rapt intensity, and the players conveyed the soft phrasing of Debussy’s writing, the edgy drama of Brahms, and the sweet nostalgia of Mahler’s score.

Music of Mahler is one of Zander’s specialties and the composer’s symphonies are regularly the focus of Boston Philharmonic and BPYO concerts. Sunday afternoon featured a riveting and colorful performance of the First Symphony.

There was the occasional cracked horn note and transitions that were not always seamless. But what made this performance so dynamic and compelling was the fiery energy and fierce commitment that the young musicians brought to the piece.

Zander took care to build the disparate aspects of Mahler’s all-encompassing symphony into grand climaxes. The finale was a true culmination as the conductor treated the statements from the first movement as steps towards a grand whole.

And there was plenty to enjoy along the way. The quotation of “Ging heut Morgen über’s Feld” from Songs of a Wayfarer flowered beautifully in the winds and strings. The second movement Ländler, given a jovial, bucolic feel, lifted off the ground with a whirling rhythm. And the third movement was eerily subdued as the statements of “Frere Jacques” sounded from a distance and grew steadily as if part of a long funeral processional. The movement’s klezmer overtones were treated with energy and a zesty rubato.

The spotlight of the concert’s first half fell on two brilliant young musicians who served as soloists in Brahms’ Double Concerto for violin and cello.

The playing of violinist Hikaru Yonezaki and cellist Leland Ko was simply miraculous for its beauty of tone and maturity of interpretation.

Ko, who is still in high school, played with a warm, mahogany tone and fierce commitment that mined the emotive power from Brahms’ sumptuous lines. His technique was mesmerizing, and the young cellist tossed off the double stops and serpentine melodies of this last of Brahms’ orchestral works with aplomb.

Yonezaki is a student at Juilliard and showed herself a simpatico partner, playing with penetrating tone that had just a touch of silver.

Both musicians came together for shining phrases in the outer movements. The second movement was especially gorgeous, with the duo engaged in plush phrases.

Zander and the orchestra brought the full Brahms sonority, and the lines that weave in and out of the thick orchestration were rich in dramatic power and bite, especially in the final movement.

The opener, Debussy’s Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun, is a colorful score, and the BPYO gave it a reading of soft radiance.

Zander led with deliberate gestures to draw a finely detailed and spacious performance. The orchestra responded beautifully, with especially fine contributions from the horn section and solo oboe.

Kudos go to flutist Sieon Choi, who served as a last minute replacement in the piece’s famous solo for the instrument. Choi rose to the challenge and rendered the line with the same sensitivity and elegance as would a professional.

Sunday’s concert marked the last time that some of the young musicians played with the BPYO. To say goodbye, Zander led a heartfelt performance of “Nimrod” from Elgar’s Enigma Variations.

The Boston Philharmonic Youth Orchestra will perform music by Glinka, Stravinsky, Tchaikovsky, Debussy, and Beethoven 8 p.m. June 6 and 7 at Carnegie Hall. The BPYO will open the 2016-2017 season with music by Sibelius and Prokofiev 7:30 p.m. November 7 at Symphony Hall.


Posted in Performances

One Response to “Boston Philharmonic Youth Orchestra wraps season in riveting style”

  1. Posted May 12, 2016 at 11:57 am by Judith K. White

    Overcome with emotion and not wanting to let go of the BPYO’s young, extraordinarily talented musicians, my husband,Allen, and I sat in the second balcony of Sanders Theater, watching them gather up their instruments and say their good-by’s. We were fortunate to have a full view throughout the concert of Leland Ko, who, given his age, displayed amazingly sensitive and sympathetic emotion in his playing and his interaction with other members of the orchestra.

    We cannot offer enough praise to the dynamic leader of and inspiration to these young people. He has lifted them and the audience to the heights! Thank you, Ben Zander.

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