Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic hardly need any more congratulations after their recent London visit, so I’ve been saving my enthusiastic words up for the Young Orchestra for London, whom Rattle also worked with while he was here. This is a newly formed youth orchestra with members from every London borough (I’m using the present tense hoping the Young Orchestra still exists and wasn’t just a passing product of the Berlin visit.) Simon Rattle said several times that the orchestra ‘looks like London’, a graceful reference presumably to its ethnic mix, representative of London’s population. It would be interesting to know how the players were recruited; since music teaching is so fragmented over the 33 boroughs, there’s no obvious way of knowing exactly who’s out there playing instruments.
The first public performance (of music by Steve Montague, Malcolm Arnold and Sibelius) was given in the Barbican Concert Hall – presumably to an audience of North London culture vultures thoughtfully stroking their beards. But crossing the river into crazy South London, the orchestra was stuffed into the back of the Festival Hall foyer already packed with small children and their heroic parents attending an art event. However, by the end of the short set, nearly everyone had got the hang of what was happening and stood up to cheer (including me – excuse fuzzy photo.)
The Young Orchestra was described as ‘mixed-ability’ but they did well, especially to get through the string and brass parts of Finlandia accurately. When I hear school, youth and amateur orchestras, I admire their sense of strain and difficulty – the look of intense concentration that the Young Orchestra had throughout, despite the fiesta-like atmosphere around them. It’s good to be reminded that learning an instrument well enough to play classical music in an orchestra is a real achievement.