NYO, Barbican


I try never to miss a concert by the National Youth Orchestra. Who else would team up (as on this evening) Britten’s Sinfonia da Requiem with Shostakovich’s The Year 1905 (his 11th Symphony, one of the good ones) ? And play them with septuple woodwind, 10 horns, 8 trombones, 3 tubas ?

You have to get used to the balance of course – the orchestra must have thought long and hard about this, with conductor Jaime Martin. As a listener, I found it took me a while to feel comfortable. For Sinfonia da Requiem, we sat far to the side of the stalls, behind the four harps (!) – interesting to hear Britten’s astute harp writing in such clarity. We decided to move for the second half, and climbed to the Balcony – a long and complicated route in that confusing building. At last we found a central focus on the all-over sound, although visually I was very aware of sitting right under the roof and its many attachments. The packed-out stage appeared as a small square in front of us.

After my in-concert travels I began to see what proponents of a new London Centre for Music are going on about. When something extraordinary or enormous visits the present Concert Hall, such as this 160-piece orchestra, everything has to be squashed into a narrow-ish central cylinder. How interesting it would be to distribute those 30-strong groups of woodwind and brass more widely through the space, as is possible in Berlin and LA.

Pictured – But we still love the Barbican’s 1990s mobile phone projection.

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JUDITH WEIR

Composer

© Judith Weir, 2020