Festival Music

National Youth Orchestra of Canada

Usher Hall, Edinburgh

Keith Bruce


FOR their fixture in the EIF 2018 Year of Young People championships, Canada brought a huge squad to play Scotland, and fielded the most versatile and promising youngsters the event has seen yet.

That makes it difficult to single out individuals to praise for their performance, because the orchestra was led for the second half’s Vaughan Williams symphony, the Pastoral Third, by a different violinist, and featured changed cor anglais, first horn and principal clarinet  from those we had heard in prominent roles earlier.

In the most spectacular example of this team mentality, there was a wholesale switch of desks across the front of the stage between the concert-opening work, the UK premiere of their countryman John Estacio’s Moontides, and Aaron Copland’s Appalachian Spring which followed, as firsts became seconds and seconds took on the mantle of firsts. In the printed programme there was simply an alphabetical list of “violins”, a practice followed across the whole orchestra.

You might expect such a multi-tasking ability to have an effect on the orchestra’s sound, and you would be correct. Here was an ensemble string performance of which a professional orchestra would be rightly proud. The Canadian composer’s short piece has a fascinating underscore spiced with precision percussion and quickly has everyone on the platform playing with the sections ebbing and waning in colourful swells of sound.

Both the Copland and Vaughan Williams (composed at the end of the Second and First World Wars respectively) are feasts of orchestral invention, and conductor Jonathan Darlington’s meticulous style made sure that every ingredient was in place and each player on their mettle; he evidently enjoys a warm and mutually respectful relationship with these players.

His extensive background in opera was perhaps also in evidence when, as the coup de grace to a winning concert, the entire touring cast re-assembled onstage as a very good SATB choir and sang their encores unaccompanied by any instruments at all. It was the perfect concluding party piece from some highly-accomplished musicians.