25 July 2008

Arts Award article - Arts Event

City of Sheffield Youth Orchestra summer concert

On July 19th, CSYO performed the results of a week of intensive rehearsal, two days before jetting off to Barcelona for their traditional European tour! With friends in the orchestra and an exciting repertoire of Romantic-era pieces, I knew I was going to love the concert.

The concert was held in the relatively small location of All Saints’ (Ecclesall) church, which definitely gave a more intimate feel to their music. The acoustics were amazing, and I was near the front, in the midst of the captivating performance.

Before the performance began, the conductor, Christopher Gayford, made a short speech explaining his selection of the pieces. The concert was centred around Hector Berlioz’ seminal ‘Symphonie Fantastique’, one of my favourite symphonic compositions ever. He explained how this work was perhaps the first piece to incorporate words as part of the presentation – Berlioz wrote descriptions of what was happening in the story in the symphony, which were printed in the program. It is an emotive tale of unrequited love, which escalates into the protagonist’s attempted suicide and drug-induced dreams. This approach to music became very popular in the Romantic era, inspiring several composers to write tone poems, which were pieces of music based on works of poetry. The first composer to develop this form was Franz Liszt, and the orchestra selected his 6th tone poem ‘Mazeppa’, to perform. ‘Mazeppa’ is a poem by Victor Hugo involving an exiled hero who becomes the leader of a group of Cossacks. The final choice was Carl Maria von Weber’s ‘Overture to Der Freischutz’, a work full of emotional contrast, which I studied for A-Level music! The piece was one of the first that is now described as ‘Romantic’, and it greatly influenced Berlioz’ work.

We began with ‘Der Freischutz’, and it was immediately clear that the orchestra had practised the piece meticulously. It began with the ambient woodland scene, and then the orchestra slowly erupted into the dramatic character themes. They performed this piece very accurately indeed - although I spoke to some of the performers afterwards, and they thought that this was the only piece that didn’t go badly!

Not that the other pieces sounded at all unprofessional to the audience, as was proven as they launched into ‘Mazeppa’. Once again they showed great skill, with precision and captivating dynamic contrast. The highlight was the thrilling ‘wild ride’ section, which reflects Mazeppa’s journey tied to a frantic horse.

After the interval, the orchestra began ‘Symphonie Fantastique’. The orchestra admitted that they hadn’t quite got the first movement right, but it still sounded impressive, and the first three, passionate movements were captivating. The symphony becomes more interesting in the 4th and 5th, after the protagonist attempts to overdose on opium. He witnesses his chaotic funeral, complete with a knelling bell. I was wondering how they would approach the inconvenient bell part, until I saw the percussionists run outside the church, and heard the clang of huge tubular bells. They were noticeably out of tune, but I thought the dissonance sounded quite appropriate with the movement’s crazed mood!

Overall, I thought that the choice of music was superb, and the performance was fantastic, although I am admittedly biased. However, I genuinely couldn’t have hoped for a better choice of material performed. If you ever get a chance to see Symphony Fantastique performed, I definitely recommend it. The emotive tone poems of the Romantic era provide a very enjoyable concert!


Thankyou for your attention! This article appears instead of the Björk concert I had originally planned to review. Unfortunately, this concert has been cancelled twice. Grr. This review is a somewhat last-minute replacement. Once again, it would be really awesome if you were to comment on this. Tell me what you think of my writing style, the best bits, and what I left out, or just overall comments.

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