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Canberra Youth Orchestra at Llewellyn Hall with the Idea of North was impressive

Canberra Youth Orchestra celebrating 50 years, featuring the Idea of North, conducted by Leonard Weiss. Saturday April 8, 7.30pm at Llewellyn Hall

"The most exciting sound in music" is how the playing of an orchestra of young people has been described. At its best, a youth orchestra will introduce the girls and boys to great music from the canon, the director selecting repertoire that is appropriate to the overall skill of the orchestra. Through disciplined rehearsals musicians develop the capacity to listen to their colleagues and perfect a distinctive, homogenous sound that is synonymous with the identity of the orchestra. As we hear in the performances by the Australian Youth Orchestra, each instrumentalist has taken this responsibility to heart and committed to a practice regime that ensures they are technically prepared to meet the challenges of each performance. The orchestra and its soloists wait for the conductor like a crouching panther, ready to spring into action – responsive to direction with intonation precise and rhythmic consensus tight.

The Canberra Youth Orchestra carries the torch for young orchestral musicians in the nation's capital in a challenging era for orchestras. Helena Popovic was impressive as concertmaster, leading the orchestra and playing her solos with flair. For the first concert of the 2017 season celebrating the 50th anniversary of the CYO, an ambitious program was selected in collaboration with The Idea of North, a vocal ensemble originally formed by students at the Canberra School of Music in 1993. The young members of the CYO clearly derived a great deal of pleasure from the inspiration of accompanying the Idea of North singers who started their careers on the stage of Llewellyn Hall. The complex vocal arrangements with their rapid time changes and frequent modulations demanded unflinching concentration from the orchestra from start to finish. Maintaining the sound balance between vocalists and orchestra was a challenge, but the musicians kept hold of the narrative line in each work and a firm eye on the baton of conductor Leonard Weiss to maintain the musicality of interpretation.

Leonard Bernstein's Symphonic Dances from West Side Story is one of the most diabolically difficult 20th-century scores and I was ready to grip the seat with white knuckles throughout, but the chromaticism was deftly handled, the percussion entries and exits were crisp and the flute solo excellent.

Send in the Clowns was the standout vocal arrangement, with assured accompaniment from the orchestra in this elegant version, followed by a nicely paced performance of Charlie Chaplin's classic Smile. In the last work – Mas Que Nada, by Jorge Ben Jor, arranged by Andrew Piper, Leonard and Belinda Weiss – the audience was treated to a spectacularly synchronised display of flashing fingers from the double basses and cellos, providing the underpinning brilliance for this exuberant finale.