Icons-Dvorak: Canberra Youth Orchestra, Llewellyn Hall, Saturday, June 26, 2016, 7.30pm
Edward and Stephanie Neeman returned to Canberra to give stirring performances with the Canberra Youth Orchestra in Saturday night's concert. Two Steinways in concert on the stage of the Llewelyn Hall was a grand event. For those in the orchestra, the opportunity to work with two such distinguished artists will be remembered as an inspirational experience. Conductor Leonard Weiss was an ideal mediator between orchestra and soloists, remaining alive to subtle variations of tempo and the need for direction, never compromising the sense of purpose in each work.
George Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue was a great choice to open the evening. The energy and technical skill required in the romping solo piano was shared throughout the orchestra in exhilarating, demanding instrumental parts. Edward Neeman leapt into the music with characteristic flair, instinctively attuned to the younger musicians and able to infuse the performance with his dynamic energy. Once a student of Larry Sitsky's, Neeman's mastery of Sitsky's highly physical piano music has prepared him well to execute Gershwin's rapid-fire chords with unique speed and clarity. I was impressed with the accuracy and uniformity in the voicing of the French horns in this work.
An unexpected pleasure was Mendelssohn's Concerto for Two Pianos in E major, composed in 1823 when the composer was 14. It is a vivacious work, evocative of Mendelssohn's youthful promise and of the close, affectionate relationship between the composer and his equally talented sister, Fanny. The Adagio non troppo in contrast to the lively opening was intoxicatingly lyrical – redolent of Mozart on laudanum. A conversation ensued between the two pianists, darting backward and forward between the two voices, supported and coloured by the orchestra. Dazzling scales and repeated arpeggio patterns were enhanced by the tight close harmonies and the lovely moments of unity when the two pianos became one grand musical creature. The two doctors Neeman demonstrated the very best of a marriage of minds and musical talent.
Concertmaster Helena Popovic was the star of the final work, Dvorak's Symphony No 8, Op. 88, leading the orchestra through the challenging and lengthy four movements. Her solo in the Adagio set the change of mood from the preceding Allegro con brio convincingly. Again in the Allegretto grazioso – Molto vivace, she led the way with the tricksy tempo changes of Dvorak's references to dance time-signatures. Tom Connell led the flutes with a silvery tone, recalling to mind Virginia Taylor's purity and strength, and the cello section entry in the final movement while soft, had a pleasing warmth and solidarity.
My one grumble about the evening was not the music but the behaviour of some members of the audience. Before professional concerts, patrons are advised to turn off all mobile phones, recording and photographic devices, to focus the attention of the entire audience on the music. Our young musicians deserve the respect and consideration we afford to established ensembles, not the disruptive noise and flashing of texting, filming, photographing and talking. By listening to a performance of the Canberra Youth Orchestra in silence, the audience genuinely enables and shares in the musical experience offered by this impressive band of musicians.