Two Youth Orchestras Symphony Orchestra Vivo, Alice Tully Hall, and New York Youth Symphony, Carnegie Hall
Two youth orchestras on Sunday left behind questions about what a youth orchestra is supposed to be and whom it is to serve. Based on performance alone, the Symphony Orchestra Vivo from Finland at Alice Tully Hall played better that evening than the New York Youth Symphony did earlier in the day at Carnegie Hall.
The young Finns were better organized and rehearsed. They also came with an all-Finnish program, the imprimatur of their Government and a lot of patriotism. Averaging 18, they were probably a little older (some of the New York musicians being as young as 12). The music was Uuno Klami's "Kalevala Suite," the Sibelius Violin Concerto and "Finlandia."
Individually, I suspect the Americans are better players, but they had nowhere near the focus of their colleagues. Vivo's blunt, unsubtle string sound had partly to do with their aggressive conductor, Kari Tikka, and also the music itself, which found beauty in gray, rough, forbidding surfaces relieved by patches of pastoral folksiness and calm.
Vivo's brass intonation in "Finlandia" came apart, I think, from trying too hard, from an excess of pressure. Similar problems in the Youth Symphony performances seemed more like waywardness unchecked. String accompaniments in Mozart's G Major Violin Concerto offered too many different opinions on correct rhythm. And young as they are, the New York players could have kept Dvorak's "New World" Symphony more carefully in tune. Their conductor, Samuel Wong, has a bright future in the professional world, and what he wanted from his players was admirable. But if the Youth Symphony's directors are looking for finished performance, they might get more of it through an experienced teacher, not a promising neophyte.
On the other hand, finished performance may not be this orchestra's highest priority; and perhaps its service is primarily not to audiences but to young musicians: giving them the chance to taste the pleasures of communal music and to get a feel for orchestra playing without the grind of professional life.
The afternoon's premiere was Pierre Jalbert's "Joyful Mysteries." Scarcely older than his performers, Mr. Jalbert provided a smooth replica of the hedonistic colors and brassy angst so popular in orchestra writing these days. It was a learning piece for a learning orchestra. Cho-Liang Lin was the excellent soloist for the Mozart. Young Jaakko Kuusisto battled the fierce Sibelius Concerto with great determination.