I have yet to attend a concert by the New York Youth Symphony from which I have not come away struck anew by the polish and confidence reliably shown by this excellent ensemble of student musicians ages 12 to 22. Its programs follow a formula: nearly all include a noteworthy soloist, a premiere by an emerging composer and at least one repertory staple. But what a formula, and what a remarkable value its inexpensive tickets represent.
On Sunday afternoon the orchestra opened the final concert of its 47th season at Carnegie Hall with an electrifying rendition of Verdi’s Overture to “La Forza del Destino.” Ryan McAdams, the ensemble’s accomplished young music director, led a taut, dynamic account, with potent brasses, sumptuous strings and expressive winds doing work equal to that of most professional ensembles.
Alex Sopp, an elegant, versatile flutist who regularly performs with the New York Philharmonic as well as adventurous groups like Now Ensemble and the Knights, was featured in the premiere of “Shalom” by Elliott Bark, a doctoral student at Indiana University. In lieu of conventional program notes, Mr. Bark provided a poem that offered a litany of baleful conditions — “where luxury disempowers the meek,” “where gun threats seem acceptable for safety of your country” and the like — ending with “Here I live ... dreaming shalom.”
Accordingly, for the first half of the eight-minute work Ms. Sopp played leaping lines that raced amid roiling, jagged ensemble textures, abrasive outbursts and sardonic trombone glissandos. After a monstrous climax midway through, the tumult ended; over a warm foundation of strings, she played a slow, yearning melody later taken up by the full orchestra in a rapturous surge. Still, uncertainty held: the piece ended on an unresolved tone.
The concert concluded with a robust account of Strauss’s “Heldenleben,” with articulate contributions from woodwind players representing nattering critics and a luscious rendition of the rich love theme. Some brass players were momentarily uneasy at the start of the battle scene but quickly warmed to their task. Best of all was the work of the concertmaster, Natalie Kress, who was visibly overwhelmed afterward by the instantaneous standing ovation rightly earned by her splendid playing of music meant to represent Strauss’s wife.