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Classical music

Review: National Youth Orchestra of USA astonishes Hong Kong audience

Youthful energy and exuberant brass were on show in Tan Dun work, Beethoven concerto with Li Yundi was crisp and disciplined, while there was force and precision in Berlioz' Symphonie Fantastique under Charles Dutoit's baton

PUBLISHED : Monday, 27 July, 2015, 12:53pm
UPDATED : Monday, 27 July, 2015, 6:48pm

You might not want to hire a 16-to-19-year-old to be your heart surgeon or trial lawyer, but teenagers can often play classical music like the pros. This concert of the National Youth Orchestra of the United States of America, which is part of this year's International Arts Carnival, went from good to astonishing under the guidance of conductor Charles Dutoit.

Hong Kong was the last stop on the troupe's first China tour. Composer Tan Dun was commissioned to write a piece, Passacaglia: Secret of Wind and Birds, which not only showed off the ensemble's youthful energy with exuberant brass but also cleverly integrated smartphones in the form of an app with which the audience could play digital bird sounds.

Besides the bells and whistles, a reflective, melodic aspect grounded it in a respect for both Chinese and Western tradition.

Beethoven's majestic Piano Concerto No. 5 in E Flat, Emperor, was sparkling, joyful and winning with soloist Li Yundi on the piano. The orchestra was crisp and disciplined, using sudden dynamic contrasts for dramatic effect. The melody in the  Adagio un poco moto movement was played with caressing tone, and Beethoven's playful rhythmic twists came through clearly.

Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique has a young man's imagination but is sophisticated in design. Dutoit was clearly having fun and could do whatever he liked with the eager players. He gave the music an authentic French zest with just-right tempos and accents.

Berlioz intended to astonish audiences with several final climaxes, each topping the last, and the precision and force of the young orchestra was overwhelming.

National Youth Orchestra of the United States of America, Cultural Centre Concert Hall. Reviewed: July 26