Concert Reviews

What the critics think

Lindsay Perigo reviews the WYO Masterworks Concert:

Wellington Youth Orchestra “Masterworks” conducted by Mark Carter
Sunday 6th October 2019, St. Andrews on the Terrace, Wellington

Glazunov: ‘Autumn’ from The Seasons, Op 67
Bruch: Violin Concerto No. 1 in G minor, Op. 26 (Asaki Watanabe – violin)
Saint-Saȅns: Symphony No 3 in C minor, Op 78, ‘Organ’

“‘Gobsmacked’ best sums up how I felt on first hearing the Wellington Youth Orchestra at St Andrews on the Terrace last Sunday, October 6. I tend to be one of those Grumpy Old Farts who think the young generation has gone to the dogs. I have been known to harrumph about ‘moronnials’—irredeemable zombies with empty heads buried in cellphones and earphones that pound deafening anti-music into clueless ears; acknowledging other human beings only by text messages consisting of asinine buzzwords; etc., etc. Sunday’s experience of fifty or so youngsters gathered together to perform some of the world’s most glorious music was a salutary demonstration that, whether or not the generalisation is accurate overall, there are certainly many admirable exceptions, possessed of ‘gobsmacking’ talent and an exemplary commitment to fulfilling it.

“One of the joyous things about Sunday’s programme was that it was Romantic. All of it. That is, it featured only music from the genre that represents Western Music’s apogee.  Not even a nod in the direction of the dross that followed. Bruch and Saint-Saȅns were giants of Romanticism. Glazunov less so—notwithstanding his commendable attachment to alcohol, he was pallid and formalistic by comparison—but some of his output does bear an airing still, including The Seasons, from which the Orchestra excerpted Autumn. The youngsters launched into this with an intensity that was deliciously disconcerting. For the entirety of the rest of the programme, no matter the mood of the moment or the volume it required, that intensity remained undiminished. Music Director Mark Carter, a trumpeter from the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, conducted with precision and passion. Though not quite in the ‘youth’ category, he exuded the same energy as his younger charges.

“It was especially gratifying to note that at the end of the Bruch Violin Concerto, much of the cheering and stomping for soloist Asaki Watanabe came from the Orchestra itself. The players knew, as did we in the audience, that they had just been treated to (and had brilliantly backed up) a sublime rendering of a sublime masterpiece. Subtlety, power, agility, expressiveness, intelligence—she had them all. Asaki is a Japanese exchange student from Onslow College. I hope we can keep her!

“The so-called Organ Symphony by Saint-Saȅns—about whom my favourite anecdote is of him, paunchy and middle-aged, dancing ballet for a lark with a trimmer, younger Tchaikovsky on the stage of an empty theatre in Moscow, the only audience being Nicholas Rubinstein at the piano—calls for more players than this Orchestra mustered, but it didn’t matter a hoot. Volume was never an issue, balance only marginally so. The thing was a riot, albeit a highly disciplined one. Controlled, magnificent pandemonium! Sometimes the horns blared sharp. This is not a gripe—it was sinfully exciting, and I hope they keep doing it!

“This enchanted, gobsmacked audience member fervently wishes for all these youngsters every ounce of the success they so clearly deserve.

“PS—Best news of all: the programme will be repeated this Saturday, October 12, at St James Church, Lower Hutt, at 3.30 pm. I am reliably informed the organ in this church is especially fantastic!”


Middle C reviews the WYO Dazzle! concert.

WYO Concerto Competition

The winner of the WYO Concerto Competition for 2019 was Asaki Watanabe, Concertmaster of Wellington Youth Sinfonietta.

Asaki’s prize was to play the Bruch violin concerto at the last WYO concert of the year. There were two performances, on 6 and 12 October.

Warm congratulations to all the second-round contestants. The standard in 2019 was very high, and we heard some great performances. The panel of judges was Mark Carter (Chair), Vesa-Matti Leppanen, and Hamish McKeich.

You can read more about Asaki on the Wellington Youth Sinfonietta Facebook page.

WYO’s “Dazzle!” Concert

WYO’s Dazzle! concert at St. Andrews on The Terrace on 28 July attracted an outstanding review from Lindis Taylor on Middle C.  He wrote:

‘The Wellington Youth Orchestra is the only full-size symphony orchestra for young players in Wellington. The ages of the members range from 25 to 13. They all have to go through a rigorous audition to join. The orchestra has an important place in the Wellington musical scene, not only for the varied and interesting programmes it offers, but because it is a stepping stone for young people who aspire to be professional musicians. A number of its alumni now study overseas or are members of professional orchestras. These include Gemma New, who is now carving out a successful career as a conductor in Canada and the US. In an interview she talked about the sheer pleasure of being part of an orchestra and its sound produced through the cooperation of a large team. This pleasure radiated from more than 60 young musicians who participated in this concert. The programme was designed for orchestral training as much as for its musical interest.

‘The concert opened with a Fanfare to precede Dukas’ ballet La Péri. Dukas is now mainly remembered for his Sorcerer’s Apprentice, but in his time he was a greatly respected teacher and composer. He was extremely critical of his own music and destroyed most of his works, which almost included La Péri. The ballet is now largely forgotten, but its magnificent fanfare which was originally used as the opener for the ballet is still enjoyed. It was played by the full brass section. Getting an ensemble of brass players to play with the subtlety and clarity that is demanded in an orchestra is a challenge to which these players responded ably. It was a grand piece that made the various brass instrumentalists listen to each other and make their sounds blend.

‘Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings was the string section’s opportunity to shine. The gorgeous rich string sound reverberated in the friendly acoustics of the church. The title and the structure of this work paid homage to Mozart and 18th century divertimento music, but Tchaikovsky renders these in his own Russian late 19th century idiom. The work is in the traditional four movements, ‘ I Pezzo in forma di Sonatina’, ‘Waltzer’, ‘Élégie’, and ‘Finale’. The first movement is a beautiful rich chorale scored for the whole orchestra with the cellos playing lots of fast notes underneath a slower moving passage in the upper strings. The cellos came through with an opulent sound, while the upper strings played the melody with a rich silky tone. The second movement, the Waltz, takes the place of the 18th century minuet. It is the best known part of the work, often played on its own. The third movement is lyrical, elegiac, with a hint of Tchaikovsky’s other worldly fairy tale like music. The final movement goes from a subdued opening based on a Russian theme to a vibrant section of Russian dance sequence. The orchestra played with clear precision and confidence, undaunted by the difficult filigree passages of this substantial symphonic work.

‘The brass and the strings having had their turn to shine, it was the turn of the winds and percussion to display their skills in Kurt Weill’s Little Threepenny Music. The cultural gulf between the Berlin of the 1920s and Wellington of 2019 is huge, but the group of eight woodwind, four brass, piano, banjo and guitar, and percussion managed to capture the cynical, decadent feel of the popular themes from the Threepenny Opera, all tinged with parody. It is a difficult work with all the players exposed in solo parts. Credit to the whole team for tackling this seemingly light but technically difficult piece. It is very enjoyable music.

‘The whole orchestra came together for the final work, Enescu’s Rhapsody No. 1. This is an early work, based on popular dance tunes and songs of the time. It uses Romanian dance rhythms that get faster and faster until they get to a quite dizzying speed. It is ebullient, and outgoing, with none of the barbaric quality of the music of his contemporary, Bartók, who also explored the music of Romania. A clarinet, introduces the theme song that is gradually taken up by the whole orchestra. It is exuberant music and the large orchestra in full flight playing these wild gypsy rhythms was a joy to behold.

‘For an encore the orchestra played Khachaturian’s Sabre Dance from his ballet Gayane. It is a rumbustious, energetic piece, very appropriate for this concert by young musicians to end on.

‘Donald Armstrong is in appearance modest, self-effacing, but as Associate Concert Master of the NZSO, and vastly experienced conductor of various ensembles, he knew how to get the best from his players. He allowed them to play with confidence, gave them space, air, and freedom to express themselves. He let them play with a bold sound, yet still playing with discipline.

‘The Wellington Youth Orchestra is a great asset to the city. Such a concert augurs well for the city’s musical future.’

WYO’s final concert for 2018

WYO’s final concert for 2018 attracted an outstanding review from Lindis Taylor on Middle C.  He wrote:

‘The Egmont Overture is a fine piece for a youth orchestra: I can attest from personal experience, having played it in the predecessor of the Wellington Youth Orchestra, back in the 1950s. I have never grown tired of the dramatic character of the work that blooms into a triumphant Coda at the end. And I hope current orchestra members still derive the same emotional delight from it.

‘Here, conductor Mark Carter transmitted a strong sense of its heroism as well as its deeper humanity. Balance between strings and woodwinds was excellent, and the violin sections in particular sounded like thoroughly rehearsed professionals.

‘I don’t think I’ve heard Copland’s Appalachian Spring played by amateurs before and was delighted to realise how well is suits young players. There’s a lot that’s not too difficult technically, but a lot, on the other hand, that demands finesse and can reveal weaknesses in intonation and control of articulation and dynamics. The leisurely opening music is dominated by strings, flutes and soon clarinets, admirably finding the right open-air, springtime feeling…

‘The quiet opening exposed the players, rather to their benefit, and they showed reassuring pleasure in their charmingly animated playing. Later came a fine, attenuated trumpet on top of more general brass, and further opportunities to admire fairly important bassoons as well as the solo opportunities for trombones (the latter were all Youth Orchestra players – though several other sections, including the strings, were strengthened by a few guest players).

‘Then came the Mozart Andante, written as an alternative slow movement for one of his flute concertos. It proved semi-familiar to me and was well worth hearing. It evolved, slowish and attractive, the solo part beautifully played by flutist Samantha McSweeney who is in her second year at Victoria University school of music.

‘The concert ended with the Nutcracker Suite; at least, most of the dances from the Suite. Here, there were charming episodes from flutes and other winds, including rather impressive horns (admittedly including a couple of guest players) excellent harp contributions and throughout, seamless, well integrated strings.

‘…Certainly, the polish and confidence, what seemed a real balletic flair, audible in Nutcracker, and elsewhere, was singularly impressive and evidence of both the overall level of musicianship and the result of first class direction by conductor Mark Carter.’

Admirable concert of well-chosen music from Wellington Youth Orchestra under Mark Carter

Cantata Memoria

On 23 October 2017, WYO played in a memorable concert called Cantata Memoria: for the Children of Aberfan, in the Michael Fowler Centre. The centrepiece of the concert was Cantata Memoria by the Welsh composer Karl Jenkins, scored for two choirs (adults and children) and a large orchestra, plus soprano and baritone soloists, all under the baton of US conductor Jonathan Griffith.  The first half was given over to Schubert Symphony No 8 (‘The Unfinished‘), under Simon Brew, who also prepared the orchestra for the Karl Jenkins works.

Reviewer Lindis Taylor wrote in Middle C:

‘The symphony was conducted by the orchestra’s permanent conductor Simon Brew who had also rehearsed the Aberfan oratorio and the piece from The Armed Man.  It was a fine performance of the Schubert, one that could well have come from a totally professional orchestra, such was the remarkable elegance and pathos of the conception. And there was strikingly beautiful playing by violins, then cellos, horns, choruses of majestic trombones and each woodwind section in turn. The contrast in spirit between the sombre opening and the more sanguine Andante con moto second movement, marked a performance of real sophistication.’

‘…The concert attracted a good-sized audience, probably among the biggest I can recall for a WYO concert, and a standing ovation greeted the highly impressive performances by adult and children’s choirs, the Wellington Youth Orchestra, special involvement by singers Jenny Wollerman and James Clayton and by instrumentalists Ingrid Bauer, Monique Lapins, Buzz Newton and Lavinnia Rae; plus the thorough preparation and leadership by Simon Brew and Jonathan Griffith.’

Dominion Post reviewer John Button was also impressed by WYO’s playing, especially in the Schubert: ‘…they remain a most accomplished band, here very well conducted by Simon Brew.

Read what they said about WYO’s concert on 11 October 2016, under the baton of Simon Brew:

‘From the first solo ‘cello note of the Wellington Youth Orchestra’s performance of the “William Tell” Overture, I was spellbound – I’d never heard that opening ascending phrase speak more eloquently and poetically. …The orchestra under conductor Simon Brew then went on to give a splendid rendition of what followed – focused, stinging raindrops at the beginning of the storm, which featured fiery brass and tumultuous timpani (sounding at the climax more like the Wagner of “Die Wälkure” than Rossini!), beautiful cor anglais and flute solos throughout the pastoral sequence, and scalp-prickling calls from the brass at the beginning of the final march.

‘…For a capable soloist the Bruch concerto is a gift, affording ample opportunities for both virtuoso display and poetic expression; and Shweta Iyer brought plenty of youthful exuberance and darkly passionate feeling to the first movement’s more vigorous passages, while by contrast finding plenty of lyrical sweetness in the central adagio’s singing melodies. One or two early intonation divergencies apart, Iyer’s playing felt and sounded secure and totally involved, every note invested with warmth and feeling.

‘…Playing as if their lives depended on the outcome, orchestra and soloist dug into into the finale’s opening measures, the energetic principal theme ringing out resplendently from both Shweta Iyer’s violin and the orchestral strings. Then came the second, more fully-throated theme – was there ever another concerto so endowed with romantic melody as this one? – first the orchestra, then the soloist gave this tune all the “juice” one could want, contrasting with the trenchant figurations of the “working-out” which followed, and the winding-up of energies for the coda’s exciting accelerando, brought off with great flair by all concerned. Very great credit to Shweta Iyer, for some brilliant, adventurous and heartfelt playing of one of the ‘great” concertos.’

– Peter Mechen, Middle C.

The whole review is here:

Read what they said about WYO’s first concert for 2016, under the baton of Andrew Joyce:

‘A joy, right from the beginning, this concert, which featured bright-eyed and bushy-tailed orchestral playing from a talented ensemble of young musicians, squaring up to a couple of well-known classics and an engaging cello-and-orchestra concert rarity.

‘Under Andrew Joyce’s on-the-spot direction, the music in every instance took off, the Beethoven with bright-eyed and chirpy accents, the Tchaikovsky piece with bold, impassioned wing-beats, and the Elgar with gentle, early-morning ruminations developing into gestures with warmth and strength. In the case of each piece the music’s character was quickly established and consistently maintained, the players responding to their conductor’s clearly articulated beat and guidance regarding dynamics, accents and timing.

‘I thought the Beethoven Symphony was an inspired choice for these players, a work by a young composer eager to make his mark upon the world, and ready to challenge conventions and established rules right at the outset. Here we got strong, almost confrontational chording from the winds at the beginning – a kind of “are you listening?” statement, designed to break into idle concert chit-chat and grab people’s attention. I liked the big-bonedness of that opening, making the following allegro all the more disarming with its light touch and cheeky aspect, and contrasting with the insouciance of the winds’ delivery of the “second subject” (what dry old terms these are!). …Overall, I thought it a most satisfying performance.

‘Tchaikovsky’s soulful, long-breathed world of heartfelt expression seemed a long way from Beethoven’s, at the outset of the second work on the programme, the Pezzo Capriccioso for ‘cello and orchestra. The passionately-sounded ‘cello line was addressed with great feeling and beautifully-modulated tones from soloist Matthias Balzat, whose performance overall was, to put it mildly, both brilliant and commanding. Throughout the piece’s lively middle section, the soloist’s bow danced upon the strings and the left hand literally flew over the instrument’s fingerboard, striking the notes rapidly and truly, and making a spectacular impression.

– Peter Mechen, Middle C

The whole review is here:


Read what they said about WYO’s concert on 12 August 2012 in the Wellington Town Hall with Wellington Youth Choir:

‘THIS was the best I have heard from the Wellington Youth Orchestra in over ten years. Director Hamish McKeich has managed to get from the strings a real sweep, depth and intensity not apparent under previous directors. So Russian flavour and bite was there in abundance in Rachmaninoff’s Symphony No. 3. His reading was cogent and coherent, with good winds, brass, percussion and lovely harp from Ingrid Bauer.

‘…The collaboration with the Wellington Youth Choir (directors Katie Macfarlane and Isaac Stone) was a fruitful one with Mozart’s Requiem an ideal choice. Here they used an alternative completion by Richard Maunder from 1986, rather than the usual Süssmayr.

‘This was my third Requiem this year, but this one stood out for the freshness and vitality of the choir, well balanced by McKeich to match the orchestra. The choir … were vibrant and exciting. … The orchestra had the Mozart classical style in place with some elegant phrasing. It was an excellent concert…’ Garth Wilshere, Capital Times

WYO Concert 3

Sunday 21 October 2012, Wellington Town Hall:

‘LOUIS van der Mespel … performed …Thomas Goss’s Double Bass Concerto. It is an attractive melodically interesting work that showcases the range and virtues of the instrument, allowing the sonorities and harmonics to shine through.

‘The Brahms Symphony No. 4, was an astonishingly good performance, ideally managed by McKeich, and certainly one of the best I have ever heard by a youth orchestra, mature, knowing playing, from the rich sweeping strings through to piquant winds and gleaming brass.’  Garth Wilshere, Capital Times

Read the full review here:

Capital Times Review WYO Oct Concert

Here is the review in Middle C:

Middle C » Music-making with virtuosity, beauty and energy at Wellington Youth Orchestra’s last 2012 outing


WYS concert reviews

XXth Anniversary Concert, 11 November 2012

‘THIS  junior version of the Wellington Youth Orchestra provides an important stage for aspiring orchestral musicians, and their performances, heard in the right spirit, were here admirable.’  Lindis Taylor, Middle C

Read the full review here:

‘BLYTHE  Press has a warm, engaging, sweet tone exhibiting exquisite musicality, and his Beethoven Violin Concerto was affecting, and sensitively and beautifully done. … a lovely, optimistic performance.

‘Hunt’s intriguing commission “Cirrus” had an appropriate wispy, swirly sound to suit the title. With a quirky retro feel, and lovely jazzy episodes and slurs on trumpet, an unusual piano line and an exotic oriental quality, almost film-score like, all playing out over an insistent minimalist ground. This was an accomplished composition.

‘ Assistant conductor, Vincent Hardaker conducted excerpts from Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake”. This was a creditable, vibrant performance.’ Garth Wilshere, Capital Times

Read the full review here:

Capital Times Review WYS Concert Nov 2012