CYSO’s May 20 concert at Orchestra Hall included inspiring performances from more than 230 young musicians, including Symphony Orchestra, as well as Philharmonic Orchestra and members of Jazz Orchestra. With diverse pieces exploring the many meanings of America, the program featured a number of firsts: creating the first known recording of Duke Ellington’s Grand Slam Jam, the Chicago premiere of Dana Wilson’s Hold Fast to Dreams, and, perhaps most excitingly, the first performance by an American youth orchestra of Varèse’s Amériques. The Chicago Tribune‘s John von Rhein wrote that Symphony Orchestra’s performance of the challenging piece “would have done credit to an adult professional ensemble.” Read the full review below:
Youth Symphony Ventures Varese
With no contradictory evidence at hand, one must accept the assertion of the Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestras that the performance by the CYSO Symphony Orchestra Sunday evening at Orchestra Hall of Edgard Varese’s “Ameriques” (1926) was the first by an American youth orchestra. It shared the program with cross-genre works that define musical Americanness in quite different ways.
Scored for a massive orchestra – the percussion battery alone includes 28 instruments, including siren, ratchet and lion’s roar, played by 11 percussionists – “Ameriques” carries the composer’s experiments with organized noise to a level of neo-primitive sonic violence that makes Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring” seem restrained by comparison.
Only a youth orchestra undergirded by strong programs of instrumental pedagogy could have done justice to so difficult and demanding an opus. Music director Allen Tinkham had his 125 young players digging into the pile-driver blocks of sound and eruptive instrumental detail with gusto but also with a clear-headed sense of how to balance the complex layers of sound. The performance would have done credit to an adult professional ensemble.
Samuel Barber’s neoromantic Symphony No. 1 in One Movement provided an ideal foil to Varese’s take-no-prisoners modernism, while Dana Wilson’s brief, jazzy “Hold Fast to Dreams,” played by CYSO’s Philharmonic Orchestra under Terrance Malone Gray, put the audience in a receptive mood for the populist Americana of Leonard Bernstein and Duke Ellington that ended the program .