Yesterday afternoon, Barbara and I attended a beautiful concert given by the Boston Philharmonic Youth Orchestra at Symphony Hall. Picture yourself there. Close your eyes and just listen. You forget that this was a youth orchestra; you think that the performers must already be professionals! Then you open your eyes and see who’s playing. That’s how good it was.
I’m no expert on music, but all aspects of the performance felt right on target: intonation, timing, coordination, passion, and nearly flawless technique. These characteristics showed in both of the pieces on the program (and the unannounced encore). First came Robert Schumann’s piano concerto, which I probably hadn’t heard for about three decades. I think I used to listen to a vinyl LP with the Schumann on one side and something by Berlioz on the other (Concerto for Orchestra? Symphonie Fantastique? too long ago to remember). The orchestra was wonderful; George Li, the pianist, was truly amazing, and was called back by the audience for an encore. Unfortunately Li didn’t announce what it was. I assume it was one of Schumann’s many short piano pieces, although for all I know it could have been Brahms or even Schubert. Probably one of my students will tell me.
Speaking of my students…what brought me to this concert was that three of my students were performing in it! That’s a surprisingly large number to come from one small high school that is not particularly focused on music. (We have a great music program, but in no way is it our emphasis.) Nate Ko, Lilia Chang, and Leland Ko all deserve congratulations for their dedication and their achievement.
After the intermission came Gustav Mahler’s lengthy and impressive Symphony #2. This work seemed to me to be astonishingly ambitious for a group of teenagers (actually, they range from 12 to 21), but they carried it off without a hitch. I always love Mahler, even though he can feel overwhelming in large doses. And Mahler always does come in large doses — 90 minutes in this case. And it’s not just time, as this symphony requires not only a large orchestra but also a large chorus (the Harvard University Choirs in this case) and two professional vocal soloists, a soprano and a mezzo. The performance left the audience wowed and exhausted. And if it did that to the audience, I can only imagine the effect on the performers. I sometimes listen to this symphony of my iPhone, but that’s clearly not the right vehicle for it.
Finally, a brief remark on the audience. Clearly too many of them had never been to a classical music concert before. Some people applauded between movements, some walked in and out, some brought babies or very young children, and it seemed that somebody even brought a dog. Oh well — if we want to broaden the audience for good music, I guess that’s the price we have to pay.