Youngsters easily upstage Year of Young People
IN many ways Scotland’s Year of Young People has not been quite the celebration of faith in the future generation one might have hoped. There is the fact that older voters had already cheerfully sold them down the river regarding membership of, and freedom of access to, the European Union, and although Scotland was notably less enthusiastic about that than elsewhere in the UK, it is not entirely blameless.
Then, as Neil Cooper reminded us recently, there was the proposed withdrawal of regular funding for theatre work for young people at the start of the year, about which Creative Scotland had to beat a swift retreat. That debacle apart, however, the arts has been the main vehicle through which the Year of Young People has been celebrated, with its own distinct strand at the Edinburgh Festival and events in the cultural programme associated with the European Championships in Glasgow. Neither of these were without their problems, particularly regarding the enthusiasm with which they were sold to the rest of the population, but set alongside what was happening in Scottish education, for example, they at least sent out a positive message.
If we were to mark the Year of Young People report card now, who would emerge top of the class? In the individual category, oboe player Lewis Sinclair warrants a special mention. Ten years on from the beginning of Sistema Scotland’s Big Noise project in Raploch, Stirling, he became the first of the students from there to be offered a place to study music at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. He also took the first solo spot in the performance by an ensemble of very capable senior students from Big Noise at the BBC SSO’s Proms in the Park concert in Glasgow Green a month ago.
The obvious contender for the ensemble award is the National Youth Choir of Scotland (NYCoS). In Edinburgh, NYCoS effortlessly transcended the “youth strand” ghetto, being regularly involved in the festival with professional orchestras. It had its own Sunday superb afternoon recital in the Usher Hall, but the chorus had also featured in the opening concert performance of Haydn’s Creation with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra and conductor Edward Gardner, and the NYCoS Girls Choir also joined the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra and Daniel Harding for the closing concert of Mahler’s Symphony of a Thousand and performed with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra and Sir Andrew Davies in Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel, another highlight of the year’s programme.
The list of internationally renowned conductors who have been impressed by Scotland’s National Youth Choir is now a lengthy one, and one of the biggest NYCoS fans is the notoriously hard-to-please Sir John Eliot Gardiner, founder of the Monteverdi Choir whose recordings and performances set standards.
A week on Monday he will be championing NYCoS once again, as the choir makes its debut at New York’s Carnegie Hall. The hall’s season began this week with concerts by the San Francisco Philharmonic and Michael Tilson Thomas and it continues next weekend with the Orchestre Revolutionnaire et Romantique under the baton of Gardiner and the music of Hector Berlioz. NYCoS is the choir for the performance of his rarely heard Lelio, which it sang for the same conductor in Edinburgh and at the Berlioz festival in France in 2015. In May next year the choir will be tackling the work yet again, in a concert at La Philharmonie in Paris with conductor Francois-Xavier Roth and his orchestra Les Siecles.
As a Carnegie Hall engagement tells anyone with any interest in music, NYCoS is keeping the very finest of international company, which is quite remarkable for a young choir that renews itself on an annual basis. As international ambassadors for Scotland, they are surely our Year of Young People champs.