“I realized that my job is to awaken possibility in others.”

Here, the Sound of Triumph Takes on a Different Tone

Steve Smith - The New York Times
CD Reviews — December 10, 2013

There’s a good chance that a vast majority of musicians who have come up through this country’s student orchestras and concert bands have stormed through the inexorable finale of Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 5. Far fewer musicians of any age will have played the famous conclusion in the manner that the conductor Benjamin Zander molded it during a concert by the Boston Philharmonic Youth Orchestra at Carnegie Hall on Monday evening.

Mr. Zander, also an admired pedagogue and motivational speaker, is renowned for coaxing professional-quality work from amateurs and for wringing fresh insights from even the most familiar works. Both characteristics surfaced during the New York debut of this ensemble, established last year as an offshoot of Mr. Zander’s admired Boston Philharmonic Orchestra. The members of the youth orchestra, ages 12 to 21, play with a maturity and cohesion well beyond their years, a point made in numerous audio and video clips on the ensemble’s web page.

In the Shostakovich, especially the finale, Mr. Zander is a stickler for the composer’s tempo markings and note values as indicative of the expressive intent. The movement starts at 88 to the eighth note, mounts to a feverish 184, then retreats back to 92 — at which point notes double in length. Thus, the ostensibly triumphal coda, Mr. Zander explained before the performance, is meant to sound beaten down and labored: points missed outright even in benchmark interpretations.

Here, those qualities were enacted convincingly at the close of a brilliantly played, fervently felt account, enriched with silken strings, robust brass and eloquent solos by the principal winds and the concertmaster, Max Tan.

By then, the orchestra’s acumen and poise had been firmly established in a precise, exuberant rendition of Verdi’s overture to “La Forza del Destino” and two coruscating movements from Michael Gandolfi’s “Garden of Cosmic Speculation.” Christopher O’Riley, a former student of Mr. Zander’s, was the stylish soloist in a luscious account of Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G, with haunting work from Nicole Caligiuri on English horn in the Adagio.

Whoops, whistles and flash bulbs at the end attested to an abundance of family and friends in the audience, but the concert was one that any music lover would savor.


Click here to listen to the performance

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