MUSIC: La relève

Here’s streaming video of the National Youth Orchestra of Canada, playing Bernstein’s Symphonic Dances from West Side Story, a new composition by a Canadian composer, and Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring on Sunday in McGill’s very high-tech CIRMMT music room (pronounced “Kermit” and built with a $6.5 million CFI grant).

The National Youth Orchestra of Canada’s annual summer tour wraps up this Thursday in Kitchener and Friday in Toronto. The Toronto program matches the one I heard when I caught the NYOC last week at the National Arts Centre. It was the first time I’d heard an edition of the orchestra in concert; it won’t be the last.

This is a training orchestra for musicians 14 to 28; for most it’s their most important professional-level finishing gig between school and the workplace. Apparently about one-third of Canadian orchestral musicians played in the NYOC at the start of their careers.

For whatever reason, I went to the NAC concert expecting a kind of sullen competence from young musicians who’d been drilled in their parts but weren’t yet at a level to show any spark or insight in their playing. I couldn’t have been more wrong. This was one of the best concerts I’ve heard all year, with repertoire that let the musicians stretch — Rob Teehan’s fresh, tuneful Dreams of Flying; Haydn’s Symphony No. 96; Mahler’s sprawling, chilling Symphony No. 6 — and, in Alain Trudel, a conductor who is unabashedly his musicians’ friend and champion. (He’s about my age. When I met him, 20 years ago, he was known as a formidable trombone soloist; now his online bio doesn’t even mention the instrument.)

The Haydn symphony was light, funny and precise. The third movement is a kind of rondo built around a solo oboe part that Edmonton’s Lindsay Roberts carried off with panache. The Mahler is obviously an endurance marathon, but the NYOC brought out its logic and the delicacy that might otherwise have been buried under the fireworks. Chad Reimer, from Steinbach, Manitoba, anchored the brass section with uncommonly smooth and confident tuba playing.

When it was over Trudel led the orchestra in two pieces they sang, every one of them, in four- (or five?) part harmony, one in French — Orlande de Lassus’ Mon Coeur se recommande à vous — and one in English. It was utterly charming, and I bet having to learn to be a choir helped make these folks a better orchestra.

I’ll be back to see the NYOC when they come through town next year. I can heartily recommend the band to readers in Kitchener-Waterloo and Toronto. And when the NAC Orchestra needs to shop for a new artistic director in a few years, it could hardly do better than to take a good hard look at Alain Trudel.

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