Alluding to the riot that greeted the first performance of The Rite of Spring in 1913, the title of the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain’s latest concert with Carlos Miguel Prieto was Open Up: Running Riot!, and Stravinsky’s groundbreaking ballet was the closing work of a programme that dealt with dismantling cultural divisions and pushing at the boundaries of tradition.
Its companion pieces were both relatively recent. Gabriela Ortiz’s Téenek – Invenciones de Territorio (2017) takes its name from the language spoken in the Huasteca region of northern Mexico. Ortiz self-consciously celebrates ideas of diversity and difference within a global unity, while her style, all asymmetric rhythms and angular melodies, takes The Rite of Spring as its point of departure. Ortiz has added a newly written Frontispiece for Téenek, in which the performers arrive on the platform to repetitive woodblock taps, over which they play an exhilarating sequence of bravura riffs, before Prieto finally appears to launch the main body of the work.
The Tabla Concerto, by Sri Lankan-born, Canadian composer Dinuk Wijeratne, meanwhile, is an east-west fusion at once beguiling, deeply serious and joyous. Adhering to formal, and to some extent harmonic convention, Wijeratne creates an entirely original soundscape in which the tabla engages with music that gazes alternately at western baroque and Indian folk, before reaching a finale in which the soloist plays complex variations over slow-moving chordal progressions. Sandeep Das, looking natty in crimson silk and clearly having the time of his life with it, played with staggering virtuosity. The NYOGB sounded wonderful here too, with a gorgeous sheen on the strings and beautifully poised woodwind and brass solos.
The concert was dedicated to young people in Ukraine, and an arrangement of a Ukrainian folk song, sorrowful, timeless and deeply touching, was played by a chamber ensemble and hummed by the rest of the orchestra before The Rite of Spring itself. Prieto conducted it like one possessed, with extraordinary ferocity and drive. Just occasionally, detail slipped in the excitement of it all, but with more than 160 players on the platform, the sheer sonic weight was simply pulverising.