THE REVIEWS ARE IN AND THE CRITICS AGREE:
THE BOSTON PHILHARMONIC YOUTH ORCHESTRA PERFORMANCE AT SYMPHONY HALL ON NOVEMBER 26 WAS A SMASHING SUCCESS!
critics throughout boston agree; it was a smashing success!
concert review: bpyo at symphony hall
Their name is somewhat misleading. Yes, the Boston Philharmonic Youth Orchestra (BPYO) is made up of players aged, roughly, 12 to 21. And, yes, their sound is more consistently fresh and energetic than what you usually hear from a long-standing professional ensemble.
Outside of those two peculiarities, though, there’s nothing youthful (in the derogatory sense, anyway) about the BPYO. Quite the opposite, really. They’re as responsive, confident, technically skilled, and emotionally expressive an orchestra as they come. The BPYO’s Sunday afternoon concert at Symphony Hall, led by founder and conductor Benjamin Zander, reinforced those latter qualities while also reminding that not all professional-level orchestras are manned by, well, professionals.
What other conclusion might one have come to after hearing their stirring, visceral reading of Wagner’s Overture to Tannhäuser? Warm and noble in the famous Pilgrims’ Hymn, wild and sensuous in the Venusberg music, theirs was a Tannhäuser worthy of Boulez at Bayreuth, not only impeccably in tune but played with such a strong ear for detail that all its busy inner workings could be heard, from the noodling viola melody that accompanies the opening of the Hymn to the reeling clarinet licks in the bacchanal. It offered plenty of atmosphere, too, Zander drawing out Wagner’s delicate scoring for violins (for example) to strong effect.
george li lights up tchaikovsky with bpyo
Two summers ago, all Boston eyes were on a hometown boy who took the stage for the International Tchaikovsky Competition. At 19, George Li was already established in Boston circles as a fine solo pianist. But when he performed Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 as part of the competition, listeners who were tuned in to the livestream witnessed playing of spectacular technique and power. The judges seemed to agree, awarding him the silver medal in a tie with Russian-Lithuanian pianist Lukas Geniušas.
Li’s star has been ascending since then, and his blossoming career has lately seen him appear as soloist with the Los Angeles Philharmonic and San Francisco Symphony, among other ensembles.
But the now 22-year-old musician keeps ties close to home. Sunday afternoon at Symphony Hall he received a warm hometown welcome when he performed the same Tchaikovsky concerto with the Boston Philharmonic Youth Orchestra, led by Benjamin Zander.
Like many child prodigies who have grown into mature artists, Li possesses a mesmerizing technique. The blazing octave runs that pepper the final movement of the work had equal parts precision and weight.
GETTING ROMANTIC WITH THE BPYO
Romance floated in the air for the Boston Philharmonic Youth Orchestra’s annual Thanksgiving weekend concert Sunday at Symphony Hall. It began with the Overture to Wagner’s Tannhäuser and concluded with conductor Benjamin Zander’s own suite of music from Prokofiev’s ballet Romeo and Juliet. Sandwiched in between, Boston native and Lexington resident George Li soloed in Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1. One could, now and then, quibble about matters of interpretation, but there could be few reservations about the playing of the huge orchestra.
The Overture to Tannhäuser is a longish — some 15 minutes — introduction that embodies the 13th-century title hero’s conflict between sex and salvation. On the one hand, there’s the company of Tannhäuser’s fellow minnesingers and his love for Princess Elisabeth. On the other, consider the orgiastic delights of the Venusberg, to which he’s abandoned himself for a time. Condemned by the minnesingers after he broke into a paean to sex during a singing contest, Tannhäuser journeys to Rome; the pope won’t forgive him, but he’s saved through the intercession of the dead Elisabeth in Heaven.