Last week I was full of the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela, and so were all the arts pages of the media. But on this St George's Day here is something English to celebrate - the London Schools Symphony Orchestra that played at the Barbican Centre last night. (Our daughter was playing 2nd oboe - so I have a particular interest.)
The LSSO is still one of the best kept secrets in English musical life. Easily as good as the National Youth Orchestra it gets very little publicity, even in London. With only 2 weeks rehearsal - most of that during the school holidays - the LSSO competes with the best orchestras. Last night they were directed by the Hungarian conductor and pianist Tamas Vasary who directed them from the keyboard in Chopin's Second Piano Concerto. He paid the orchestra the compliment of being one of the best he had played with in this concerto. Admittedly, the orchestra only acts as a 'backing track' for much of the concerto, but they followed impeccably.
In the other two works the orchestra was able to shine: Dvorak's Scherzo Capriccioso and Brahms' Symphony No. 2 (one of my favourites). Both are difficult works which would tax a professional orchestra, but the LSSO played with commitment and maturity. I was struck, as I have been when hearing them before, on the sense of ensemble: each player seemed to be aware of what the others were doing, balancing their sound as necessary. Unlike many young amateur orchestras they watched the conductor and avoided rushing in the fast passages, keeping their cool when the music was fiery.
Yes, there were a few rough corners, but this didn't spoil the enjoyment of live music-making which these 90 or so young people were so obviously committed to.
An English characterestic is not to blow your own trumpet, but on St George's Day I want to blow the trumpet for the London Schools Symphony Orchestra.