Greater Victoria Youth Orchestra Turns Twenty
Greater Victoria Youth Orchestra
János Sándor, conductor
Yariv Aloni, conductor
University Centre Auditorium
April 22, 2006
By Deryk Barker
"The young do not know enough to be prudent, and therefore they attempt the impossible, and achieve it,
generation after generation." Although Pearl S. Buck could not have been writing about the Greater
Victoria Youth Orchestra - she died in 1973 - she might just have well have been, so accurate is the
Perhaps even more remarkably, the GVYO actually do seem (paradoxical though that may sound) to improve every
year. Saturday night's triumphant Twentieth Anniversary Gala Programme was a memorable, enjoyable and -
here's the rub! - musically far from negligible evening.
What's more, except for a few, almost imperceptible moments, it was all superbly played. Close your eyes
and you could easily forget that it was not an orchestra of full-time professionals you were hearing.
The evening opened with Beethoven's overture to Egmont. Perhaps the very first chord was slightly
imbalanced and hesitant, but nothing which followed was. János Sándor directed a performance
which flowed smoothly from the weighty introduction into the main allegro, in which he ratcheted up the
tension by means of a long, tightly-controlled crescendo. The final coda was exuberant and thrilling.
Yariv Aloni stepped up to the podium to direct Grieg's Norwegian Dances, a reading of such affectionate
vitality as to make at least this listener wonder why we don't hear these pieces as often as, say,
Brahms's Hungarian or Dvoràk's Slavonic Dances. (True, there are only four of the Grieg, but
how often do you hear the entire Brahms or Dvoràk set at once?)
String tone throughout was excellent, there were some wonderful wind solos and the brass, although the
trombones were arguably a mite overenthusiastic in the first dance, tastefully forceful.
Certainly this was the case in three of the four dances. About number two I am unable to be objective or
analytical, because this music (the slower outer sections of it, anyway) was used by the BBC as the theme
music to something-or-other during my childhood. It only takes a few notes to transport me elsewhere.
Bartók's Hungarian Peasant Dances are not his best-known music, but they certainly should be
better-known than they are. From the marvellously vibrant strings of the opening to the exciting close, they
featured, as their title might suggest, some agreeably rustic moments and some truly thrilling ones; they
also contain some moments of great delicacy and all of these were captured in a performance which, I am sure,
could scarcely have been more authentic - Sándor has this music in his blood.
After the interval came the world premiere of Christopher Butterfield's specially-commissioned Triple
Expansion. The title, we were informed in Butterfield's lucid programme note, refers to the working of a
marine steam engine, employing three successive cylinders to extract the maximum amount of energy from the
For those who had not bothered to read the note - or attend Butterfield's pre-concert talk - the music
helpfully included some fairly complex descriptions of the engine's working delivered in chorus by those
musicians not actually playing at the time.
The orchestra itself was divided into eleven sections: three in the balcony behind the stage, one at either
side of the stage, four ranged across the stage, a large percussion group (including two sets of timpani) in
the rear centre of the stage and an "ad hoc" group (which included Aloni on viola) clustered around
the conductor at the front. They did, however, all play to the same beat - no post-Stockhausen polyrhythms
Butterfield has produced an interesting and attractive work - a number of people remarked to me how much they
had enjoyed it ("more than I expected to" was not an uncommon refrain) - although I will confess
that its tripartite nature largely escaped me.
There was, however, more than enough to occupy one's interest aside from detecting the music's
structure. Antiphonal effects were, of course, present and correct, but they were used sparingly (and hence
all the more effectively) and were not Gabrieli-like passages for entire groups, but frequently single notes
or simply phrases.
When a reviewer says that he or she would like to hear a new work again I suspect it is often little more
than a polite way of expressing a lack of comprehension of the music. While not claiming an intimate
understanding of Butterfield's piece, I'd certainly like to hear it again (and look forward to the
CBC's broadcast) because for much of the piece, there was simply so much going on that it was impossible
to take it all in.
The composer seemed delighted with the performance which, to the uninitiated, sounded confidant and very well
played. A fitting tribute to the orchestra's first two decades.
The final work on the programme was an exuberant (and then some) performance of the second suite from Manuel
de Falla's The Three-cornered Hat. All three dances featured tight rhythms, excellent dynamics and de
Falla's colourful orchestration.
The sight and sound of the evening was surely the raucous climax of the final dance - timpani and not one,
not two but five percussion, including (naturally!) castanets - when Sándor stood triumphantly, arms
akimbo, baton scarcely moving, confidently allowing his orchestra to play their hearts out. As a
well-deserved encore, the close of the final dance could hardly have been bettered.
And keenly anticipate another two decades of magnificent music-making.