It’s no disrespect to our professional orchestras to say it makes a difference when everyone on stage for a concert thinks it’s a really big deal. That’s what you get every year with the National Youth Orchestra Prom.

This year it opened with superhero music: the London premiere of Icarus, by Lera Auerbach. Purposeful, dark and intense, and ultimately rather two-dimensional, it often wouldn’t seem out of place in a Marvel movie. Frenzied, close-circling strings in the first movement give way to a solemn dance in the second, with high solo strings above grumbling brass, all dying away into one pure tone as a percussionist rubs the rim of a wine glass. The NYO players, conducted by Mark Wigglesworth, threw themselves at it.





Mark Wigglesworth with the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain.



‘He seemed to need to do so little’ … Mark Wigglesworth with the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain. Photograph: Chris Christodoulou/BBC

They did the same for Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto, and there were some memorable moments: the glow of the first big string tune; the burst of energy as the finale erupted on to the scene. Soloist Nicola Benedetti had been working with the orchestra during their week-long course and the rapport showed. For herself, Benedetti shaped a secure and expansive performance, giving a real kick to the dance sections of the finale. Her encore, from the Fiddle Dance Suite written for her by Wynton Marsalis, kept on swinging as she walked slowly offstage.

Speaking before her encore, Benedetti had paid tribute to the orchestra, making the principal wind players blush. They deserved it: there were parts of Prokofiev’s ballet music for Romeo and Juliet – given in Wigglesworth’s own selection – that I haven’t heard played better. Wigglesworth didn’t wallow in the slow music, nor did he have to whip his players along in the fight scenes; the fact that he seemed to need to do so little spoke of meticulous rehearsal.

Their encore was Bernstein’s Mambo from West Side Story – the calling card of another Proms favourite youth ensemble, the Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra. Slickly played with a British rather than a Latin style of abandon, it had a bit of freestyling nonetheless. At the end, even the cellists were on their feet. Why should the Bolívars have all the fun?

The Proms continue until 14 September.


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