Saturday, December 14 saw the Nowra School of Arts bustling with patrons eager to hear what the students of the Shoalhaven Youth Orchestra had to offer for their huge end of year celebration concert, and the students did not disappoint.
The crowd's murmurs faded with the house lights as maestro, John Dunstan, lifted his baton to call the orchestra to a readied position.
The first piece performed was the Brandenburg Sinfonia by J.S. Bach which maestro Dunstan described as a piece full of celebration and jubilation.
This was followed by the Shoalhaven Junior Strings, directed by Eryn Deys, who wowed audience with their development of musicality, intonation, ensemble skills and rhythmical precision performing arrangements of Jingle Bells and Oh Come All Ye Faithful.
This was followed by the first soloist from the orchestra, Luke Bowen, who moved the crowd with his performance on the piano of Un Barque sur L' Océan by Maurice Ravel.
Following the rapturous applause and cheering from Luke's performance, Frances Gray performed André Messager's Solo De Concours for clarinet. Young Gray performed with such projection, tonality, and poise that it was difficult not to find yourself swaying in your seat as she moved the audience through the apex of each of the phrases within the score.
This was followed by a display in polyrhythmic and tonal development from students from the Tuning In! program.
This program develops fundamental musical skills in younger students from three years.
This was followed by a heart wrenching solo performance of Jules Massenet's Meditation intermezzo from his opera Thais performed by Albert Au on violin.
At 10-years-old young Albert is one of the groups most promising up and coming musicians and someone to keep an eye on in the coming years.
We were then treated to a horn duet of themes from Schubert's 5th symphony featuring Penny Halloway and her teacher Martin Fortescue.
This then led into one of the feature items for the concert, Shoalhaven Youth Orchestra principal trumpet Matthew Hyam performing the second movement of Lovelock's Trumpet Concerto accompanied by the full orchestra.
Hyam showed exceptional skills as a soloist and ensemble member, guiding the orchestra with relative ease through dynamic and musical variation within the exceptionally technically challenging piece.
Hyam displayed a great aptitude for solo performance and hopes to be able to perform the entire concerto with the orchestra at some stage.
Tuning In! students then performed more works they had prepared over 2019, and the first half of the concert was completed with a stirring performance of Vivaldi's Summer from The Four Seasons, performed by James Paterson (Violin), Albert Au (Violin), Luke Bowen (Viola), Jonathan Walsh (Cello), and Michael Bowen (Double Bass). Jonathan Walsh was congratulated on receiving an award for excellence within the orchestra, presented by Shoalhaven Youth Orchestra patron John Anderson.
This award is presented to one orchestra member each year who has shown exceptional commitment and initiative with the orchestra and music in general.
Patrons then enjoyed tea and biscuits during interval while the orchestra and soloists re-set for the second half of the concert.
The second half of the concert was opened with a duet from sisters Ilona (flute) and Frances (clarinet) Gray performing a Tarantella by Saint-Saens that saw the sisters trying to outdo one another in the Tarantella style with exuberance, liveliness, and accurate speed.
The audience were left in awe of the skill of these two sisters to ebb and flow with one another as they seamlessly moved through faster and faster, and harder and harder passages within the piece.
This was followed by the full orchestra, performing an arrangement of Cantique De Noel by Adolph Charles Adam. This piece saw the crowd moved through huge stretches of tension in its clever almost elongated fugal tonality, at last to be greeted with a resolution returning to the original key before fading.
Listeners felt the orchestra pulsate as the dynamic grew with the expanse of phrases, with an almost audible sigh of relief from all musicians, crowd members, and conductor as the beautiful tonalities fell back into place in the final bars.
This was then followed by another display of ensemble excellence from the Shoalhaven Junior Strings as they demonstrated their keen ability to maintain tricky and ever-changing intonation in performance of Carol of the Bells and the Trepak from Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker.
Michael Bowen then treated audiences to quite the rarity; W.F. Bach's Allegro in G for solo double bass.
It is not often that audiences get to hear the bottom end of the orchestra in a solo format, and scholarship holder Michael Bowen did not hold back on showing audiences just what the double bass can do.
Following Michael was a solo performance of Fauré's Après un rêve from Shoalhaven Youth Orchestra associate principal violinist James Paterson.
James had excelled earlier in an October workshop in Berry with the Australian Haydn Ensemble and had no problem demonstrating his developing mastery of the violin.
Ilona Gray then took to the stage, delighting the audience with the unparalleled beauty of the flute performing Francesco Morlacchi's Il Pastore Svizzero.
Young Gray performs with such precision and musicality it is hard to fault her performance, and she too hopes to be able to perform as a soloist in addition to her position as principal flautist with the Shoalhaven Youth Orchestra. Orchestra members Ilona Gray (flute), Matthew Hyam (Trumpet), Michael Bowen (saxophone), Maya Bongarzoni (horn), and Frances Gray (clarinet) then performed an arrangement by Matthew Hyam of a wind quintet version of Joy to the World.
The members demonstrated how they have developed essential ensemble skills that, as they progress, will begin to move them into the professional music sphere.
As the concert drew to a close, Luke Bowen, winner of the 2017 viola scholarship, who had accompanied almost all other soloists and, performed Henryk Wieniawsky's Legende for solo viola with such intent, musicality, and expression.
One was left in awe of the seemingly unending talent of this young man. Finally, all soloists rejoined the orchestra to perform the second and final movements of Dvorak's 9th Symphony, From the New World.
Despite the mammoth concert behind them, the students summoned all their energy to fill the hall with an immense orchestral sound that left the audience wanting even more.
Greeted by wave after wave of ecstatic applause, maestro Dunstan and the orchestra agreed to an encore of the Wizards of Winter as performed by the Trans-Siberian Orchestra.
This concert was an incredible showcase of the breadth of talent of the youth of the Shoalhaven, and the impact of music education on young peoples' lives.
2020 is set to be an even bigger year for the Shoalhaven Youth Orchestra with performances of Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition in early April and Saint-Saens' Carnival of the Animals in September.
For more information on Shoalhaven Youth Orchestra and its programs, visit shoalhavenyouthorchestra.com.au or email email@example.com.