If you were lucky enough to get to the Usher Hall by 4pm on Sunday, you will have joined a lively run-down (and audience challenge) detailing how and why Scottish National Youth Choir is so exemplary.
The choir caters for 0-25-years-old. It is truly outstanding thanks to the skill, playfulness and overall enthusiasm of Artistic Director and Conductor, Christopher Bell who formed the choir in 1996. In 2012, the National Youth Choir of Scotland (NYCoS) became the first youth company to win a Royal Philharmonic Society Music Award in the Ensemble category.
Bell calls the company’s methods “stealth teaching” and the games-based learning is just up my street. Balls, hula hoops and old-fashioned clapping games get the rhythm and mood started and the children learn without knowing it.
“Superb intonation” is the end result, and Bell is rightly proud of the young people of all ages within the organisation. He can be especially proud of his 16-25-year-olds who performed both Benjamin Britten’s Rejoice in the Lamb Op 30 and Requiem Op 9, by Maurice Duruflé with confidence and ultimate skill.
Now, we’ve all got our foibles and mine is that I cannot stomach rubbish lyrics. Why on earth Benjamin Britten set his lovely music to a peculiar poem by Christopher Smart, written whilst in a private asylum, is beyond me. My eyes closed against the ramblings of cats and mice printed on the sur-titles and I was then free to be enveloped by the Royal Scottish National Orchestra and the powerful and beautiful voices of the National Youth Choir of Scotland. That sea of sound, the rise and fall, the wash across my senses in its pure form, was no longer sullied by less than adequate verse. Not everyone would be so fastidious a cat as me.
When it came to Requiem Op 9, my heart took flight. I love the unchanging, simple Latin Mass. Duruflé’s composition reaches for the heavens. His rumbling organ laid the groundsheet, while the choir and the orchestra stretched themselves, undulating, rising and falling and creating a swathe of touching, heightened praise for the gentle repose of a loved-one’s soul. “This Requiem is not an ethereal work which sings of detachment from human concerns,” said Duruflé. “It reflects, in the unchanging form of Christian prayer, the anguish of man faced with the mystery of his final end.”
Duruflé created three versions to allow the piece a range of possibilities. Churches only allowed organ playing at the time, so he created a version with an organ accompaniment, an orchestral version and a simple piano version. His composition was met with effusive and immediate rapture as soon as it was played on French radio on 2nd November 1947.
Death comes to us all. Ritual and pageantry acknowledge a life lived and is a necessary comfort for many who are grieving. The National Youth Choir of Scotland performed as if they understood that significance as if they felt the poignancy and pain of death and loss. It was a wonderful performance.
Catriona Morison and Paul Grant are two Edinburgh-born soloists who joined the choir and orchestra. The entire performance was a triumph of home-grown talent and sensitivity. The concert met with great applause, which was truly well deserved. I hope this organisation continues to grow and flourish. I hope you get an opportunity in the not-too-distant-future to witness their commitment and marvel at their accomplishments.
Reviewer: Kathleen Mansfield
Reviewed: 13th August 2023
North West End UK Rating: