Last year in Guanzhou, China, the annual Youth Music Culture Guangdong music festival was held remotely. Thanks to an improved public health situation, the 2022 edition is playing out both live and online. YMCG focuses on developing and championing young classical music artists. It opened this week with a strong concert by the combined Guangzhou Symphony Orchestra (GSO) and Guangzhou Symphony Youth Orchestra (GSYO) conducted by Jing Huan, the GSO’s principal conductor and the GSYO’s music director.
The weeklong festival also aims to maintain and strengthen cultural ties around the world. The opening night concert was positioned in the Western tradition, devoted to programmatic music from European composers of the early 20th century. An energetic performance by the combined GSO/GSYO of “Jupiter, Bringer of Jollity” from Gustav Holst’s The Planets set a bright, positive tone that persisted throughout the evening.
Young pianists Rao Hao and Bao Yanyan then joined the orchestra for Camille Saint-Saëns’ Carnival of the Animals, always a fun ride. The soloists shone in their featured moments, like “Hémiones” and “L’Éléphant,” while displaying a mature sensitivity throughout. The famous “Aquarium” was a gauzy delight, while with sensitive touch and romantic phrasing the cello soloist in the even-more-famous “Le Cygne” (“The Swan”) likely made festival artistic director Yo-Yo Ma proud.
The pianists gave thoughtful readings in Carnival’s less frivolous pieces, like “Le Coucou au fond des bois” with its evocative chord progressions. (I recalled with pleasure that this was my favorite segment years ago – probably because it reminded me of Chopin’s nocturnes – when I took on one of the piano parts with my high school orchestra.) The youthful soloists also got fully into the spirit of the mocking “Pianistes” with its deliberate awkwardness; Saint-Saëns’ sense of humor seems to have resonated with them.
Ottorino Respighi’s music isn’t as much in fashion as it was in the first half of the 20th century, but The Pines of Rome remains a favorite in the repertoire thanks to its friendly accessibility and hyped-up drama. Despite an occasional mis-hit in the brass during the early going, Maestro Jing and the GSO/GSYO delivered a more than creditable rendition. The quiet sections evoked the serene sublimity Respighi was probably envisioning; the crescendo during the “Appian Way” finale was a thrill. If it takes a Chinese orchestra to show that Respighi can still work as the meat of a concert program, so be it!
Stay tuned for further coverage of Youth Music Culture Guangdong, and visit the YMCG website for more on the festival. Upcoming events feature the Shanghai Quartet and other luminaries of classical music.