Thursday , June 20 2024
Youth Music Culture Guangdong 2022
Photo credit: Guangzhou Symphony Orchestra

Concert Review: Guangzhou Symphony Orchestra, Guangzhou Symphony Youth Orchestra – Opening Concert, Youth Music Culture Guangdong Festival, China

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.

Photo credit: Guangzhou Symphony Orchestra

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.

About Jon Sobel

Jon Sobel is Publisher and Executive Editor of Blogcritics as well as lead editor of the Culture & Society section. As a writer he contributes most often to Music, where he covers classical music (old and new) and other genres, and Culture, where he reviews NYC theater. Through Oren Hope Marketing and Copywriting at you can hire him to write or edit whatever marketing or journalistic materials your heart desires. Jon also writes the blog Park Odyssey at where he is on a mission to visit every park in New York City. He has also been a part-time working musician, including as lead singer, songwriter, and bass player for Whisperado.

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