Fire and Blood
Chad Hoopes (violin)
National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain
Reviewed by: Brian Barford
Reviewed: 8 April, 2016
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Royal Festival Hall
It’s always a pleasure to encounter the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain. This programme was perfectly tailored to its outsize qualities (twelve double basses for starters), presented in conjunction with the current Menuhin Competition. The evening’s theme was the Blaze of Youth and titular fire linked the three pieces.
Stravinsky’s Fireworks, written as a wedding present for Rimsky-Korsakov’s daughter, found the NYO giving a performance of alertness and polish. The quirky harmonic twists and transparent orchestration were clearly laid out to point the way to Stravinsky’s future works.
There followed an appearance by a former Menuhin prize-winner, Chad Hoopes. Michael Daugherty’s Fire and Blood (2003) is a 25-minute concerto in three movements inspired by Diego Rivera’s striking Detroit Industry Murals (depicting work at the Ford Motor Company). ‘Volcano’ is lightly scored to allow the violin to come through but the accompaniment is nevertheless full of colour. ‘River Rouge’ (after the name of the Ford plant) makes use of a mariachi band to evoke Rivera’s Mexican heritage and is also an ode to Rivera’s wife Frida Kahlo with a haunting melody of eerie lyricism. ‘Assembly Line’ has great rhythmic life with syncopations, whooping horns, darting strings and stinging whip-cracks. Hoopes was a committed soloist of lyrical fervour, full tone and phenomenal technique. Fire and Blood feels like a meeting of Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story and Alexander Mosolov’s The Iron Foundry but it also felt freshly imagined. As an encore, Hoopes gave the opening movement of a Telemann Fantasia with ease and grace.
One of the problems of playing Stravinsky’s complete Firebird ballet-score is that it is divorced from choreography and designs, for much of the music’s first half can seem too similar, something avoided in the composer’s three concert Suites. The problem for any conductor is to secure animated playing that balances momentum and coherence, which was mostly achieved here, with dynamism. The strings were rich and lustrous and some of the playing in gentler music was of great refinement, such as oboe and horn solos. Kristjan Järvi structured the work well and took the ‘Infernal Dance’ at a frenzied pace and with blistering physicality. The closing peroration was not just a massive outpouring but a climax of luminosity and emotional release.
Järvi can be an exhausting conductor to watch but he was clearly at-one with the NYO, which responded magnificently: he worked the players – and the audience – in true showman style! The encore was ‘Dance of the Buffoons’ from Tchaikovsky’s The Snow Maiden, a raucous account, trumpeters on their feet and Järvi conducting the audience!