Music Review

A strong showing in Symphony Hall by BYSO

By Jeremy Eichler
Globe Staff / March 9, 2011

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The Boston Youth Symphony Orchestras returned in force to Symphony Hall on Sunday afternoon. It must be a thrill for these students, ages 7 to 18, to perform in this renowned concert hall. Family members and friends turned out in large numbers to support them, and to hear two impressive orchestras perform over the course of the afternoon.

First on the stage were the children of the Young People’s String Orchestra together with members of BYSO’s Intensive Community Program, which brings musical instruction to under-represented communities. Conductor Marta Zurad, energetic and precise, led this enormous group in the waltz from Tchaikovsky’s “Sleeping Beauty’’ and two other short selections. Clearly the BYSO ensemble instruction is strong from the very beginning because this assembly of very young string players, some of them no doubt having their first experiences in an orchestra, played well and produced a sound that was full, large, clear, and dark in coloring — thanks to what must surely have been more double basses than the St. Petersburg Philharmonic.

BYSO music director Federico Cortese then led the senior orchestra, known as the Boston Youth Symphony, in an accomplished, characterful, and vigorous reading of the Second Suite from Prokofiev’s “Romeo and Juliet,’’ boasting some fine woodwind solos and particularly strong French horn work.

The afternoon was capped by the premiere of Mark O’Connor’s “Improvised Violin Concerto,’’ with the composer as the soloist. The movements each have names like “Fire,’’ “Air,’’ and “Water,’’ and the work’s solo part is entirely improvised. Essentially the piece is a giant symphonic vehicle for O’Connor’s own signature crossover work in which classical meets bluegrass, jazz, and country fiddling. Admirers of his style will love this new piece, and the hall on Sunday erupted with cheers; critics of it won’t be converted. It was unfortunate that O’Connor’s violin was so over-amplified, too often drowning out the entire youth orchestra. Cortese nonetheless led with conviction and flair.

Jeremy Eichler can be reached at

BOSTON YOUTH SYMPHONY ORCHESTRAS Federico Cortese and Marta Zurad, conductors

At: Symphony Hall, Sunday afternoon