The Forgotten Youth – a response to David Nice (The Arts Desk)

Location: On the 9-hour plane from Helsinki to Guangzhou

My happiness of the weekend has diminished a little after reading someone’s written words. The good memories on- and off-stage, regardless of their emotive strength and permanence, are now partially smudged out by one particular 5-star review about our BBC Prom – quite ironic I know. Sadly, some of the review was not written in the right way, and I thus feel guilty for enjoying our success and accepting the praise. It also brought my attention to an even bigger issue – NYOS and Scotland’s reputation that has been largely ignored in the classical music scene.

Image 2

These thoughts have been brewing in my mind ever since I read it, muffling the glorious music I saw performed this weekend. Believe me it really takes a lot to beat Petrushka, Scythian Suite and The Rite of Spring. So, I am going to let it out.

The disappointing words were from David Nice, writing on behalf of The Arts Desk a joint review on both the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain Prom and the NYOS Prom. Many nice things were said for both orchestras. He lauded them both. He rightly recognised the potential, standard and professionalism of NYOS that have been ignored for far too long by the BBC Proms and everyone else. NYOGB was given a much-deserved 4-stars. However, a few sections render it a distasteful comparative analysis of two fantastic youth orchestras, which bothers me quite a lot. I speak out against it as a young Scottish musician, as an alumnus, friend and former intern of NYOGB, as a friend to some of its current musicians, and finally as Leader of NYOS Symphony Orchestra. Continue reading


NYO, yo, yo! Getting down and groovy into concert mode.

It’s currently day 10 on the NYO Spring Residency. We have one more day of rehearsing before we are off to Liverpool for our first concert, wahey.

 photo IMG_0041_zps983f1ffa.jpg

Chamber Music on NYO’s Inspire Day

Continue reading

A comparison between the music of Strauss and S Club 7

I’m currently on day 4 of the Spring NYOGB Residency. There’s definitely a different flavour about this one. I don’t know whether it’s because I’m even more stressed than normal, or because I’ve been sleeping at ridiculous hours? I’ve been going to bed before 9pm every night. This is not normal.

NYO had Section Night last Tuesday. Djeikub hosted a great one for the Second Violins. He organised a ‘Children’s Birthday Party’ which involved face-painting, pass the parcel and musical chairs.

Music included the Benga Boys and S Club 7. For all the 90s kids.

(It’s scary to think that in some years all the members of the orchestra will have been born after 2000… It’s 2014. A thirteen year old born in 2001 could join. I feel so old.)

Thanks to the Section Night I made a startling revelation. It turns out that S Club 7’s chart topping song Reach For The Stars is actually rooted in music from the Romantic era, namely the Strauss period.

I realised this the day after Section night when we rehearsed a segment of Strauss’ Ein Heldenleben. 

Listen from 0:24 – 0:30 and then from 1:00-1:10.

Let that tune sink into your brain…

Now, compare with Strauss Ein Heldenleben:

Listen from 28:15 – 29:13, especially to the last ascending notes in the strings.

Can you hear it now?

“I’ve … got … you … and … you’ve … got … me … so … REACH FOR THE STARS!”

Mind = BLOWN.

…You will never think of Strauss in the same way again.


NYO are rehearsing the Ecstasio movement from Asyla today. (See this post.) You all know what this means. Relentless raving.

I better go to breakfast now. Have a splendid day everybody!

Oh no! NYO 2013 is over!

Wait, what, where, how, why?! Really? Has it come to an end?


The NYO Prom happened last Sunday. A culmination of a year’s work; the highlight on our calendars. They say our concert was the first ever to be completely free to the public, tickets, programmes and all. Even I failed to grab hold of extra tickets. After only 8 minutes, they were completely sold out. On top of that, it was celebrating bicentenary of the Royal Philharmonic Society, offering a world premiere of Mark-Anthony Turnage’s “Frieze”, and NYO’s first go at Beethoven 9.
– “Simply unmissable” – as one Irish newspaper put it.

 photo Petrenko_zps845b341c.jpg

Photo courtesy of BBC Proms: “Ode to joy, ode to joy, ode to joy, ode to joy!”
Yes, those are the words to the 4th movement of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony, as declared by certain members of the NYO.

Strangely, I was not feeling very nervous about playing the notes live on Radio 3 (filmed for TV broadcast next month). There was another matter which occupied my mind: my new concert dress. I had been pretty adventurous in my choice of performance outfits overall, pushing the boundaries further and further in each successive concert.

This one, however, was my most daring yet. Not because it was short, or big; but because it was excessively, spectacularly, sparkly. Endearing as it sounds, I feared it would attract unwanted attention and make me stick out, like a naive girl who tries too hard to attract people at primary school Christmas discos.

As we made our way onto the stage at 7:30pm, I was still questioning the appropriateness of my attire.
“Jacob, are you sure it’s fine? It’s so sparkly, arghhhh…” Soon I forgot about trivial things, and found myself heavily engrossed in the music.

Oh my god, it was so amazing…

Continue reading

NYO Week 1: “I’m not tired and never will be!”

Okay, I have a question for all of you, especially the NYO folk.

When you ask someone,

“Hey! How are you?”

…how many times, I repeat, how many times have you received this reply?

“I’m good thanks… Tired though.”

Yes, you’ve heard it before, the typical unimaginative answer so often uttered by an orchestral musician.

Nobody has been the exception to this yet. Not one person in this orchestra. I am determined, however, to avoid using this phrase and construct spectacular alternatives every time. Please, let’s inject some positive energy, as they say here. We haven’t even reached the end of the residency yet.

Anyway, here’s a quick summary of week 1. Enjoy.


Sectionals finished yesterday morning, and we said goodbye to our incredible tutor, Kyra Humphreys.

We will miss hearing the barking dogs outside the building and the deafening rain against the windows that swamped our pianissimo playing.

I love our section; we work so well together. Our productivity seems to have improved greatly as we were even making progress by Day 2:

 photo 0DEE8B0A-7C8C-4ED4-9CB2-3A0082439083-3061-0000043CABBCEEE0_zpsc824b53a.jpg

N.B. This photo does not reflect the quality of Natalie’s playing at all. Gi was just tired.
(See what I’m getting at?! Tired!)

Mealtimes have been a joyous occasion.

 photo 1037092B-D502-4F37-AE66-51BE45B4A7EB-3067-0000043D1740D429_zps6fa6ac4e.jpg

I’ve been mauled by a Scottish Big Bear many times:

 photo 3A417261-4FFE-49CF-8B51-FFA164B869A4-3067-0000043D1BC91C9A_zpsd8e4d42d.jpg

Break times are well spent, on playing our own instruments…

 photo A9555D3E-4070-4615-9FCD-04EB6BDCDFA3-3067-0000043D22B3055D_zps78bdeed3.jpg

 photo 217A825C-F445-42D5-B876-6B5377FC0793-3067-0000043D2789FAE5_zps15abea09.jpg

After a few days, we were reduced from our full string sectional format (violins + violas + cellos + basses) to smaller ‘octet’ style ensembles, which enabled us to become more aware of interweaving textures in the music and communicate with players seated further away. Desks from the front were grouped with those from the middle and back of other sections. My group was aptly named Lions – such ferocious players, we must be.

 photo CF077416-21AE-48BB-8270-6F3CB36ADC36-3067-0000043D2B7F6504_zps00b5127a.jpg

From 10am – 1pm today, we had our first rehearsal with NYO Principal Conductor, Vasily Petrenko. We thought we were working hard already, and then he arrived only to make us play spikier, shorter, and prettier, like in this movement.

Everybody also took part in the community projects for the Derry City of Culture celebrations. The majority were involved in Play at Our Place and Inspire Day. Play at Our Place consisted of NYO members working with young musicians to create a mini-concert in the young musicians’ living rooms.

Inspire Day, the activity I did, similarly invites local young musicians to work with NYO members side-by-side, but in a full orchestral setting. On this occasion we were lucky enough to be conducted by Vasily as well! (I need to start writing about/editing material from today… Eeeek.)

My friends take a well-deserved flop on the mats after a crazy day:

 photo 05A83D08-18CA-41FC-9D9F-48C7ED84F1C9-3687-000004FAE4A19282_zpsf85fc07c.jpg

And then we all went a-bowling…

 photo AF481BD0-3C01-4052-8817-C0BE2C196A86-3690-000004FAFA277545_zpsb8477ac3.jpg

Borrowed from friend's Twitter

Photo taken from a friend’s Twitter

…and walked to the river, eating MacDonald’s fries as the rain began to pour down.

 photo FD513B81-0C54-4B32-94BB-5CACDDD41E4E-3690-000004FAF4A062CA_zps57990834.jpg

Tomorrow: a lie-in, and also the arrival of the choirs! Waah!

“Let’s run through all of Beethoven 9!”

Hello from Derry! NYO played through Beethoven’s 9th Symphony for the first time in its history – how cool is that?

When news spread that we were going to run through the symphony in its entirety – sans chorus and soloists – faces gasped and gawped, mouths agape, eyes wider still, and heads turned left and right to meet the gazes of their friends who were in the same disbelief. Could they really do that to us?

I was equally astonished, but secretly, deep, deep within my strange mind, the idea of playing through thousands of notes – well, trying to at least – which put together created arguably the single most epic piece of music ever written couldn’t have made me happier. Note-bashing, as they say, is not a favourable way to approach music, especially in an orchestral context.

But I love it! It’s like sight-reading chamber music: absolute freedom. And anyway, we need to have an overview of the whole work. When better to run it all than Day 1? Continue reading

Back in London: NYOGB meets NYOUSA

Yesterday, several NYO members had the great pleasure of meeting our sister orchestra – the National Youth Orchestra of the United States of America! We were invited to watch the rehearsal for their Prom, which took place that evening, and then to lunch.

Us Brits would say we had a very lovely day. Americans apparently prefer to use the word:


 photo 7DE5C02F-833C-47DE-BEA8-0F4BC3B76D44-308-00000046F06FA6DE_zpsac784f4c.jpg

Continue reading

I partied at Buckingham Palace – Days 3-6

Can’t form a substantial account of the past few days. Mind blown. Nose clogged up with hay fever. Turned 18. Slightly sunburnt.

I hope you can understand. If not, you will by the end of this post.

Day 3- Rehearsing at St John’s Smiths Square:
Photobucket Pictures, Images and Photos

Continue reading

NYO – Coronation Festival – Days 1-2

Hello from London. We have just spent the past two days rehearsing the repertoire for the Buckingham Palace Coronation Festival! Soon we will be performing on the terrace of the palace (I believe), filmed for BBC 1, in the presence of the Royal Family. Not your average July week…

I would write more about the music and the fellow artists. However, I am limited to telling only vague pieces of information, and this photo says why:

Photobucket Pictures, Images and Photos

Here are a few pictures anyway, from my perspective. More to come, of course.

Below is a photo of the ‘Octagon’. This was our rehearsal room for the past two days, a very pleasant one to say the least. As the name suggests, it has 8 walls, all of which are filled with colourful books. Well-lit and tall, the room provided us with a sunny, resonant acoustic. It will obviously be very different being outdoors and miked up at our actual venue.

Photobucket Pictures, Images and Photos

All I can say about the music is that we love it; the tunes will reach everyone’s hearts some way or another; Djeikub and I are definitely in our ideal realm here; and there are some extremely wonderful modulations, such as this one from E major to F# major:
Photobucket Pictures, Images and Photos

Meanwhile we are all enjoying the 30C heat and wearing the summeriest of clothes. Only Djeikub could pull off a faded Hawaiian polka dot tee and plaid shorts combo.
Photobucket Pictures, Images and Photos

…and we are feeling very patriotic indeed.
Photobucket Pictures, Images and Photos

Happy days 🙂

My Final Term at Music School

Hello again, I’m back with a fresher mind and lovely experiences to share with you from the last month.

(Can you believe this is my last term of high school? I’m leaving this establishment in 9 weeks!)

Continue reading