The first concert of the season for the Boston Philharmonic Youth Orchestra is a mélange of styles from four different countries, each as different from the other as could be. It’s a rich feast for the players in the orchestra, and for the audience too! To start off there is Verdi’s Overture to to La forza del destino, a work that is as bracing, dynamic and full of unexpected developments as the opera that follows it. Then a couple of movements from the wondrously varied and beautiful The Garden of Cosmic Speculation, a fascinating, on-going project by the distinguished Boston-based composer Michael Gandolfi.
The first half of the concert closes with the appearance of the much loved pianist Christopher O’Riley, whose hosting of the popular show From the Top has made his name known to just about everybody in America with an interest in classical music. Mr. O’Riley’s pianistic credentials are very formidable indeed – he excels as a performer of the some of the most difficult music in the repertory – and he has a special affinity for the subtle and refined music of Ravel, the Piano Concerto in particular. And the concerto’s ravishing orchestration makes it a perfect fit for the Youth Philharmonic – with its myriad solos for so many instruments the piece is almost like a concerto for orchestra.
The second half of the concert is devoted to Shostakovich’s great Fifth Symphony. It is an enormous work – not so much in its length as in its emotional reach. It was the piece that placed Shostakovich front and center on the world’s musical stage, proclaimed him as the foremost composer of the Soviet Union in the 1930s, and, by giving the illusion of placating the authorities, probably saved his life. Since then, it has come to be regarded as music’s greatest symbol of the power of the artist to raise his voice in protest in even the darkest of times.