August is a sleepy month for classical music in Washington, and Thursday night’s concert at Strathmore was a reminder of the reason why. Here was a free concert by the National Youth Orchestra of Canada, a group of the best young Canadian classical musicians, but they played to a mostly empty hall. The NYOC’s intensive summer training program for high school and college-age students is exemplary, providing the musicians with a stipend instead of charging them tuition. About 40 percent of professional orchestral musicians in Canada are alumni.
This was the last stop on their North American tour, during which they have played two demanding programs. The level of musicianship across all sections was on par with that of professional orchestras. The opening work, Canadian composer Adam Sherkin’s mostly tonal “Terra Incognita,” premiered in 2005, provided some interesting colors. The opening section of eerie marimba tremolos and plangent string solos were given some added drama as the lights were set flickering by the violent storm that passed through.
In Dvorak’s cello concerto, guest conductor Alain Trudel was careful to keep the orchestra in balance with his 16-year-old soloist, Cameron Crozman. It was not the best performance of the work in every sense, but Crozman’s singing sound high on the A string was fluid and well-tuned. The high point was a blistering performance of Shostakovich’s 10th symphony, pulled taut with moody tension, roiling outbursts and a fanatically martial scherzo. Two encores featured a twist that most professional orchestras would not even dream of trying, as the approximately 100 young musicians stood and sang two Renaissance songs in four-part harmony, John Dowland’s “Come again” and Pierre Certon’s “Je ne l’ose dire.”
Downey is a freelance writer.