Youth Orchestra of Bahia (Review)

Lang Lang with Youth Orchestra of Bahia @ Royal Festival Hall

Back in 2010, the Youth Orchestra of Bahia became the first Brazilian youth orchestra to perform in Europe, at the Southbank Centre, in London. Almost a year after, the young and talented musicians of Bahia came back to Southbank’s Royal Festival Hall on Saturday 21st May. This time the Youth Orchestra of Bahia were accompanying the world acclaimed Chinese pianist Lang Lang and the seventeen year-old Venezuelan conductor virtuoso Ilyich Rivas.

The concert was dedicated to the work of four different composers. The first part started with a very slow and tranquil – but amazingly beautiful – piece by Ottorino Respighi, “Fountains of Rome”, which the Orchestra played without the piano of Lang Lang. Fountains of Rome is a sixteen minute-long soothing piece of music that seemed perfect as a warm up for what was about to come.

The second number of this superb night at Southbank had the presence of 28 year-old Chinese pianist Lang Lang, probably the most talked about young pianist of recent years, who has a special interest for charitable causes. That is one of the reasons why Lang Lang personally invited (or simply chose, as an invitation from him is almost a recruitment) the Youth Orchestra of Bahia to perform with him at the Southbank Centre.

Together they played one of Frederic Chopin’s finest compositions, written in 1830, “Piano Concerto N°2 in F minor, Op. 21″, which is almost two times longer than “Fountains of Rome”. However, Chopin’s masterpiece was played with rare perfection, which instantaneously made the whole audience engage with what was happening on Southbank’s stage that Saturday night – from anonymous fans at the back to the men at the royal balcony, including Brazil’s former Minister of Economy Pedro Malan, who I spotted from my seat.

A quick interval and we were all back to the Royal Festival Hall to admire the second act of this magnificent concert. As in the first number of the night, the orchestra was alone, without Lang Lang’s piano. It was time for Igor Stravinsky’s “intoxicating” piece of music called “The Firebird: Suite”, one of Stravinsky’s most emotional compositions. It was during this number that I realised the Youth Orchestra of Bahia were never alone on that stage. The conductor, Ilyich Rivas had this amazing energy and was literally guiding those youngsters to success. I grabbed my program to find that this passionate Venezuelan conductor is only seventeen years old, despite his screaming talent. Combined with the fact that the musicians of the Youth Orchestra of Bahia range from 12 to 25 years-old, I was more than overwhelmed.

At this point the audience was wanting more. Lang Lang appeared once again to play one of the most beautiful and appreciated music pieces in history, George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue”. The Royal Festival went on a trance almost. Even the few people that were coughing stopped. There was no other sound in that room apart from the incredible sound that was coming from this young and unusual – yet brilliant – combination of a Chinese pianist, a Venezuelan conductor and a Brazilian orchestra.

The reader could be thinking that so far Lang Lang and Ilyich Rivas have stolen the show from the Youth Orchestra of Bahia. However, the encore was still to come. And the piece chosen to be the last number of the night was perfect to show what the Youth Orchestra of Bahia is all about. The boys and girls from Bahia, a state in the northeast of Brazil well-known for its amazing music and culture, performed “Tico Tico No Fuba”, a choro piece composed by Zequinha de Abreu, in 1917, and made famous by Carmen Miranda and Ray Conniff. The song was introduced with cuica chords and other typical samba instruments, which made the audience instantly realise that it was the Youth Orchestra’s big moment. Their unique mix of samba and classical music, combined with their young attitude, has made that the most ravishing moment of that night at the Royal Festival Hall.

The “transgression” of classical music didn’t stop on the mixing of samba with it. The youngsters also brought a couple to dance samba in front of the orchestra (see the video below), asked the audience to clap along with the musicians themselves were standing up, flipping their instruments and taking part in some creative choreography while playing Tico Tico No Fuba. In other words, the Youth Orchestra of Bahia was feeling at home, as if they were saying to the audience “yes, we can play classical music to perfection, but look at what we can also do”.

After almost two hours of pure music indulgence, every single person in the Royal Festival Hall stood up and effusively applauded the Youth Orchestra of Bahia, Lang Lang and Ilyyich Rivas for some good fifteen minutes after the concert ended. My hands were even sore from clapping so much; however my ears seemed like they were massaged by the astonishing music I listened at the Southbank Centre.

by Eduardo Pagnoncelli

Here’s the end of the show. Not your normal classical music concert then?

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