“The Oxford Times”  (Oxford Newspaper)


International Youth Music Festival, Christ Church Cathedral


By Nicola Lisle

The first notes of the Allegro from Bach's Piano Concerto in D minor rose in a glorious, powerful and cohesive sound, filling Christ Church Cathedral with their warmth and joyousness. If I had closed my eyes, I could easily have imagined that I was listening to a professional, adult orchestra. Instead, I was listening to a chamber orchestra in which the youngest player was a mere 11, the oldest 23. The confident young soloist at the piano, Stephanie Mao, was 17, but played with all the maturity and technical mastery of a seasoned pro.

This was the annual gathering of talented youngsters from the US and the UK, who come together for a week of workshops and intensive rehearsals in preparation for diverse and inspirational programmes of music in historical settings. Last year's concerts took place in the US; this year it was Oxford's turn to play host to this wonderful initiative, which gives promising young musicians from a variety of cultures, ages and backgrounds the opportunity to make music under the guidance of experienced professionals.

Friday's concert attracted a large and appreciative audience, and featured classic favourites alongside lesser-known pieces, in a programme designed to display the extraordinary proficiency of these youngsters. Particularly impressive among the soloists was 12-year-old Alexander Simpson, who played the difficult first movement of Summer, from Vivaldi's The Four Seasons, with a virtuosity extraordinary in one so young.


If I have any criticism, it is that the small ensemble pieces in the middle of the programme resulted in many of the younger players waiting around for a long time. And the full ensembles were so delightful, it would have been good to have heard more of them. Barber's Adagio for Strings, for example, was an impressive display of control by all concerned, while Britten's Frolicsome Finale from his Simple Symphony ensured that the concert ended in suitably joyous and festive mood.

For more information about the festival, visit its website (www.youthmusicinternational.com).

2:55pm Wednesday 22nd August 2007