BESYO, Jeneba Kanneh-Mason (piano), Peter Davison (conductor)

There was a thrill in the air as this recently formed orchestra tuned up for its first big concert. The Brighton & East Sussex Youth Orchestra is a conflation of Youth Orchestras from Brighton, the South Downs and East Sussex, all with splendid reputations. Peter Davison clearly expects the very best from them, starting with Gershwin’s ‘An American in Paris’. This work demands clarity and tight ensemble work as the various solo parts flash by evoking Parian street scenes. We could hear every detail. The players had no problem with the constant changes of tempo and dynamic, they responded to every nuance. The rich string sound gave that lush Hollywood glow. The concentration was so fierce that some of the musicians looked as if they weren’t enjoying the experience. Well, they had every right to be very pleased with themselves. Once that intense bluesy section was accomplished, the mood lightened and the sparkle returned to complete the work – the applause was thunderous!

Florence Price’s piano concerto was another bold choice and an excellent showpiece for a fledgling orchestra. This time there was the added lustre of 19-year-old Jeneba Kanneh-Mason, who commanded the stage with her confidence and musicality. From the opening spiritual sounds to the concluding Juba dance or ‘hambone’, this life-affirming work makes huge demands on the pianist and on all the other soloists. The misleading title ‘Concerto in One Movement’ led the audience to erupt in (well-earned) applause at each section break but there was no mistaking the final joyous climax, with the heavy trills on the piano and the orchestra at full blast, which brought the house down!

Price’s 3rd Symphony is an even more demanding work with restless changes of mood and style which took these young players to their limits. Its jolly finale ensured a warm reception. Each time they perform it they will be even more confident and secure.

At last Price is getting the attention she deserves and with excellent champions like these young enthusiasts, her work will be well established in the concert repertoire.

Dome Concert Hall,
9 May 2022
Rating: ★★★★☆
Andrew Connal

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