Review of Whitianga Concert, 6 May 2017 – The Mercury Bay Informer 10/5/17, by Suzanne Hansen

The Auckland Youth Orchestra once again delivering so much more than expected
As one concertgoer said at the end of the Auckland Youth Orchestra (AYO) concert in the Whitianga Town Hall last Saturday evening, “I come every year, and these guys [the AYO] blow my mind every time! They always deliver so much more than I expect.” Those who were at the concert would understand and agree. The AYO presented us with a fully instrumented orchestra of 82 musicians, complemented with the sonorous rumbling of no least than 13 cellos, four double basses and possibly the largest bass drum I have seen. The orchestra literally filled the town hall, both physically and with their sound and their sound was superb.

We enjoyed an incredibly rich and professional string section and one of the best-blended woodwind sections I have heard in a while, particularly the oboes and flutes. They were a pure joy to hear. The concert kicked off with the “Overture from Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet,” which evoked all of the drama and tension of the story of star-crossed lovers, with the thundering undertone of the cellos and basses and a marvellously rich violin section.

Then our attention turned to the second piece, “Cartoon: Fantasy for Oboe and Orchestra,” where we were introduced to the incredible talent of oboe soloist, Noah Rudd. Originally written for soprano saxophone by Kiwi composer Anthony Ritchie, the concerto was later transcribed for oboe.  As a result of Noah winning last year’s AYO Soloist competition, Ritchie then specifically re-constructed his concerto for oboe and orchestra, to be played by Noah, for this particular concert series. It was a real treat. From the time Noah took the stage, it was clear that we were witnessing a virtuoso. He took an incredibly complex and whimsical solo part and he played it like it was a dawdle, lightly skipping over some amazingly difficult notes, ranges and runs, all from memory.  As someone who dabbled playing the oboe for eight years (in my youth), I can personally attest that the oboe is one of the most difficult instruments to master and Noah made it look almost fun. Noah’s stage presence was amazing and he almost appeared like a “superstar jazz oboist.” Yet when this “soloist superstar” joined back with the orchestra in parts, he blended back with the larger group seamlessly, sometimes beautifully intertwining with the flute section, to produce a pure and whimsical sound. It was a performance of real personality, but also technical perfection.

The final performance was of Stravinsky’s “Firebird Suite,” a five-movement ballet, which put Stravinsky on the map as a composer. The AYO performed with incredible woodwind combinations, beautifully blending flute and oboe and featuring some lovely bassoon solos.

With sound effects made by the brass section and viola, you could close your eyes and almost be in the enchanted forest living in the fairy tale. My personal favourite was the tuba with the “mute” tool. I haven’t seen one of those before.

If music and the arts are a key measure by which we judge our progress in a country like New Zealand, then the AYO demonstrates how lucky we are to live here.  Special thanks go to Creative Mercury Bay chair, Jan Wright, coordinator Lesley McCormick and the entire team at Creative Mercury Bay for bringing such talent to our wonderful area. We are truly blessed.