James Macmillan: ‘Veni, Veni, Emmanuel’ | UK Review: The Scotsman

In one epic programme celebrating its 50th anniversary, the Edinburgh Youth Orchestra had a package most orchestras would spread over several concerts.

Not only that, this awesome playlist – from Elgar to Wagner overtures via three heavyweight concertos – was put together in just two weeks.

The task was made easier by the fact that three mainstream conductors – Donald Runnicles, Garry Walker and En Shao – were the composite driving force, added to which, top-notch soloists Evelyn Glennie, Julian Lloyd Webber and Jack Liebeck (replacing an indisposed Nicola Benedetti) were the icing on a pretty impressive birthday cake.

With inspiration coming from every direction, then, and a healthy audience to ignite the party atmosphere, the scene was set for a triumphant night. It began with Runnicles taking charge of Elgar’s Cockaigne Overture, and a performance that was deliciously light of spirit, directional, though never lacking true Elgarian weight. Garry Walker took over for Elgar’s Cello Concerto, and a performance by Lloyd Webber that evolved naturally and without fuss.

Then came a gripping account of James MacMillan’s percussion concerto Veni, Veni Emmanuel, the orchestra’s visceral intensity, under En Shao, a spine-tingling complement to Glennie’s action-packed performance.

The evening edged into overtime with Beethoven’s Violin Concerto (1st movement), highlighting Liebeck’s precision as soloist, ending with Wagner and an audience chorus of Happy Birthday.

Runnicles proclaimed the EYO “a national treasure”. He’s damned right.

Edinburgh Youth Orchestra
Conductor: En Shao
Usher Hall, Edinburgh
15 April 2013

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