Youth Music Theatre Orchestra performed at the Lyric Hammersmith, London, with the Youth Music Theatre UK Alumni Choir and special guests Kerry Ellis, Stephen Rahman-Hughes and Chris McGuigan.
Star rating: five stars ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
It is always an honour to be present at the birth of a major initiative with such exciting potential as the newly formed Youth Music Theatre Orchestra, comprised of musicians based in London aged 11–21. In their 90-minute inaugural concert, the ensemble engaged with a wide range of repertoire drawn predominantly from musical theatre and film, from the theme tune to Mission Impossible to the prologue to Sweeney Todd (as heard in the 2007 film) to Queen’s ‘Crazy Little Thing Called Love’, even venturing into classical music with ‘Waltz II’ from Shostakovich’s Jazz Suite No. 2.
Also contributing to the concert were musical theatre stars Kerry Ellis, Stephen Rahman-Hughes, and Chris McGuigan, all of whom added the highest professional standards in stellar performances of ‘No One But You’ (We Will Rock You), ‘Bring Him Home’ (Les Misérables), and ‘Why God Why?’ (Miss Saigon), respectively. While there were moments at which the amplified orchestra was in danger of overpowering the soloist, notably in ‘Why God Why?’, its accompanimental role during these songs necessitated an admirable level of concentration and musicianship over and above that of the medley of musical theatre numbers that opened the evening.
With pieces specially scored by a team of arrangers (one of whom, Alec Mills, was also to be found in YMTO’s trombone section), the orchestrations were created mindful both of the precise constituency of the ensemble and the strengths of individual players.
Instrumentalists who particularly shone as soloists in the course of the concert included the orchestra’s leader, Wendi Wang (violin); Pooja Low (flute); and, notwithstanding the paucity of melodies for her instrument in the standard musical theatre repertoire, Hafsa Jalisi (tuba). The orchestra’s rhythm section, including Tian-Qi Ling (piano) and Roi Espanillo (acoustic guitar), was also especially strong and lent both drive and colour to the ensemble.
Inevitably there were occasional indications that the performance was that of a youth group tackling some very challenging and varied repertoire. For instance, both ‘Goldfinger’ and ‘The Simpsons’ (each of them valiant endeavours) were performed a little tentatively in places and could have been more consistently energetic and characterful. Personally, I felt that the orchestra might also have benefited from a couple more strings to balance the saxophones and brass.
Precariously assembled on the staircase at the back of the stage were the YMT Alumni Choir, comprised of former members who had since moved on to achieve success elsewhere, and who had returned for this concert to usher in the next generation of musicians. In addition to providing backing for the principal singers, they presented a series of numbers in homage to recent Youth Music Theatre UK productions, including ‘Warsaw Moon’ (Korckaz), ‘A Lie’ (Triptych), and ‘Salsa Sisters’ (Salsa Sisters). Soloists drawn from the choir itself brought these songs perfectly to life, although it was a pity that they performed from behind the orchestra, where it was difficult to see them.
Musical supervisor David White provided an excellent lead for the youth ensemble throughout the concert, capturing the essence of individual pieces effectively without compromising his exceptionally clear direction. Pete Gallagher was similarly commendable as the evening’s host, delivering a series of humorous and engaging links between pieces, during which he expertly introduced many of the orchestra’s members individually.
The culmination of six months of rehearsal, this was an exceptional concert that yields great promise for the future of the orchestra and unquestionably deserved the standing ovation it elicited. The impressive finale, ‘One Day More’ (Les Misérables), represented a most extraordinary coming together of YMT members of the past, West End stars of the present, and the rising musical talent of the future for whom, with eight further shows being presented by YMT this summer alone, there is evidently no shortage of opportunity.