WYO in safe hands - QES Concert, November 26th


Any doubts about the Westmorland Youth Orchestra entering an exciting new phase under Roland Fudge can be laid firmly to rest. This is an orchestra which is young, ambitious, full of both polish and potential, and above all enjoying itself.


It was almost a party atmosphere on November 26 as Fudge, the WYO’s long-time first violins' tutor, took the baton for a romp through several centuries of dance music. An excellent audience at Queen Elizabeth School, Kirkby Lonsdale, joined in, whooping, cheering and bringing the new conductor back for extra ovations. 


At Fudge’s insistence, the nearly 60 musicians had to do without the backing of professional brass players previously brought in on concert days. Despite some uncertain moments, it worked.


There were more young faces than usual, even for the autumn performance. “Some of them were very green,” Fudge said. “But there’s been a lot of very quick learning going on.” 


The WYO has two strong violinists in soloist Heather Storer, who brought a nice East European gypsy tone to Wieniawski’s Legend, and leader Hannah Foxcroft. And the wind delivered plenty of stylish playing; to name but two, Elizabeth Buckle on recorder and David McGregor on saxophone.


Fudge’s imaginative arrangements stretched the players just the right amount. The WYO is definitely going places.


Oliver Wates


WYO bid Noel Bertram Farewell - 25th June 2011


Noel Bertram’s farewell Westmorland Youth Orchestra concert on June 25th was as innovative in repertoire, and as exhilaratingly played as any in his 25 year tenure culminating in a triumphant standing ovation.


The ceremonial Gabrieli and haunting Ives pieces intriguingly scattered sections of the orchestra throughout Kendal Parish Church, and in the Charles Ives ‘The Unanswered Question’, single trumpeters stationed around the outside of the audience, each calling plaintively to the other over low pedal strings – eerie!  Noel Bertram himself then starred as accomplished soloist in the Gregson Trombone Concerto – a mix of cheeky fun, fine lyricism and driving rhythms. This was a virtuoso piece given virtuoso treatment by the WYO’s long time director showing that he had more than a few tricks to show his charges.
Noel then took the baton for ‘Musick’s Empire’, Anthony Milledge’s setting of the Marvell poem for orchestra and female chorus with thrilling orchestral writing supporting energetic singing by the hand-picked women’s chorus from Ulverston and district, all in the presence of the composer. Finally, there was the Leonard Bernstein pot-pourri: first a wonderfully singable selection of West Side Story’s biggest tunes –audience humming along - then the taxing and show-stopping overture to Candide – a virtuoso party-piece for WYO who fizzed mightily to spontaneous cheers.


Encore? Certainly: the early morning but very much late-lamented Radio 4 signature tune which cunningly weaves together folk songs and marches characteristic of every part of the UK into an ingenious tapestry. The BBC had fearful stick from listeners two years ago over its abandonment at the start of the Radio 4 day, and it was terrific to see slow smiles breaking out on faces in the audience as they suddenly realised what they were listening to.  It brought the concert to a barn-storming finale, one of the very best that WYO has ever given, and full of that irrepressible energy that is so characteristic of this talented youth orchestra and its departing MD. A fitting farewell – and for Noel Bertram, going out at the top of his game!


Dennis Sanderson presented the annual Probus award to Zoe Craven and Elizabeth Briggs (WYO percussionists), and Steven Wilkinson, Queen Katherine School’s HM, presented Noel with both a gift and the WYO’s sincerest thanks and good wishes in the family’s new life in South Wales.


Stuart Manger


Gala Youth Concert - Mary Wakefield Westmorland Festival 25 March 2011


Variety was one of the hallmarks of this concert featuring works from the Baroque to the modern day, from the UK to the Antipodes. The variety did not end there; the first half of the programme featured the Westmorland Youth Orchestra, the second half was the result of a new venture for the Mary Wakefield. Earlier in the festival aspirant instrumentalists, many of whom had never played in an orchestral setting before, joined the Orchestra in workshops that were rehearsed and conducted by Noel Bertram and led to the performance in the second half of the concert.


The well-planned programme opened with gusto. An Infernal Machine by the Australian composer Matthew Hindson describes a vision of the future where machines have overtaken their creators, a scenario akin to the Terminator movies. At this, the European premier of the work, conductor Noel Bertram described the work as '5 minutes of mayhem'. The audience were well warned and not disappointed. The percussion set a relentless pace and determined a forte dynamic while an incessant motif was established and passed relentlessly from section to section until, with a crescendo, the work was brought to its fortissimo conclusion, with nods of approval as well as applause from the audience.


In complete contrast, Bruch's Kol Nidrei calmed the atmosphere and provided a perfect platform for soloist Daniel Crompton to bring out the beauty of the cello's dark rich tones. Daniel's rendition captured the deep solemnity of the work with an expressive adagio that showed a sensitivity and understanding beyond his years. Rounding off the first half of the programme, the audience was taken on a journey to Middle Earth with Howard Shore's Lord of the Rings Trilogy. A slow and ponderous introduction gave way to the evocative flute playing by Libby Gibson and transported the listener back 5,000 years. In contrast to this gentle Celtic theme, the brass and rhythm sections of the orchestra were fully utilized representing the dark forces. Perhaps not quite achieving full Wagnerian power, they made their presence felt with their strong ostinato beat.


The second half of the evening provided an equally eclectic programme, with works from Theodor Szanto, William Boyce, Phillip Venables and Chris Elliott. An extensive programme learnt in only a few short hours. For me, the most notable work of this part of the programme was Dutch Courage by Venables, inspired by 'Workers Union' by Louis Andreissan. This took the young players into an exploration of what must surely have been one of their first encounters with aleatoric music. The work uses a technique of approximate pitch notation; as a result the harmony is always different, resulting in 'improvised chord clusters'. While pitch is largely at the discretion of the player, conductor Noel Bertram maintained strict control of rhythm as demanded by the composer. The result was lots of syncopation in a high-energy scherzo.


Having risen to the challenge of 'New Music', the young players showed their versatility in a lovely rendition of Elliott's arrangement of Lord of the Dance. A familiar melody in which the orchestra came together to produce a full and rich sound.


For their high standard of playing and discipline, they deserve nothing but the highest of praise, other than perhaps larger audiences.


Sandra Walsh