Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela, Royal Albert Hall, London

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If anybody was uncertain about the colours of Venezuela’s flag before Sunday’s Prom, they certainly will not be now. To add a vibrant splash to the encores, the players of the Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra donned multi-coloured jackets, resplendent in Venezuela’s yellow, blue and red.

This has been a memorable Proms season for youth orchestras from around the world. Young string players from Soweto in South Africa set the opening weekend off with bravado, and this vast, more-than- 100-strong youth orchestra was hardly less exhilarating. In each case the background story of music lifting young people out of deprivation is inspiring on its own account.

In terms of the rising standard for youth orchestras, the Venezuelans may not occupy the world’s number one spot – that surely belongs to the Gustav Mahler Jugendorchester, hotly pursued by Daniel Barenboim’s West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, made up of players from either side of the Middle Eastern divide – but they play extremely well and with vitality.

All the pent-up energy made the Royal Albert Hall’s foundations tremble. Unlike most other youth orchestras, the Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra has a young music director in 26-year-old Gustavo Dudamel, guaranteed an international career as music director-designate of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra. The youthful combination was explosive.

Their performance of Shostakovich’s Symphony No 10 was conceived on a huge sonic scale. Dudamel made hard work of the long opening movement – the misery of the Russian masses weeps out of every note and performing it with such heavy accents and dogged tempos labours the message.

But as soon as dynamism was called for, the performance took off. The short scherzo was electric, like a bolt of lightning unleashed in the Stalinesque gloom.

The second half was a riot of colour, rhythm and dance. The symphonic dances from Bernstein’s West Side Story are perfect material for young players and went with infectious zest.

Dance and ballet numbers by Moncayo, Arturo Márquez and Ginastera gave us unbridled Latin American brilliance. Dudamel and his young Venezuelan band of musicians will be welcome back at the BBC Proms any time.


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