“Bold and fearless.” That’s the instruction to the musicians that marks the first page of Molly Joyce’s “Fresh” (2014), which had its world premiere as part of the New York Youth Symphony’sspring concert at Carnegie Hall. And it could stand as a description of the orchestra’s playing throughout Sunday’s program, especially in a properly exciting performance of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony.
Our professional orchestras have a Beethoven problem. They play his music so often and so well that it can begin to sound routine, sapped of its radical meaning and disruptive qualities. Instead of Beethoven caged, we need Beethoven in the wild. That’s what youth orchestras give us at their best.
As the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra did in their stunning Carnegie Hall Ninth under Daniel Barenboim in 2013, and the Youth Symphony managed to a lesser extent here, they can bring an energy that comes from the players’ sense of discovery, a thrill born of the fear that it might all go horribly wrong.
Not that it went awry on Sunday.
Keenly led by the music director Joshua Gersen, who was recently appointed the assistant conductor of the New York Philharmonic, this Ninth had taut energy, clear vision and welcome heft.
In a tasteful reading full of sense, Mr. Gersen evoked a grandeur of announcement in the declaratory opening movement, and a calm, seraphic lyricism in the slow. Valiant playing couldn’t disguise some suspect coordination in the scherzo, but many more expert bands have struggled with Beethoven’s demands there.
The New York Choral Society, trained by David Hayes, sang with throaty gusto in the finale, although the four soloists — Raquel González, Avery Amereau, James Knight and Onay Kose — were at times wayward.
Ms. Joyce’s “Fresh,” commissioned as part of the Youth Symphony’s valuable First Music Program for young composers, made an impression too.
About nine minutes long, it opens with a snare drumroll that gives way to a pulsating dance rhythm at disco tempo. That rhythm slowly and stealthily infects the orchestra, thumping away in high strings at the end.
“Fresh” teems and boils, its textures grimy in the low strings and brass at one moment, glinting the next.
Linked by its opening drums to Ms. Joyce’s work, the overture to Rossini’s “La Gazza Ladra” started the concert under the baton of the Youth Symphony’s assistant conductor, Harrison Hollingsworth. His heavy downbeats precluded lightness, but not an enthusiastic, brisk spirit. DAVID ALLEN
photo credit: Chris Lee