by Jeremy Eichler
With all those broadly winged melodies that are so much fun to play, and the intense emotions that resonate with the highs and lows of adolescent life, the symphonies and concertos of Tchaikovsky can seem made-to-order for the young classical musician. They certainly did on Sunday afternoon, when the New York Youth Symphony passionately devoted itself to a mostly Tchaikovsky program for the second Carnegie Hall concert of its 42nd season.
But before the Russian fireworks began, the orchestra, made up of 108 musicians from the metropolitan New York area, performed something fairly common for this ensemble but very rare for most youth symphonies: a world premiere. Through its essential First Music series, the orchestra has commissioned works from 62 young composers. It’s hard to imagine a better way to support new voices while at the same time building contemporary music into the regular diet of emerging musicians. In this case, the composer was Thomas Osborne, whose “Nostalgia of the Infinite,” after the painting by Giorgio de Chirico, was a handsome study in musical contrasts, an evolving orchestral dialogue between steely, brass-heavy gestures and a more lush and pliable response from the strings.
It was followed by Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 with Antonio Pompa-Baldi, a young professional making his Carnegie Hall debut. Mr. Pompa-Baldi and the orchestra, under its music director, Paul Haas, did not always agree on tempo and pacing, but this did not prevent the soloist from displaying a fluid yet hard-edged technique and a fiery Romantic temperament. Most striking was the sheer amount of sound he produced in the outer movements with chords that banged out like pistol shots over the orchestra. With time, he may develop finesse in equal measure.
The concert concluded with Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony, cloaked in mystery where appropriate and exultant on the right occasions. Both the symphony and especially the concerto are repertory war horses, and yet the great thing about youth orchestra concerts is that many of these players are encountering this music for the first time. Those initial meetings are precious, for the happen only once, and judging by the applause between movements and the number of young people in the audience, you can bet they were occurring on both sides of the footlights.