Belfast Telegraph

Young musicians reach new heights

By Alf McCreary

There is always a buzz of expectancy about the annual concerts of the Ulster Youth Orchestra, and Saturday night's performance in the Ulster Hall was no exception.

Under its accomplished conductor Gary Walker, this multi-talented ensemble provided a confident start with Smetana's Dance Of The Comedians, a delightful piece to begin any concert.

The distinctive talent of the Belfast-born pianist Michael McHale is well-known to the Ulster audiences. He did not disappoint with his performance of Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No 1, a stock in trade for all concert pianists, in which McHale captured the freshness and beauty of this sometimes over-familiar piece.

In the first half the UYO sounded well-drilled and extremely competent, but in the second half the players soared to a completely different level with a commanding performance of a selection from Prokofiev's hard-edged but also romantic ballet score for Romeo And Juliet.

All sections of the Ulster Youth Orchestra combined to produce a memorable performance of this orchestral show-piece.

In doing so they had the crispness, clarity, discipline and feel of a truly professional orchestra – all this, and a generous encore.

No wonder they received a standing ovation.

Four stars

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