Review: SimÃ³n BolÃvar National Youth Choir Of Venezuela @ RFH
Since I’m living in London for most of April for Puffball, on the day of my arrival I wasted no time and headed for the South Bank Centre. If you have a chance to see the SimÃ³n BolÃvar National Youth Choir of Venezuela, then there is no excuse not to.
El Sistema has helped countless children off the streets of Venezuela and turned their lives around, teaching them to play instruments and sing. Since 1975, this is a shining example of how to get young people engaged in classical music. I know there are similar projects like this on this isle, but I feel we could be doing even more.
Along with their Youth Orchestra (watch the amazing clip!), the choir are the pinnacle of the country’s achievements. They are as good as any choir in Europe or America, for sure. This concert had variety and was a joy to behold. With a cheeky, quick little visit to the Queen Elizabeth Hall next door, I quickly heard a few songs from Mesechinka, a French choir giving us some Bulgarian, Georgian and other folk. It has been the Chorus Festival and a shame I didn’t hear more.
The Misa De RÃ©quiem by Venezuelan composer Juan Bautista Plaza opened the concert. It didn’t have much going for it, but it’s important to hear work from their native land. The composer himself had deep bouts of self-denial. Perhaps I’m being too harsh. It would feel safe in a church or liturgical setting. Britten’s Missa Brevis on the other hand was vivid and gave the singers more of a challenge in the singing, emphasising some words, also making it sound like they had the hiccups at some points. Originally for boys’ choir, this worked well for the female group and a few high male singers.
The Mendelssohn was also a highlight. His anthem Hear My Prayer evoked nature, heaven and other blissful things. The section O For The Wings Of A Dove, a recognisable and moving passage. Soprano, Ambar Arias made a vivid soloist, at times making it sound like an Irish folk song. It was truly splendid. ZoltÃ¡n KodÃ¡ly’s Missa Brevis ended the night. Its ambition was great, its sound intense and stirring. Organist Vincent Heitzer (who played in all four works) was sterling throughout on the newly restored organ in the hall. The pipes of this instruments are a marvel. Worth going just to gaze upon them for the evening.
It has become customary that these Venezuelan musicians give encoresâ€¦ but we were not expecting four of them! The audience was so praising, conductor Lourdes SÃ¡nchez felt they would have to appease us, with this many end pieces. With a type of guitar and soloists from the choir coming out singing folk songs, the choir made us leave with a in joyous mood, filled with hope that projects like this saves lives and make music the saviour of us all.