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Review: U.S. Youth Orchestra Inspires a Chinese Counterpart


The conductor Marin Alsop leading the National Youth Orchestra of the United States of America in a program that included a short John Adams work and a premiere by Gabriela Lena Frank at Carnegie Hall on Friday.

Harrison Hill/The New York Times

Imitation can be the sincerest form of flattery, as was demonstrated by two exciting concerts on consecutive nights at Carnegie Hall this weekend.

On Friday, the National Youth Orchestra of the United States of America, an ambitious educational venture founded in 2013 by Carnegie Hall’s Weill Music Institute, presented its annual program, conducted by Marin Alsop. This year, 115 exceptional musicians ages 16 to 19 were brought together for two weeks of extensive training in preparation for the Carnegie concert and a Latin American tour.

On Saturday night, Carnegie Hall presented the debut of the National Youth Orchestra of China, a training ensemble closely patterned on the American ensemble. The conductor Ludovic Morlot led a program that included a Chinese superstar soloist, the pianist Yuja Wang, in Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto.

The Chinese orchestra, like the American one that inspired it, also selects young players for a period of intensive training. The orchestra is about to begin a three-city tour of China. If Saturday’s performance was a test run for this new venture, these Chinese musicians scored big. (Both programs were broadcast live and are now archived for viewing on medici.tv.)

Friday’s concert opened with a crackling performance of John Adams’s “Short Ride in a Fast Machine,” a jampacked, breathless four-minute piece. Then Ms. Alsop led the premiere of Gabriela Lena Frank’s “Apu: Tone Poem for Orchestra,” a Carnegie commission. Ms. Frank drew on folklore of Andean Peru for this inventive 18-minute work, about Apu, a mischievous spirit who inhabits the rivers and mountains. It begins with a slippery tune, woodwinds dominant, as tart chords punch out accents and off beats. The music gives way to a solemn prayer to the spirit, with searching string lines and dense, halting harmonies. During a final episode the music becomes like a dance for Apu, all swirling arpeggios, fractured rhythms and myriad shadings.

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