We seem to be living in something of a golden age of youth orchestras. Ensembles of young musicians, such as the Chamber Orchestra of Europe, the Simon Bolivar Symphony Orchestra and the New World Symphony, have set standards high for orchestral players of any age, let alone those at the student level.
And as they amply demonstrated at the Kennedy Center Concert Hall on Sunday, the European Union Youth Orchestra need fear no competition. Under Vladimir Ashkenazy’s baton, the EUYO musicians (ages 17 through 24) tore into Strauss’s Alpine Symphony for all they were worth. There have been subtler or more visionary Alpine Symphony performances in recent decades, but Ashkenazy’s extrovert approach juiced all the ecstatic and cataclysmic moments in this opulent score and treated the more lyrical material with a songful warmth.
The musicians — so plentiful they stuffed every square inch of the Concert Hall stage — responded with burnished brass chording, thunderous accents from the percussion and a gorgeous sheen on their voluminous string section. The orchestra opened with a brashly idiomatic performance of Copland’s “An Outdoor Overture” and a reading of Bruch’s turbulent Violin Concerto No. 1, in which Pinchas Zukerman’s rich, febrile and grandly projected treatment of the solo line matched the Wagnerian thrust and weight the orchestra brought to the score. A “pops” arrangement of “America” from “West Side Story” closed the program on a witty note, followed by the musicians hugging and kissing each other in a giddy release of post-concert emotion. Ah, youth.