The NZ Symphony Orchestra National Youth Orchestra, one of our musical taonga, is together again.

The best of our young orchestral musicians have spent a week in intensive rehearsals under a top-notch international conductor, culminating in this weekend's concerts.

Past maestros include such notables as Yannick Nezet-Seguin, Benjamin Zander and Paul Daniel. Sir James MacMillan takes the podium for the latest concerts, with percussionist Colin Currie as soloist in the conductor's Veni Veni Emmanuel. Benjamin Britten's popular A Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra completes the British portion of the evening.

The rest is homegrown, provided by the orchestra's two resident composers, Celeste Oram and Reuben Jelleyman.


Oram, taking a break from doctoral studies in San Diego, says the work is a startling take on Britten that promises to be an overture to end all overtures. She says an audience can't help but be won over when they experience the sheer engagement of these young musicians.

"If I can get the orchestra on board and committed, then I feel that that's a rousing success."

Oram has a website that would put many senior composers to shame. Punters can hear and see more than 20 of her compositions there, including Macropsia, an orchestral score that placed her in the top three for the 2013 Sounz Contemporary Prize.

There is also much zesty radicalism to be found, showing the joy she gets from, she says, experimenting, playing and discovering. Yet for all the edges being cut, Oram still values the orchestra for what she describes as its history of constantly exposing audiences to the new.

"There's "nothing like 60 to 100 people up there on stage together, creating so much sound".

Meanwhile, Reuben Jelleyman also relishes an orchestra's big sonic palette. Young players are important to this Wellington composer, too, for the special energy they bring to their performances.

"It's exciting to take off on this musical adventure with people of my own age," he says, musicians with whom he will continue to work throughout his career.

Jelleyman's Vespro, like Oram's opening piece, takes its lead from the classics. He describes it as finding new music amid the very old, grand creation of Monteverdi's Vespers.


Auckland audiences this year heard the young composer transforming a Gretchen Albrecht image into an evocative orchestral score for Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra's Gallery of Sound project. Now Jelleyman draws architectural parallels for his latest work, talking of a building in which old stone buttresses mesh with glass and steel.

Both composers, in their own way, appreciate the continuity of the musical tradition.

"Music should know where it comes from," Oram says.

What: NZSO New Zealand Youth Orchestra - British Festival
Where & when: tonight, Michael Fowler Centre, Wellington: tomorrow, Auckland Town Hall