The coming together of the NZSO National Youth Orchestra and the New Zealand Youth Choir was a just celebration of our country's finest young musicians – a fitting culmination of a century's nurturing, marking the orchestra's 60th anniversary and the choir's 40th.

First came a sampling of local composing talent in Glen Downie's light speckled droplet. Conductor James Judd introduced it as "very, very special" and it certainly was.

Anchored on a bed of complex, jagged rhythms, the orchestra laid out soundscapes in which cool string harmonics and the bark of brass were prominent. The singers expertly layered their wafting vocalisations, skillfully navigating knife-edge harmonies.

The choir was highlighted in Robert Wiremu's ingenious arrangement of Tuirina Wehi's Waerenga-a-Hika, lovingly conducted by music director, David Squire.

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In times that value a weave of Maori and Pakeha culture, this piece is a considerable achievement. Wehi's poignant words, lamenting the 1865 siege at Waerenga-a-Hika, bridged two languages and moved from hushed chant to vibrant climax. A telling contrast of vocal styles had a radiant Te Ohorere Williams and Bianca Davidson delivering powerful karanga.

Judd and his orchestra made Sibelius' The Oceanides so atmospheric that one could almost feel spray on the face, reminding us how rarely today's concerts feature this composer's once popular symphonic poems.

After interval, Judd brought his Elgarian expertise to fire his young musicians in a mighty performance of The Music Makers. It is easy to sneer at the imperialistic overtones of Arthur O'Shaugnessy's verse but youthful voices added their own charge, singing of music-makers and dreamers of dreams.

The orchestra revelled in passages of pomp and circumstance yet, always alert to the essential lilt and flow, gave us tender lyricism as well, especially when familiar quotes from other Elgar works passed by.

With a fine soloist in Australian mezzo, Catherine Carby, the choir was magnificent; sonorously confident, especially in finessed a cappella.

What: NYO Celebrates
Where: Auckland Town Hall
Reviewed by: William Dart