A Child of our Time – CBS Canterbury Arena

The Press

The NZSO National Youth Orchestra, with the New Zealand Youth Choir, conducted by Wyn Davies.
Music by Alex Taylor and Michael Tippett, at the CBS Canterbury Arena. 6:30pm, Saturday 8 September 2012.
Reviewed by David Sell for The Press.


The National Youth Orchestra and New Zealand Youth Choir have spent the past week here in Christchurch preparing the two works that made up this fine concert.

Any temptation to condescend to youth and inexperience was immediately dispelled as these young people showed the results of their training and rehearsal.

Michael Tippett’s A Child of our Time is a mature work built of mature concepts and based on mature feelings. Performing it with such conviction must have been one of the most concentrated learning experiences these young people could ever have.

The work itself is incredibly rich in meaning, this being reflected in its musical palette. The emotional power of the spirituals, and dense content of the musical material made for a challenging experience for both the young performers and the large audience.

I continue to marvel at the high standard of the orchestra. Life is in their youth. But so is discipline. Individual technique is adequate for anything presented to them, and with the guidance of conductor, Wyn Davies, the outcome could only be first-rate.

I was pleasantly impressed at how well the 60-voice choir sounded out over the full symphony orchestra in A Child of our Time. Control was the keyword. Thorough musical preparation from the choir director David Squire was evident, giving the conductor, Wyn Davies a secure and understanding vocal instrument to work with.

And of course the four soloists were key people in all this. Bass, Moses Mackay took the role of narrator, and was especially strong in the solo sections of the spiritual, Go down, Moses. Kate Spence, mezzo-soprano, established depth to the initial dark scenes, and Thomas Atkins, tenor, followed that through in the aria I have no money for my bread, with its cynical tango accompaniment.

Soprano, Morag Atchison, was simply brilliant. Her strong emotionally-charged counter-melodies in some of the spirituals continued to ring long after the concert.

While Tippett was looking into the world in A Child of our Time, Alex Taylor, the NYO’s 2012 Composer-in-Residence, was looking into himself in Feel. An introspective four-movement work, it was fragmentary in structure, in a texturally-based musical language. Taylor used some interesting orchestral effects, which were orchestrated very well. It is a work that would benefit from another hearing.