30 hopeful pieces of classical music, as chosen by the nation’s leading youth orchestra

27 July 2021, 09:38 | Updated: 28 July 2021, 11:57

30 hopeful pieces of classical music, as chosen by Classic FM’s Orchestra of Teenagers
30 hopeful pieces of classical music, as chosen by Classic FM’s Orchestra of Teenagers. Picture: NYO

By Maddy Shaw Roberts

These are unequivocally music’s most hopeful melodies, according to Classic FM’s Orchestra of Teenagers...

Throughout the uncertainty of the pandemic, the brilliant teenage musicians of the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain (NYO) have embraced music as an essential tool for escape, motivation and hope for the days ahead.

And so, this summer, the world-leading orchestra will finally return to great UK stages with their ‘Hope Exchange’ project, a series of hope-filled concerts at Saffron Hall (28 July), Southbank Centre (31 July), Birmingham Symphony Hall (6 August) and Leeds Town Hall (8 August), featuring star soloists from saxophonist Jess Gillam to violinists Nicola Benedetti and Francesca Dego. All concerts are free for those under the age of 19.

To find out which pieces of music feel like ‘hope’ to some of our country’s most exciting young musicians, we spoke to a handful of the NYO’s members, who told us of the composers and melodies that helped them a period of social isolation, silenced culture and uncertainty for their future.

Read more: How to join the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain

  1. Prelude from Cello Suite No.2 – J.S. Bach

    “A Prelude, as an opening movement, is a moment of hope in itself as the composer begins their journey of sharing their work and message with us. The reflective phrasing mirrors the human experience of hope, illustrating how it often grows out of darker periods and rarely exists without setbacks. The piece finishes with triumphant fanfare-like chords which I interpret as Bach’s portrayal of musical optimism.”

    – Max Rayworth, viola

  2. Amazing Grace – spiritual

    “‘Amazing Grace’ is one of the first pieces I learnt on the bass, and listening to its stirring melody and poignant lyrics makes me reflect on the importance of belief, and to have faith in a more hopeful world.”

    – Jelly Rowe, double bass

    Read more: Spine-tingling ‘Amazing Grace’ rings out through streets

  3. Bella Ciao – Trad.

    “Growing up with an Italian background I have often heard versions of a very famous Italian protest folk song by the name of ‘Bella Ciao’, first written in the late 1800s. The song was later adopted as an anthem of the anti-fascist resistance against Mussolini and Hitler. Today versions of ‘Bella Ciao’ are sung in many other countries as a modern-day anthem of freedom and hope. It is this theme of hope against hardship and despair that led many Italians to play the song in unison from their balconies at the beginning of the first lockdown in March last year.

    – Gabriella Bavetta, violin

  4. ‘Nigun’ from the Baal Shem Suite – Ernest Bloch

    “I learnt and played ‘Nigun’ from Ernest Bloch’s Baal Shem Suite during lockdown and it was the piece I turned to, to let my emotions run freely. There were so many emotions bottled up during the many months I spent at home, and this piece allowed me to move on and release those negative emotions in order to find a more hopeful outlook.”

    – Sakura Fish, violin

  5. Hope for Marimba – Adam Tan

    “Adam Tan’s ‘Hope’ for marimba is beautiful in its honest simplicity, developing from a simple thread of tune. It is not a flashy or particularly challenging piece but has a pathos all of its own. The fact that it is new and composed in these difficult times gives the piece an extra appeal.”

    – Paddy Davies, percussion

  6. Symphony No.3 ‘Eroica’ – Beethoven

    “So many of the pieces we are playing this summer tell a story musically and contextually of hardships; of ideals coming up against an anxious sense of reality. Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3 known as ‘Eroica’ (Heroic) was named for his contemporary Napoleon, until Beethoven’s admiration turned to bitter disappointment and the composer scrubbed the name from his manuscript. Charged with emotion, Beethoven’s momentous, expansive vision of human dignity and hope endures.”

    – Kynan Walker, violin

    Read more: 10 works of Beethoven that actually changed the world

  7. Malinconia from Sonata No.2 in A minor – Ysaÿe

    “I started learning this piece during lockdown at a time when I was feeling particularly isolated, lonely and somewhat despondent. I was badly missing making music with others. It is called ‘Malinconia’, and its melancholic character reflected my mood at the time. It is peaceful, serene, and reflective – almost prayer-like, and made me feel hopeful that soon we could be out of the very strange last few months, moving forwards and collaborating once again.”

    – Maya de Souza, violin

  8. White Cliffs of Dover – Walter Kent

    “During the war, this song was seen as a symbol of hope and unity, values which I think we have all shared throughout the pandemic. For me it represents the light at the end of the tunnel.”

    – Georgina Bloomfield, violin

  9. Soulforce – Jessie Montgomery

    “There is so much music waiting to be explored from the last decade and the fact that NYO is helping introduce these to a wider audience is fantastic. Jessie Montgomery's one-movement symphonic work portrays a solitary voice struggling against the shackles of oppression. With a title that draws on Martin Luther King Jr.’s ‘I Have a Dream’ speech and embracing musical influences from big-band jazz, funk, hip-hop and R&B, Soul Force pays homage to the diverse musical voices that have risen up to create a space for free expression.”

    – Will Clark, violin

    Young violinist chooses composer and string player Jessie Montgomery’s ‘Soulforce’
    Young violinist chooses composer and string player Jessie Montgomery’s ‘Soulforce’. Picture: Getty
  10. ‘Coming Home’ melody from ‘New World’ Symphony – Dvořák

    “When Dvořák came to USA he told his students to listen to the diversity of indigenous and immigrant voices. This music represents this individuality and diversity, which combines into a whole greater than its component parts. It brings hope to all who hear it.”

    – Zak El-Shirbiny, cello

  11. Hades – Mason Bynes

    “It’s not everyday you get to actually talk with the composer of a piece you are playing! I wanted to find a piece of music written by a young, Black, female composer, who has written for the double bass, and after some research I discovered the music of Mason Bynes, who has been incredibly supportive. It has been great fun to play something new and get to speak to Mason. Hades, king of the underworld, is usually portrayed as a ‘bad guy’, but this piece uses sweeping melodic phrases to show another side of his character.”

    – Brooke Simpson, double bass

  12. Michi – Keiko Abe

    “Michi means journey or the way. I learnt this piece during the first lockdown and I see it as representative of my own musical journey, as well as the global journey through the pandemic. The closing improvisation embodies joy and hope.”

    – Shesh Abu-Jabir, double bass

  13. Circle of Life – Elton John

    “I LOVE the musical The Lion King – and I particularly love this piece, ‘Circle of Life’. The vocal introduction is so powerful; even if you don’t fully understand the lyrics, we do understand what the music conveys. The symbolism of Rafiki holding Simba represents a symbol of hope for the future. The music takes us on a journey of overcoming things in life that are difficult. This to me is hope.”

    Danya Jayasinghe Rushton, viola

  14. Bergère Captive – Pierre-Octave Ferroud

    “The title of this piece is translated to ‘Captive Shepherdess’. This piece fluctuates from moments of extreme darkness to lightness and hope. To me this perfectly represents the turbulent emotions of this past year or so – coming in and out of lockdowns, being unsure of what lies ahead, and ultimately hope for the future.”

    – Daisy Noton, flute

  15. Morning Mood – Grieg

    “This piece represents the morning of a fresh day. It encourages me to take my mind off whatever has happened the day before, and focus on the present and all the possibilities of the future. The lockdowns caused anxiety for many, but the rising melody and triplet rhythm help me to focus on taking each day at a time, and to remain hopeful for returning normality.”

    – Juliet Beadle, flute

  16. ‘Pan’ from Six Metamorphoses after Ovid – Britten

    “‘Pan’ from Britten’s Six Metamorphoses after Ovid is one of the most well-known solo oboe pieces, with great scope for imaginative creativity. Themes of unrequited love, tenacity, and hope imbue this work, based on the famous Greek myth. I’m looking forward to seeing how it is interpreted by a class of nine year olds as part of my Hope Exchange outreach project!”

    – Theo Chapple, oboe

  17. Gabriel’s Oboe (from The Mission) – Ennio Morricone

    “This simple and beautiful melody evokes hope and peace, and it is well known as the soundtrack to the 1986 film The Mission, which explores the themes of inclusion, justice and redemption. The composer Ennio Morricone died during the pandemic, and I chose this work in tribute to him.”

    – James Dew, oboe

  18. Sound and Fury – Anna Clyne

    “Inspired by Shakespeare’s stunning poetic expression of despair in Macbeth, Anna Clyne’s Sound and Fury is a riveting musical evocation of a world drained of hope, and a place in which our darkest fears may be confronted and overcome. I am so looking forward to playing it with a full orchestra and start to feel a positive way forward, as we all begin to emerge from the dark moments of the pandemic.”

    – Gabriella Bavetta, violin

  19. 3 Smiles for Tracey, Movement 2, Gently – Adolphus Hailstork

    “Adolphus Hailstork is an internationally renowned American composer and Smiles for Tracey humorously explores the range of the clarinet. The piece is simple in nature, and happy without being too extroverted. It conjures up feelings of positively and joy.”

    – Raj Bhaumik, clarinet

  20. Quartet for the End of Time – Messiaen

    “Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time was written when the composer was imprisoned in a prisoner-of-war camp – a setting with no hope, except the hope the composer heard in the sound of birdsong.”

    – Siena Barr, clarinet

  21. Souvenir Lointain – Francis Chagrin

    “I chose Francis Chagrin’s Souvenir Lointain because there are two voices calling to each other, which I think captures lockdown perfectly, and people hoping to meet again. The title means ‘distant memory’, which reminds me of the gulf between life before Covid and during.”

    – Fergus Butt, bassoon

  22. La Vie En Rose (Louis Armstrong) – Edith Piaf

    “Louis Armstrong’s performance of the song ‘La Vie en Rose’ was released shortly after World War II and it was an anthem of hope for the time. The words talk about unfaltering love and the moments between two people in a relationship. The title of this piece translates roughly to ‘Life in rosy hues’, which feels like an apt message during a pandemic – it reminds us to treasure every moment with our loved ones and to see life through rose-tinted spectacles as much as we can.”

    – Hannah Acworth, trumpet

  23. Look for the Silver Lining – Jerome Kern

    “‘Look for the silver lining’ is a jazz standard all about finding hope in tough times: “Look for the silver lining/ Whenever a cloud appears in the blue/ Remember, somewhere the sun is shining/ And so the right thing to do is make it shine for you.” The tune is joyful and hopeful but not overly happy or forced, it feels very sincere. My favourite recording is Chet Baker’s on the album Chet Baker Sings.

    – Christie Smith, trumpet

  24. Symphony No. 9 – Shostakovich

    “It’s so special to be able to make live music again, something that has left a gaping hole in society since locking down in March 2020. What better way to make a comeback than starting with Shostakovich’s Ninth Symphony. With his incredible 1945 Symphony No. 9 Shostakovich let Stalin hope for a work of bombastic praise, but instead delivered playfulness and pastiche. This work stands as a testament to Shostakovich's ultimate refusal to let lies infect his music. Here he demonstrates that music is the lifeblood of hope.”

    – Will Clark, violin

  25. A Time for Peace – Peter Graham

    “‘A Time for Peace’ is the beautiful theme from the brass band test piece ‘The Essence of Time’. It contrasts with the more stormy sections, bringing a sense of peace and calm. The soothing melody represents hope for me.”

    – Dylan Savage, trumpet

  26. ‘Spiritual’ from Trumpet Sonata – Jean Hubeau

    “The third movement of Jean Hubeau’s Trumpet Sonata is called ‘Spiritual’ and was influenced by the songs sung by enslaved African workers, which in turn gave rise to American blues and jazz music. These songs would have been sung to pass the time and give hope in the most difficult of circumstances. Hubeau composed the piece in 1943 when France was under Nazi occupation. As a result of the occupation, the German occupiers banned all forms of American music, in particular jazz. But despite this, jazz music continued to be played on French radio. I feel like Hubeau believed music could inspire hope even in the darkest of circumstances.”

    – Alex Grey, trumpet

  27. Song for Japan – Steven Verhelst

    “‘Song for Japan’ by Steven Verhelst was originally written following the devastating Tsunami in March 2011 in Japan. It was performed worldwide and brought communities together to remember those whose lives had been lost in this catastrophe, and to look forward to rebuilding lives that had been affected. This is a piece that is capable of raising hope as we move forward from the COVID-19 pandemic to rebuild lives yet again.”

    – Edward Hyde, tenor trombone

  28. Linear Lines – Liz Lane

    “Liz Lanes’ piece Linear Lines is inspired by, and based on, the music of Hildegard of Bingen – specifically the chant 'in principio omnes', from her work ‘Ordo Virtutum’. To me, there is so much hope to be found in the idea that we can hear the music of a woman who was born in the 11th century, and that today’s composers, performers, and listeners can be inspired by her work. I think that this is especially true because of Hildegard’s own strong beliefs in the power of music as a communicative force.

    She said: “The human intellect has great power to resound in living voices, and arouse sluggish souls to vigilance by the song.” To me, this really strikes a chord with NYO’s message of music being a powerful force to bring people together and spread a message of hope – and I’d like to think that she would agree with our mission of spreading hope through music!”

    – Alice Knight, horn

  29. Sea Eagle – Peter Maxwell Davies

    Peter Maxwell Davies’ ‘Sea Eagle’ represents a bird, but often sounds unnerving or thoughtful. For me, it shows the different, darker sides of hope.”

    – Brendan Connellan, horn

  30. ‘Au Matin’ – Tournier

    “‘Au matin’ literally translates as 'in the morning' and to me this notion of the start of a new dawn immediately suggests hope and a fresh start. I get the sense of the warmth of the rising sun, as well as a gentle wind. There are more sombre moments within the pieces, but I love the way this progresses into a brighter, more hopeful section, emulating the light shining through the clouds after a period of darkness.”

    – Helena Pizura, harp

Click here to get your tickets to NYO’s Hope Exchange concerts across the UK.