There was a time when one listened to a youth orchestra with trepidation, hoping everything would go well and there would be no mishaps. Happily those days are long gone: young orchestral musicians today are well tutored, confident and disciplined, and often show the flair of professionals in the making.
Things certainly went well in Sunday's concert by the Birmingham Schools' Symphony Orchestra, and whatever mishaps did occur were of little consequence. Walton's Crown Imperial displayed no obvious flaws, with its mellifluously unforced strings, crisply articulated brass and exciting swirly bits from the woodwind adding a sense of occasion.
Vaughan Williams' 'London' Symphony (No. 2) posed a different set of challenges, requiring from the strings an attention to intonation and bow control greater than some players could deliver.
But Michael Seal's precise, helpful conducting attended fully to the work's general shape and detail, encouraging section principals to give of their best in the Lento's telling solos (violist Omolara Akindeine's was a joy), and investing the Scherzo with perky charm and bustling enjoyment.
The finale, too, was equally enjoyable and finely paced by Seal, who built it up to a passionate climax and convincing air of closure.
Elgar's Cello Concerto, however, demanded from these youngsters an understanding and sympathy outside their reach. This is, after all, a work that expresses an old man's melancholy and despair, not the aspirations of youth.
For the (youngish) soloist Thomas Carroll it was no problem. In a reading of searing tonal beauty and understated virtuosity he fully got to the heart of the piece, colouring phrases and melodic dying falls with wonderful subtlety, and displaying in the elegiac Adagio and empty gestures of the finale a palpable empathy with Elgar's feelings of loss and desolation.