Tchaikovsky’s Fifth

Symphony Hall, Birmingham

Wednesday 25th May, 2016, 7:30pm

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Programme

  • Tchaikovsky  The Tempest , 21′
  • Glazunov  Violin Concerto , 20′
  • Tchaikovsky  Symphony No. 5, 48′

Something incredible happens when a Russian maestro conducts Russian music; and former Bolshoi music director Alexander Vedernikov has Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony in his blood. Expect grand passions, tender moments, and melody after wondrous melody in a concert that features a rare performance of the luscious violin concerto by the “Russian Mendelssohn” Alexander Glazunov – plus Tchaikovsky’s gloriously uninhibited take on Shakespeare’s The Tempest.

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Review by Clive Peacock, BachTrack:

Click here for full review

…     “The recurring main theme, which links the four movements, sometimes dubbed the ‘fate theme’, offered Oliver Jones’ the opportunity to open the movement with beautiful clarinet playing, echoed by Joshua Wilson’s delightful bassoon efforts. Both returned towards the end of the movement in the most dramatic form. This gives way to one of Tchaikovsy’s most beloved themes, a poignant and seductive horn melody led by Elspeth Dutch before a dramatic interruption from Matthew Hardy’s fierce timpani playing, something he also achieved at the beginning of the evening during Tchaikovsky’s The Tempest

During an evening of huge plusses with outstanding individual performances, the CBSO was well led by Zoe Beyers, firmly established as a very successful leader of the orchestra. With a Russian conductor, Alexander Vedernikov, very much at home with an all-Russian programme, the strong CBSO audience following was in for a treat. It is a sheer joy to listen to – and watch – the crisp pizzicato playing of the cello desks and those of the double basses.

Dance-like themes open the minor key third movement – probably his fateful theme seeking happiness. Vedernikov showed his supreme confidence in the CBSO’s capability, allowing Beyers to lead the playful runs in the strings before taking back the leadership for the furiously driven fourth movement with the many delicate shaded woodwind passages acknowledged with nods of approval by a very pleased conductor. He deliberately sought the hands of the several brass, wind and string players at the end of a superb performance.”     …

 

Shostakovich’s Piano Quintet

CBSO Centre, Birmingham
Friday 20th May, 2016,  1.10pm

Programme

  • Beethoven String Trio in C minor, O.9 No 3
  • Shostakovich Piano Quintet in G minor, Op.57

Having played Ravel’s Piano Concerto for the left hand at Symphony Hall on 19 May, acclaimed pianist Steven Osborne follows up his full orchestra appearance with a more intimate concert at CBSO Centre. He’ll be joined by a cohort of equally brilliant CBSO Musicians for Shostakovich’s sparkling Piano Quintet.

Become Ocean

Symphony Hall, Birmingham

Thursday 19th May, 2016, 7:30pm

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Programme

  • Sibelius  The Tempest – Prelude , 7′
  • Ravel  Piano Concerto in G major , 21′
  • Sibelius  The Oceanides, Op. 73 , 9′
  • Ravel  Piano Concerto for the left hand , 19′
  • John Luther Adams  Become Ocean (UK premiere), 42′

Steven Osborne’s encore – Ravel – Oiseaux Tristes from Miroirs

It’s been called “the loveliest apocalypse in musical history” and John Luther Adams’ haunting, Pulitzer Prize-winning Become Ocean is fast becoming one of this decade’s most talked-about pieces of new classical music. We’re thrilled to be giving the first UK performance, with the conductor who gave its world premiere. Be there as we make history, in a concert that also features master-pianist Steven Osborne in both of Ravel’s magical concertos.

CBSO+ 6.15pm Hear CBSO Chief Executive Stephen Maddock talk about tonight’s programme.

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Review by Andrew Clements, Guardian:

Click here for full review

…     “For 40 years now, Adams’ work as a composer has been inextricably linked with his involvement in environmental issues, but Become Ocean is the biggest, most overwhelming expression of those concerns so far. The score bears his stark epigraph: “Life on this earth first emerged from the sea. As the polar ice melts and sea level rises, we humans find ourselves facing the prospect that once again we may quite literally become ocean.”

Yet the music itself is anything but stark or bleak. It’s rich, deeply textured and all-encompassing, and the three massive climaxes that articulate the huge span – moments when the pulsing sequences that Adams assigns to his groups of strings, woodwind and brass come exactly into phase – seem more celebratory than apocalyptic. The presence of the musical processes underpinning this glorious, constantly changing stasis is impossible to ignore – there are precisely planned symmetries everywhere, and the work itself is one gigantic palindrome – but the orchestral beauties and the tonal harmonies never seem contrived.”     …

*****

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Review by Richard Whitehouse, ClassicalSource:

Click here for full review

…     “All credit to the CBSO for enabling Ludovic Morlot (who gave the premiere in Seattle almost two years ago) to schedule a piece that justifiably won the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Music, and deserves its place within the (not too crowded) orchestral repertoire of the early-21st century. The performance left little to be desired, not least because this is music ideally suited to the acoustic of Symphony Hall – filling the auditorium to a degree that even a ‘surround sound’ recording would be hard-pressed to emulate. Rarely have 42 minutes proved so immersive.

 The hour-long first half was almost a concert in itself. Continuing his exploration of Ravel, Steven Osborne played both Piano Concertos – (rightly) tackling the G-major first and getting to the heart of the opening movement as it alternates between brittle humour and bluesy longing. The Adagio was hardly less impressive, Osborne setting off with a discreet purposefulness that Morlot picked up on to ideal accord, and if the Presto felt at all calculated, its interplay of ingenuity and nonchalance held good through to the brusque closing gesture.

Even finer overall was the Left-Hand Piano Concerto, its three-movements-in-one format seamlessly and cumulatively negotiated so that intensity never flagged. Nor was Osborne fazed by its conception, playing with a clarity and definition as did not preclude a searching eloquence in the limpid theme whose heightened return in the coda crystallizes the expressive depth of this work overall. Morlot secured orchestral playing of real impact, while Osborne returned for an ‘Oiseaux tristes’ (second piece from Miroirs) interpreted with ineffable poise.

Each Concerto was prefaced with music by Sibelius. It is surprising the ‘Prelude’ from his music for The Tempest does not regularly open proceedings, given its surging impetus and sense of imminent catastrophe – both vividly conveyed here – make for a curtain-raiser like no other. If The Oceanides felt a little impassive near the outset, its swirling textures merged effortlessly towards the climax – a double helix of giddying immensity prior to the pensive close. Such evocations of immutable forces added cohesion to an already impressive concert.”    

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Review by Richard Ely, BachTrack:

Click here for full review

…     “The concertos apart, these works are not often programmed, so it was good to have a such a convenient ‘hook’ to hang them on. The Tempest, composed by Sibelius for a production of Shakespeare’s play, takes the form of a series of orchestral crescendos, replicating the rages of a storm at sea which finally subsides, exhausted. All sections of the orchestra enjoyed themselves in creating what could, in less assured hands, have been a shapeless cacaphony. Daringly, that first production substituted Sibelius’ work for Shakespeare’s introductory scene, which describes a shipwreck. On balance, and in a convincing performance like this one, I think Sibelius makes the point more eloquently than the Bard, even if this is one of the Finnish master’s minor works.

The same composer’s The Oceanides is a major work, though one seldom heard in the concert hall, so it was a pleasure to encounter a performance as auspicious as this. Beginning with a vivid impression of clearing mists, superbly played by violins and timpani, the piece progressed through other lifelike impressions of birdsong and the push of the sea to the central section, leading to the orchestral climax and the ‘appearance’ of the Oceanides – daughters of the sea god, Neptune. This was a wonderfully spotlit moment, before the piece settled back into the troubled stillness of the sea after a very different storm to the one that blew through The Tempest.

Since the programme placed the Sibelius works adjacent to the Ravel concertos, we were better able to appreciate the contrasting sound worlds of these two contemporaries, with the weighty orchestrations of the Finn meeting the pellucid textures of the Frenchman. They may not be the most searching works for piano and orchestra but they have an elusive charm, stopping just the right side of whimsy, that quickly gains and holds the attention if you’re in the mood. Perhaps the shift in mood required was too extreme, but in these performances by the increasingly impressive Steven Osborne, it was impossible not to surrender to Ravel’s introverted milieu, where even the ‘jolly little tune’ that kicks off the G major concerto has an air of abstraction hinting that tears are never far away. Although real depth of feeling threatens to intrude in the Adagio assai, the jazz-derived rhythms of the outer movements preclude too much introspection and the work finishes leaving the listener agreeably puzzled. As so often with Ravel, ambiguity is the key and Osborne had the measure of the solo part, which he despatched with unshowy virtuosity. Here and in the left-hand concerto, he showed himself to be a master of Ravel’s diffident art, as he did in a penetrating encore of Oiseaux tristes.”     …

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Review by Rebecca Franks, The Times (££):

Click here for full review (££)

…      “Steven Osborne was the truly superlative soloist: refined, direct, intelligent and instinctive. Every note was exactly in its place; the music sparkled and flowed. Glossy strings brought Hollywood glamour to the Left Hand Concerto, while the G major Concerto was a sunny riot of colourful detail.

And then it was the UK premiere of Become Ocean, Adams’s 42-minute, Pulitzer prize-winning orchestral soundscape. It is, explained Morlot, a meditation to be experienced rather than heard. I put away my notebook and let the music take over. Imagine staring at the ocean, noticing the surface ripples, then the short chop of waves, the roll of the swell, and – if you sit there long enough – the powerful pull of the tides. That’s what Adams translates into music; despite its meticulous construction there’s a complete lack of artifice. This isn’t music that “goes” anywhere, yet it is profoundly transformative. The ocean rises and falls. We sit and observe. My neighbour walked out, visibly riled. But I loved it.”

 

 

Daniel Hope Celebrates…

… Yehudi Menuhin’s Centenary

Town Hall, Birmingham

Wednesday 18th May, 2016, 7:30pm

Orchestra l’arte del Mondo

Daniel Hope – violin

Mozart Divertimento KV 136
Vivaldi Concerto for 2 violins 10’
Mendelssohn Concerto for Violin and Orchestra in D minor 22’
Mozart Divertimento KV 138
Pärt Darf Ich (version without bells) 3’
El-Khoury Unfinished Journey
Bach Concerto for 2 violins 17’

Encore with orchestra – Max Richter – Vivaldi Recomposed, Summer Third Movement

Daniel Hope’s encore – Johann Paul von Westhoff – Imitazione delle Campane

Please note the Kammerorchester Basel will no longer be playing in this concert, and Orchestra l’arte del Mondo will be performing with Daniel Hope. Please also note some changes to the programme. Customers will be contacted in January. Updated 18/12/15.

British violinist Daniel Hope isn’t one to hold back. In the year that Yehudi Menuhin would have turned 100, Hope leads performances of music intimately connected with his great teacher, from Bach to Bechara El-Khoury. Keep an open mind, and you’ll hear wonders.

6.15pm Pre-concert conversation with Daniel Hope.
This conversation will be signed by a British Sign Language interpreter

 

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Review by Richard Bratby, Birmingham Post:

Click here for full review

…     “Daniel Hope plays the violin in a business suit and tie. But there’s nothing strait-laced about his platform manner. He bobs, he bounces, he bends almost double – turning round to face the members of the L’Arte del Mondo orchestra, nodding, and all the while spinning a rich, glittering stream of notes. He reminded me of someone and when, as an encore, he launched into a funkily re-composed version of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons it clicked: Nigel Kennedy. Since both were once protégés of Yehudi Menuhin, maybe that’s not entirely coincidental.

In fact, the whole programme was chosen as a 100th birthday tribute to the late Lord Menuhin. L’Arte del Mondo are a spirited bunch who play standing up and make a beefy, buoyant sound despite their sparing use of vibrato. No ‘historically informed’ self-denial here, despite the token harpsichord. Two of Mozart’s early Salzburg divertimentos, directed by L’Arte del Mondo’s leader Werner Ehrhardt, sang and danced as boisterously as if they’d been played by a full symphonic string section rather than just 14 players.”     …

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Review by Geoff Read, SeenandHeard, MusicWeb:

Click here for full review

…     “However there nothing lacklustre about the Vivaldi that followed, his Concerto for two violins in A minor. A common wavelength between Hope and co-soloist Andrea Keller (sub-leader of L’arte del mondo) was instantly established, a togetherness shared by the whole group. As Ehrhardt came more into prominence in the third Allegro movement of RV 522, the interaction and buzz between the three was exhilarating. The third item, like all of them in the programme directly linked to Menuhin, was Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto in D Minor, brought to Menuhin’s attention in 1951 and recorded by him the following year. Written when Mendelssohn was only thirteen, it naturally does not have the widespread appeal of the E Minor, but is nevertheless of great academic interest. Very much about the soloist, Hope gave an assured performance, displaying the beautiful tone of his Guarneri in the andante and a sparkling gypsy-style kick to the closing allegro.

After the interval, a second Mozart divertimento KV 138, re-opened proceedings. The first (Allegro) movement reminded me of Bach’s Serenade No. 13 in G Major, K525a little anyway; the violas of Antje Sabinski and Rafael Roth in the (Presto) third movement demanded my attention. Next came the other side of Menuhin with Arvo Pärt’s Darf ich … (Can I… ). Without the bells, surely much of its tintinnabulation style is lost (despite the assurances in the programme notes). When Menuhin first received the piece, he asked the composer ‘Can I what?’ to which the reply came, ‘That’s for you say!’ Although only three minutes long, my answer was ‘… Empathise with you!’ An example of ‘East meets West’ followed: the Lebanese composer Bechara El-Khoury’s Unfinished Journey (the title of Menuhin’s autobiography) commissioned by Hope and the Gstaad Menuhin Festival in 2009 to commemorate the tenth anniversary of Menuhin’s death. I found it utterly captivating, with Hope’s beautiful phrasing frustratingly underdeveloped at times – but symbolic of the title. There was also a sensation of expectation from the chattering tremolo string accompaniment, a feeling underpinned by the haunting perceptions of the closing muted bars. There are many iconic recordings by Menuhin and his pairing with David Oistrakh for the Bach Double Concerto for two violins in D minor, BWV 1043 is one of the most popular; this work closed the scheduled programme. Once more Keller partnered Hope; there were fireworks but I thought there might have been a few more of them, their rendition being more memorable for its adroit handling of the tempo changes.”     …

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Review by Rebecca Franks, The Times (££):

Click here for full review (££)

…     “He was an inspiring force throughout: dancing on tiptoe, engaging with the cellos one moment, spinning round to the leader the next. For the double concertos, Andrea Keller stepped out of the orchestra to take a solo spot. In Vivaldi’s A minor Concerto (from L’estro armonico) her sylph-like sound made an appealing contrast to Hope’s sweetness and bite. Less so, sadly, in the Bach D minor Concerto, in which poor tuning curdled the sound. Hope held steady against rocky ensemble in a gutsy Mendelssohn D minor Concerto and shone with bright purity in Pärt and El-Khoury. L’arte del mondo alone played two Mozart Divertimenti, with silvery grace in the D major K136 and heartier tone in the F major K138.”     …

Moscow State Symphony Orchestra

Perform Shostakovich’s Symphony No 5

Symphony Hall, Birmingham

Saturday 14th May, 2016, 7:30pm

Moscow State Symphony Orchestra

Pavel Kogan – conductor

John Lill – piano

Stephen Johnson Behemoth Dances 7’
Rachmaninov Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini 22’
Shostakovich Symphony No 5 44’

MSSO encores:

Rachmaninov – Vocalise

Vincent Youmans (orch. Shostakovich) – Tea for Two – Tahiti Trot

Mariano Mores – El Firulete

Rachmaninov’sPaganini Rhapsody is more than just that rapturous 18th variation; and Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony is more than just one of the great symphonic blockbusters. And Pavel Kogan, John Lill and the Moscow State Symphony Orchestra will show you why. Nothing compares to Russian music played by Russian performers, and for Kogan and his orchestra, it’s in the blood.

6.15pm Pre-concert conversation with Stephen Johnson and Jonathan James.
This conversation will be signed by a British Sign Language interpreter

http://www.THSH.co.uk

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Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:

Click here for full review

“Stephen Johnson is a much respected presenter and writer about music. As we discovered in Saturday’s concert from the remarkable Moscow State Symphony Orchestra he is also an accomplished composer.

Possibly the Russians took an interest in his Behemoth Dances because of Johnson’s passionate interest in the culture of their country. The scenario of this vibrant piece is based on a satirical Russian novel, but we don’t actually need to know that, as this well-imagined score speaks for itself.

Its gripping, urgent opening has something of William Walton’s brio about it, with bold, firmly-etched rhythms riding under confident orchestral sonorities. Darker interludes intervene, and there is particularly atmospheric use of the vibraphone.

Behemoth Dances’ bristling energy was generously conveyed by the MSSO under Pavel Kogan’s empowering baton, with the Hereford-based composer present to acknowledge the immense, well-deserved applause.”     …

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Review by Richard Ely, BachTrack:

Click here for full review

…     “A Russian orchestra will have a particular emotional investment to make in this symphony. Kogan’s forceful intent was demonstrated from the beginning, with strings plunging into the first movement’s exposition with the force of someone being thrown bodily into a vat of cold water. The developmental section was judged perfectly, so that when the martial theme emerged, propelled by the side-drum, it had exactly the jolting effect the composer intended; the movement’s conclusion provided another magical moment, where time became stationary, as concertmaster Alexandra Zhavoronkova’s violin and Elena Kazna’s celesta trailed off into silence.

The same thrust and concern for dynamics was evident in the scherzo, which had never sounded more like a death waltz, for all its sprightliness. But even in a work as veiled as this, there has to be a heart-on-the-sleeve moment and the Largo is the closest Shostakovich comes to unburdening his soul. Kogan and his orchestra played it for all its worth, finding intense feeling in the movement’s expressivo climax that held the audience so rapt that the beginning of the Allegro final movement had the effect of a slap across the face. The note of sour triumphalism on which the symphony ends was precisely caught in a performance of astonishing alacrity: the whole piece clocked in at just forty minutes!

The reception fairly took the roof off and we were treated to a generous three encores: Rachmaninov’s Vocalise was sensuously melancholic, Shostakovich’s Tea for Two gave us some necessary light relief (you need to see this piece performed to understand just how funny it is!) and the tango El Firulate by the recently deceased Argentinian composer Mariano Mores. A triumphant evening. “

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Review by Richard Bratby, TheArtsDesk:

Click here for full review

Behemoth Dances. Who dances? You know, Behemoth, the huge demonic black cat who cakewalks through Stalin’s Moscow in Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita spreading mayhem and magic; the spirit – as quoted by Bulgakov, and taken by Stephen Johnson as a sort of motto for his new orchestral work – “that always wills evil, but always does good”. A sardonic fanfare announces his appearance, before the orchestra whizzes away on a bustling, bristling spree. Woodwinds squeal and skirl, the surface glitters, and a piano throws in a few deadpan comments.

But this isn’t just a deliciously orchestrated successor to one of Walton’s comedy overtures. There’s something going on beneath the surface here: solemn chants, dark undercurrents, and a spreading, quietly insistent sense that we’re actually hearing something profoundly sad. And with Pavel Kogan conducting the Moscow State Symphony Orchestra – and if you didn’t know the composer lives in Herefordshire – you could be convinced that Behemoth Dances is showing you something remarkably like the Russian soul.

Stephen Johnson

And yes, this is the same Stephen Johnson (pictured) we know from Radio Three’s sorely missed Discovering Music – the authority on Bruckner, Shostakovich and Sibelius, the award-winning documentary-maker, and the writer of music criticism so lucid, so readable and so generous that it makes the rest of us feel like giving up. I can’t deny that part of the pleasure of this almost-premiere (it was first heard in Moscow last month) was seeing a fellow gamekeeper make such a terrific job of turning poacher. Johnson has been reticent about his composing, though he trained under Alexander Goehr. Hopefully no longer: Behemoth Dances shows that he has a voice, he has technique, and he can connect with an audience. The Birmingham audience cheered.”     …

 

 

 

The People United Will Never Be Defeated

Tuesday 10th May, 2016, 7:30pm

Town Hall, Birmingham

Artists

Igor Levit    piano
 

Programme

Beethoven
Sonata No 17 Op 31 No 2
Frederic Rzewski
The People United Will Never Be Defeated
A revolutionary anthem, a homage to Bach and a pianist who yells, whistles and slams the lid… this is Rzewski’sThe People United Will Never Be Defeated and if you’ve never heard it, you’re about to discover an experience unparalleled in 20th century music! It demands a truly exceptional pianist: with the phenomenal Igor Levit giving it his all, this isn’t just a concert: it’s a must-see event.

6.15pm Pre-concert conversation with Igor Levit.
This conversation will be signed by a British Sign Language interpreter

Presented in the round. Stalls only. Unreserved seating. Choir Benches not available.

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Review by Norman Stinchcombe, Birmingham Post:

Click here for full review

“He played spotlit surrounded on four sides by a hushed and fascinated audience – like a green baize gladiator in the world snooker championships.

Indeed it was gladiatorial as the Russian pianist alternately charmed, beguiled, hammered and finally finessed into submission Frederic Rzewski’s epic The People United Will Never Be Defeated.

Levit has recently recorded it along with Bach’s Goldberg Variations and Beethoven’s Diabelli Variations. It doesn’t have their musical substance but it’s a flamboyant, hugely demanding yet audience-friendly showpiece.

The intimate and intensely involving in-the-round layout was a huge success – when did we last get a standing ovation for a piano recital at the Town Hall? So why aren’t more solo and chamber music recitals presented this way?”     …

*****

 

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