Mahler’s Sixth Symphony

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Saturday 28th February 2015 at 7.00pm

Symphony Hall, Birmingham +44 (0)121 345 0600

Concert Packages

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Andris Nelsons  conductor

Mahler: Symphony No 6 85′
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Careful what you wish for. Mahler’s Sixth Symphony portrays an artist destroyed by three mighty “hammer blows of fate” – and soon afterwards, three devastating blows reduced Mahler’s own life to ruins. Well, that’s the legend, anyway; what’s beyond dispute is that Mahler Sixth is one of the most powerful, and personal, symphonies ever written. Andris Nelsons will bring every bar urgently to life.     http://www.cbso.co.uk

Mahler’s Sixth Symphony

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Thursday 26th February 2015 at 7.30pm

Symphony Hall, Birmingham +44 (0)121 345 0600

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Andris Nelsons  conductor Berg: Three Pieces for Orchestra 20′ Mahler: Symphony No 6 85′ Listen on Spotify Mahler’s Sixth Symphony portrays an artist crushed by three “hammer blows of fate” – and soon afterwards, three devastating blows reduced Mahler’s own life to ruins. Coincidence? What’s certain is that this is one of the most powerful, and personal, symphonies ever written. Andris Nelsons brings every bar urgently to life – and explores the atmospheric Three Pieces that Mahler’s friend Berg wrote in the second year of the Great War.     http://www.cbso.co.uk

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Review by John Quinn, SeenandHeard, MusicWeb:

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…     “So, more than usually the Andante came as balm. At the start the music was presented gently and with innocence. The CBSO strings were silky while there were some admirable woodwind and horn solos to relish. The refinement of the playing was a delight and Nelsons shaped the music in a very caring fashion. The sweeping climax, when it came, was passionately delivered but the hallmark of this very fine performance was lyrical sweetness.

 Thus refreshed, we embarked on the thirty-minute-long finale. This extraordinary movement received an edge-of-the-seat performance. After playing Mahler for nearly an hour already, and the Berg before that, one could have forgiven the CBSO if they had shown any tiredness in this marathon finale but they did not. Not only did the orchestra retain their technical proficiency but also they maintained the intensity demanded of them by Mahler and by their conductor. This was truly a tour de force by the CBSO. Nelsons drove the main allegro pretty hard – but not excessively so. In the midst of all the tumult Mahler gives some brief respite by revisiting the nostalgia previously induced by the sound of Alpine cowbells.  However, not only was the respite brief but also Nelsons maintained the tension and, to be honest, I felt there was a sense of foreboding in these pages: what Mahler has done here is to give us a brief glimpse of happier times before sweeping away those memories and that’s what Nelsons conveyed. The two hammer-blow climaxes were terrifying in their power and after the second one Nelsons confronted us with a maelstrom as the music seethed and boiled. At the very end the low brass intoned the funeral rites before, in the words of annotator Gavin Plomley, the major-key/minor-key motto of the symphony “pitilessly.. drives the final nail into the coffin.”

As the music dissolved into black nothingness Nelsons and his players held the moment for a long time so that, mercifully, there was no risk of premature applause to mar the end of this gripping performance.”

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Review by Andrew Clements, Guardian:

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“It’s less than four months until Andris Nelsons conducts his final concerts as the City of Birmingham Symphony’s music director. Even now, each programme brings a sense of discovery, of finding out how he tackles areas of his ever-widening repertory that he has hardly explored before with the orchestra.

This time it was Berg’s Three Orchestral Pieces, composed partly as a reaction to Mahler’s death and here played as a preface to his Sixth Symphony. Nelsons didn’t make the pieces sound particularly Mahlerian, though there was no shortage of vehemence in the cataclysmic climax of the final piece, but Nelsons did tease out every tangled strand of their instrumental writing, confident that the clarity of the Symphony Hall acoustic would keep them distinct, and shaped each of the pieces so that its destination was always clearly defined.”     …

Mahler’s First Symphony: CBSO Youth Orchestra

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Sunday 22nd February 2015 at 7.00pm

Symphony Hall, Birmingham +44 (0)121 345 0600

CBSO Youth Orchestra

Edward Gardner  conductor
Denis Kozhukhin  piano

Lutoslawski: Symphony No. 4 20′
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Prokofiev: Piano Concerto No. 1 16′
Mahler: Symphony No. 1 56′
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Denis Kozhukhin’s encore – Bach – Siloti Prelude in B Minor

Mahler’s First Symphony begins by creating the world – and ends by storming Heaven itself. Well, the CBSO Youth Orchestra likes a challenge, and if you’ve heard our inspirational young players before, you’ll know that under the baton of CBSO principal guest conductor Edward Gardner we’re in for something very special indeed. Twentieth century classics by Lutoslawski and Prokofiev raise the curtain with an explosion of colour. http://www.cbso.co.uk

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Review by Katherine Dixson, BachTrack:

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…     “The orchestra clearly enjoyed immersing themselves in Mahler’s Symphony no. 1 in D major.  The work appeared under various titles in its early days, from a five-movement symphonic poem to “Titan – a tone poem in the form a symphony”, but Mahler later did away with these. There remains an implied dramatic structure based on Mahler’s own poems Songs of a Wayfarer, with the music describing the hero’s journey from unrequited love via a pastoral setting towards the finality, yet triumph, of death. The band was evidently at home with Mahler’s brilliant orchestration and confidently tackled the subtleties and nuances that brought the landscape and journey to life. The minor-key Frère Jacques theme of the funeral march was particularly effective, with the chance for individual young musicians to shine, from menacing double-bass onwards. The final “triumphal” pages were exactly that, with upstanding brass giving it their all. Then it was time to get the whole crew on their feet for well-earned enthusiastic applause.”

Europa Galante performs Vivaldi’s Four Seasons

Part of Birmingham International Concert Season 2014/15 Concert Package, SoundBite, Birmingham International Concert Season 2014/15, Orchestral Music and Early Music

Thursday 19th February

Town Hall

Europa Galante
Fabio Biondi violin/director
Vivica Genaux mezzo soprano

Vivaldi Sinfonia from Ercole sul Termodonte 4’
Stabat Mater 20’
Alma opressa from La fida ninfa 5’
Agitata da due venti from l’Adelaide 6’
Four Seasons 43’

Vivaldi’s Four Seasons need no introduction; but however well you know these best-loved of baroque concertos, nothing quite prepares you for the ‘wonderful esprit, bravura and finesse’ (BBC Music Magazine) that Fabio Biondi and Europa Galante bring to the music of their great compatriot. To hear the incomparable Vivica Genaux in Vivaldi’s haunting Stabat Mater is a glorious bonus.

Classic FM’s John Suchet says:

Truly one of the great Baroque composers, Vivaldi produced an enormous body of work, some of which has become the most famous in classical music history. I urge you to watch this performance of some of the prolific composer’s most important works, performed by an expert band.

www.thsh.co.uk

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Review by Geoff Read, MusicWeb, SeenandHeard:

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…     “With such an exhilarating first half it would have been easy for the second period to have been an anti-climax, but the Europa Galante players ensured the excitement remained at fever pitch with a blitzkrieg of an engagement with Le quattro stagione. It had an element of the wild and untamed, a presentation that made it difficult to stay still in your seat. This was programme music of the highest calibre, each of the four seasons having been associated by Vivaldi to a sonnet describing how nature changes her coat. Concerto No. 1 in E major, Op. 8, RV 269, La primavera (Spring) started peaceful enough, but as nature took a hold in the first Allegro movement, there was a magnificently symbolic representation of nature bursting forth – the nimble fingers of Fabio Biondi representative of new life emerging from the ravages of hibernation, the double bass seemingly wanting to quell such an affront. The second Largo movement had spring on hold, Biondi and the pizzicato of the first viola consolidating the green shoots, time as the sonnet relayed for the shepherd to take a nap before the next push. The third Allegro movement had the Europa Galante players giving thanks in celebratory style with a major contribution from the three first violins.

 Concerto No. 2 in G minor, Op. 8, RV 315, L’estate (Summer) began in lethargic mood (Allegro non molto) with some sumptuously mellow harmony, befitting the hazy, lazy, crazy days of summer, birds singing and soft winds blowing. The anticipated storm worries our shepherd in the Adagio: a virtuosic solo allowed Biondi to paint a graphic picture of both the blessed blossom and the troublesome insects. But stemming from the oppressive heat, temperatures on both stage and auditorium were raised by the fiery tempo of the Presto, energy and passion unbounded in the violence of the storm. Although the resident orchestra of the Fondadzione Teatro Due in Parma must have played the work a hundred times, it still sounded fresh as their obvious enthusiasm had not dimmed.

 Having stood up to the battering of the first two concerti, the strings of Biondi’s Guarneri were subjected to more punishment in Concerto No. 3 in F major, Op. 8, RV 293, L’autunno (Autumn). The ever-so-familiar opening Allegro strains led into an attention-grabbing conversation between the breaks of Biondi and the remaining erectile violinists arranged around their leader. But there was nothing casual about it as both the theorbo of Giangiacomo Pinardi and the harpsichord of Paola Poncet made forceful expletives. In the Adagio molto Poncet did have her moment, suggesting an autumnal feel, heralding a distinct change in the air. The strings caught the mood and echoed it with feeling, shades of mists and mellow fruitfulness. However Vivaldi had other ideas and indications of an Indian summer emerged in the third Allegro section before the final strains indicated a ‘going to sleep’. No wonder the instrumentalists checked their tuning at this point!

 And when winter comes in Concerto No. 4 in F minor, Op. 8, RV 297, L’inverno (Winter) there was a grimness to Europa Galante’s Allegro non molto tone, interspersed with more dynamic finger and bow movement from Biondi. Indeed Biondi was rarely static throughout the four concerti (reminding me of the legendary Stefan Grapelli) yet showing little evidence of fatigue. An interesting application of double stopping built the tension to the closing repeat of the main theme. The Largo was another example of Vivaldi’s penchant for recycling a good tune (this one having been borrowed by Hayley Westenra in her River of Dreams) although with Biondi’s players there is always something new to hear, notably in this instance some musical gymnastics on the cello; together with the pizzicato on the strings it reminded me of a steam train about to set off, with the pure pitch of Biondi’s solo both driver and station master. The third Allegro phase of winter, part recapitulation, part reflective, proved how adept Biondi’s technique is at manoeuvring between Vivaldi’s hemi- demi-semi-quavers (even quicker than Genaux, and that’s saying something). The whole was true to Vivaldi’s intention to compose a work that was a contest between harmony and invention – a concert to remain in the memory for a very long time!”

Schubert, Strauss and Dvořák

Thursday 19th February 2015 at 2.15pm

Symphony Hall, Birmingham +44 (0)121 345 0600

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Andris Nelsons  conductor
Elspeth Dutch  horn

Schubert: Symphony No. 8 (Unfinished) 22′
Strauss: Horn Concerto No. 2 20′
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Dvořák: Symphony No. 7 38′

If you enjoy Dvorák’s New World Symphony, just imagine the music he wrote when he was happily at home! Dvorák’s Seventh is stormy, passionate and filled with the kind of tunes you just can’t stop humming. Andris Nelsons serves it up with Strauss’s bubbly second horn concerto (starring the CBSO’s own Elspeth Dutch), and Schubert’s Eighth: a symphony that couldn’t be more perfect even if he’d finished it.

War and Revolution

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Sunday 15th February 2015 at 3.00pm

Symphony Hall, Birmingham +44 (0)121 345 0600

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Andris Nelsons  conductor
Eleanor Dennis  soprano
Simon Callow  speaker

Elgar: Polonia, Op.76 13′
Elgar: Sospiri, Op.70 5′
Elgar: Voix dans le Désert, Op. 77: for Speaker, Soprano, & Orchestra 11′
Shostakovich: Symphony No. 11 (The Year 1905) 60′

War, protest, and a great nation on the brink of revolution: officially, Shostakovich based his mighty Eleventh Symphony on the events of 1905 – but this roof-raising blockbuster of a symphony is still thrillingly relevant today. Back in England, Elgar did current affairs a little differently. Andris Nelsons explores some of the deeply moving music that Britain’s greatest composer wrote in response to the First World War.

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Review by John Quinn, SeenandHeard, MusicWeb:

Click here for full review

…     “This movement is all about tension and atmosphere; it’s a vast curtain-raiser to the tragedy that is to unfold. It’s essential that a mood of glacial stillness and tension is established from the outset and then maintained. Nelsons and his players succeeded in this, not least in maintaining the tension. In the second movement, ‘The Ninth of January’ the brutal dispersal of the crowd is depicted. Much of the music is vivid and graphic with Shostakovich calling on the large brass section and the substantial percussion battery – a timpanist and seven colleagues. After a vicious fugal passage for strings, bitingly articulated here, the music reaches a massive climax; quite rightly, Nelsons didn’t hold back on the decibel levels here This climax was a real assault on the ears but it made all the more effective the sudden cut-off where Shostakovich reverts to the glacial stillness of the symphony’s opening – except that now we hear an appalled stillness after the brutality.

 The third movement, ‘Eternal Memory’ is an extended lament for the fallen innocents. It begins with a long, poignant theme played by all the violas. The CBSO viola section excelled here, playing with great expression while Nelsons exerted great care over the moulding of the music. (Rightly, the viola section was singled out for applause en masse at the end of the performance.) This movement, an intense elegy, was played with great eloquence by the CBSO. There was driving urgency in the finale, ‘The Alarm Bell’. Nelsons inspired playing of tremendous bite. The decibel level is consistently high for much of this movement though I can’t help feeling that the composer’s invention is at its weakest here. Yet another immense climax gives way to what is arguably the most poignant moment in the work. Shostakovich returns once more to the material with which he’d begun the symphony nearly an hour ago and from it rises a long, deeply felt cor anglais solo. This horribly exposed solo was played with great distinction by Jane Marshall. As the music picks up once more in vehemence there’s a swirling undercurrent on the bass clarinet. I’ve never heard this brought out so strongly as it was here and the effect of hearing this threatening material along with pounding drums was to emphasise, for me, the darkness in the score. The symphony achieves a thunderous conclusion but the music is not celebratory in tone. Instead, enigmatic as ever, Shostakovich sets up a major-key/minor-key clash, emphasised by the dissonant clamour of two sets of tubular bells. No empty revolutionary triumph is depicted here.

One member of the audience, perhaps deceived, started to applaud immediately but, mercifully, stopped at once while Nelsons and the orchestra held the moment, allowing the bell tones to decay naturally. Then, and only then, was applause for this electrifying performance justified.

The applause was sustained and enthusiastic and that was as it should be for this was a concert hat reminded us once more what a fine partnership there is between Andris Nelsons and the CBSO. We should make the most of it while it lasts.”    

Shostakovich Uncovered

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Wednesday 11th February 2015 at 7.30pm

Symphony Hall, Birmingham +44 (0)121 345 0600

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Andris Nelsons  conductor
Alpesh Chauhan  conductor
Paul Rissmann  presenter

Shostakovich: An introduction to Shostakovich Symphony No. 11 40′
Shostakovich: Symphony No. 11 (The Year 1905) 60′
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Shostakovich’s Eleventh Symphony is an epic musical tale of tyranny and revolution – or is it? In this special concert, presenter Paul Rissmann uses illustrations, anecdotes and the full CBSO to explain Shostakovich’s hidden agenda – and unlock the story behind the music. Then Andris Nelsons conducts a full performance of this most gripping of 20th century symphonies.

6.15pm: Conservatoire Showcase Scriabin: The Poem of Ecstasy, Op.54 Birmingham Conservatoire Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Michael Seal, performs Scriabin’s spectacular fourth symphony.

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