Elgar’s Falstaff

Wednesday 30 September 2009 at 7.30PM

Oliver Knussen  conductor
Leila Josefowicz  violin

Britten: Canadian Carnival 14′
Matthews: Violin Concerto (Feeney Trust commission: world premiere) 24′
Elgar: Falstaff 36′

Larger than life, both philosopher and philanderer, Falstaff is one of Shakespeare’s most lovable rogues, and Elgar’s affectionate portrait also tells us a great deal about the composer’s own private world in music of great character and good-humour. Britten’s 1939 Canadian Carnival is an equally swaggering celebration of a more out-of-doors kind, and provides an ideal welcome for the return to Birmingham of the Canadian-born virtuoso Leila Josefowicz. She gives the world premiere of a new concerto written specially for her by the leading British composer Colin Matthews.  www.cbso.co.uk


Review from Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post at:-


 “For more than half a century, Feeney Trust commissions for the CBSO have been events to savour in anticipation, and the latest among these, Colin Matthews’ Violin Concerto, is no exception.”


Review by Dominic Nudd, ClassicalSource.com:-


“This is a gorgeous new concerto, Leila Josefowicz delivering an impassioned performance, closely supported by deeply engaged playing from the CBSO under Oliver Knussen.”


Review from Andrew Clements, Guardian:-


“Colin Matthews’s new violin concerto, commissioned by the Feeney Trust for Leila Josefowicz to play with the City of Birmingham Symphony conducted by Oliver Knussen, is a strikingly original work, which never does quite what you expect of a violin concerto.”


Review from Hilary Finch, Times:-


“Colin Matthews’s Violin Concerto failed to stir the blood, and only in Elgar’s Falstaff did the orchestra hit full strength”


Saturday 26 September 2009 at 7.00PM

Andris Nelsons  conductor
Håkan Hardenberger  trumpet

Britten: Four Sea Interludes and Passacaglia (Peter Grimes) 23′
Turnage: From the Wreckage 15′
Haydn: Trumpet Concerto in E Flat 13′
Debussy: La mer 23′

Few composers have captured the power and everchanging mystery of the oceans better than Debussy and Britten: the former in his swirling orchestral masterpiece, the latter in the interludes from his best-loved opera. Former CBSO Composer in Association Mark-Anthony Turnage wrote his dramatic 2005 trumpet concerto for the brilliant Swedish virtuoso Håkan Hardenberger, and we’re delighted to welcome him back to Birmingham for this outstanding recent work and for his only UK performance of Haydn’s popular concerto in the composer’s bicentenary year.

Hakan Hardenberger encore – Oblivion by Astor Piazzolla

Orchestra encore – a Latvian piece…?


Review from Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:


“The chemistry between Andris Nelsons and the CBSO is nothing less than sublime.”


Review from Andrew Clements, Guardian:


“Once or twice it dwelt a bit too lovingly on the music’s beauties, but the glitter of the central Jeux des Vagues was seductive, and the stormy finale became a really threatening prospect.”

Symphonic Dances: I

Thursday 24 September 2009 at 7.30PM

Andris Nelsons  conductor
Charlotte Hellekant  mezzo-soprano

Ravel: La Valse 13′
Berlioz: Les Nuits d’Été 32′
Rachmaninov: Symphonic Dances 35′

It may be his last work, but Rachmaninov’s orchestral showpiece is bursting with energy and great melodies, a tribute to the glamour of Ormandy’s Philadelphia Orchestra. Ravel was also fascinated by recreating dance forms in his orchestral music, and his 1920 ballet La Valse is the most extreme example, the point at which the old Viennese waltz eats itself. Ravel’s love of orchestral colour owes a huge debt to Berlioz, whose beautiful song-cycle is sung by one of today’s leading mezzos.


Another wonderful concert from the CBSO. It was lovely to hear Andris’ thoughts on the music to come, and just nice that he chats with the audience, sort of makes you feel included, as though the audience presence is a part of the evening, the music, and not just incidental. I like Ravel’s La Valse, a waltz that is sort of collapsing in on itself, rich in emotion, with underlying familiar rhythms. The orchestra certainly brought out all the turbulent layers, so that I felt swept along and under it all in a way that never quite happens when listening to the CD!

I wasn’t familiar with Berlioz’s Les Nuits d’Été having just listened to it on Naxos a couple of times a few days before the concert. It is a collection of poems sung by a mezzo-soprano, with a fairly large but subdued orchestra. I wasn’t expecting to enjoy it as much as I did. Charlotte Hellekant (in a silk yellow gold dress that was like a shot of autumn sunshine on the stage) has a beautiful warm tone to her voice and acted out the words so it wasn’t a mere sing-along or technical performance but a communication and sharing. The orchestral accompaniment was sympathetic and brought out the shades, sadness and vulnerabilities in the poems. Quite lovely, and I’m not (yet) a big fan of opera singing!

I love Rachmaninov’s Symphonic Dances and the CBSO with Andris Nelsons really gave a beautiful rendition tonight, with much poignancy. However energetic and dramatic Andris may be, he also manages to coax out the multi-faceted emotions, aching beauty and vulnerability of a piece, so that you feel taken on such a wonderful musical journey. The CBSO is full of truly talented and amazing musicians and all credit to them for finding and inviting Maestro Nelsons to join them, and for being brave enough to go where he may take them in the wonderful world of music.

Benevolent Fund Concert



Friday 18 September 2009 at 7.30PM

Michael Seal  conductor
Elspeth Dutch  horn
Thomas Trotter  organ

Elgar: In the South 19′
Mozart: Horn Concerto No. 4 16′
Widor: Toccata from Organ Symphony No. 5 6′
Saint-Saëns: Symphony No. 3 (Organ) 34′

When the mighty Symphony Organ joins forces with the full CBSO, you’re pretty much guaranteed to get a shiver down the spine. So it’s no surprise that the Organ Symphony is one of the most popular of all romantic symphonies – it’s simply thrilling! There are thrills aplenty in the rest of this concert, too – whether in Elgar’s stirring overture, or the pure, irresistibly tuneful fun of Mozart’s most famous horn concerto. Join Birmingham’s premier musicians for this evening raising funds for the CBSO Benevolent Fund.

Review from Christopher Morley at:


…”The menu was mouthwatering, beginning with Elgar’s colourful and evocative In the South Overture, written when the composer had at last achieved the recognition he so desperately craved and therefore fizzing with a confidence which didn’t quite overwhelm here, in a reading which needed more positive shaping. Christopher Yates’s viola solo was magical.” …

CBSO Reviews

The reviews for the opening concert to CBSO season begin to trickle out…

“I am beginning to wonder if the CBSO has ever had a greater conductor.

Rating: 5/5″ Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:


“It was all wonderfully articulated by an orchestra in peak form.” Rian Evan, Guardian:


“Whatever the players of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra did on their hols, I want some of it.” Richard Morrison, Times


Hello world!

First day of the 2009/10 CBSO Concert Season…

Andris Nelsons  conductor
Arcadi Volodos  piano

Wagner: The Mastersingers – Prelude 9′
Brahms: Piano Concerto No. 2 44′
Beethoven: Symphony No. 5 36′

Andris Nelsons launches the season in grand style! Beginning with the majestic prelude to Wagner’s sunniest opera, and finishing with the most famous symphony ever written, this is a concert to set pulses racing – and if you only know the first four notes of Beethoven’s perfect Fifth Symphony, trust us: you’re in for a wonderful surprise! Brahms’ dreamy Second Piano Concerto will be an oasis of calm at the evening’s heart – though with the superb young Russian virtuoso Arcadi Volodos at the keyboard, there’ll be no shortage of thrills either.


It was great to be back at Symphony Hall, and wonderful to have an almost completely full house – gives a real buzz to the place.

Wagner’s The Mastersingers was a good opener for a concert, with its lively, loud nature. Clearly Andris Nelsons relishes this composer’s music, it was a treat to see the sheer glee on his face as he danced through the slightly crazy counterpoint within this prelude.

I had never heard of Arcadi Volodos, who was the soloist in Brahms Piano Concerto No 2; though given his many credentials in the programme it made it sound as though perhaps I should have! Still I’m not a musician, so it’s not my “world”. He was born in Leningrad, Russia on 24th February, 1972, and has been called a “modern day Horowitz”. Whilst there was absolutely no doubting his technical abilities, I found his performance on this occasion to be lacking in subtlety, and it felt as though he was in competition with the orchestra rather than it being a beautiful, musical collaboration. He sure hammers on those keys! The highlight of this piece for me was the lush emotional playing of Eduardo Vassallo in the cello solos, and the whole orchestra played well.

Beethoven’s 5th Symphony probably has one of the most famous openings of all classical music, so much so the anticipation in the audience was almost palpable. I wonder if that makes the conductor nervous? I loved this performance, Andris always (so far) seems able to bring out new depths and sparkle to even old, familiar pieces, and he did so with perfect style here. Left my soul well polished and replenished for sure.

We (CG and I) had a really fun chap sat nearby, he was so passionate about the music it was an absolute joy. He loves the cymbals and every time they were played in The Mastersingers he clapped his hand to his forehead or over his mouth as though he may faint from the wonder of it all. He turned to us at the end of the Brahms and said, “Did you see? That cello bloke made me cry!” and then was great at cheering out “Bravo! Bravo!” at the end of the Beethoven. Marvellous to have some open-hearted passion there. 


Can’t wait for their next concert. I’m so lucky to be able to go, though saving up can be hard it’s worth every penny and then some!