Paganini Rhapsody

Tuesday 28 September 2010 at 7.30pm

Symphony Hall, Birmingham +44 (0)121-780 3333

Edward Gardner  conductor
Barry Douglas  piano

Rachmaninov: The Isle of the Dead 19′
Rachmaninov: Rhapsody on a theme of Paganini 23′
Lutoslawski: Variations on a theme by Paganini 10′
Lutoslawski: Concerto for Orchestra 26′

What’s in a tune? Rachmaninov took a devilish little theme by Paganini
and turned it into one of the all-time favourite romantic piano
showpieces. A few years later, in occupied Warsaw, the great Polish
composer Witold Lutoslawski had exactly the same idea. But whether
romantic or riotous, both composers knew how to entertain. Which is
best? You decide, as pianist Barry Douglas tackles both in one bumper
concert. But first, the acclaimed young British conductor Edward
Gardner shows us the darker side of Rachmaninov, before finishing in a
blaze of colour with Lutoslawski’s dazzling Concerto for Orchestra.
Twentieth-century music doesn’t get more exciting – or fun.

Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:

…”In The Isle of the Dead his fluent beat allowed all the music’s relentless progress to make its mark.

In Lutoslawski’s Concerto he empowered striking orchestral virtuosity from all departments, shaping the structure of what is really a wonderful, under-appreciated work.

And the Paganini pieces: Barry Douglas was the unassuming but communicative piano soloist in Rachmaninov’s famous Rhapsody and Lutoslawski’s silky Variations.” …

Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde

Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde

(UK Premiere of Production with Visuals by Bill Viola)

Birmingham International Concert Season 2010/11

Thu 23 Sep 5:30pm at Symphony Hall

Philharmonia Orchestra
Esa-Pekka Salonen conductor
Gary Lehman Tristan
Violeta Urmana Isolde
Anne Sofie von Otter Brangäne
Matthew Best* King Marke
Jukka Rasilainen Kurwenal
Stephen Gadd Melot
Joshua Ellicott* Shepherd/Sailor
Darren Jeffery Helmsman
Philharmonia Voices
Bill Viola visual artist
Peter Sellars artistic collaborator

*Please note the change of cast from that originally advertised.

Wagner Tristan und Isolde 255’

There will be two 30 minute intervals and the concert will end at approximately 10.30pm.
Please note that due to video scenes with nudity, this performance is not recommended for under-14s.

Tristan und Isolde co-producers: Philharmonia Orchestra, Konzerthaus Dortmund and Lucerne Festival
In association with: Southbank Centre London and Symphony Hall, Birmingham
Also performed in: KKL, Lucerne (10 September), Konzerthaus, Dortmund (17 September) and Southbank Centre, London (26 September)

‘…The overall impact is shattering. A great occasion, no question.’ The Guardian
‘It could well be a very long time before something this great comes our way again.’ Los Angeles Times
‘One of the greatest experiences of my artistic life’ Esa-Pekka Salonen

This performance is, quite simply, an unmissable event that is one of the highlights of the UK cultural calendar: a partnership of three of the greatest artists of the present time – conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen, artistic collaborator Peter Sellars and film artist Bill Viola. Set against the stunning backdrop of Viola’s film projections, this UK premiere promises to bring a new intensity to Wagner’s hymn to love and death.

Classic FM’s Anne-Marie Minhall, says of tonight’s recommended concert:
“Wagner’s tale of forbidden love was inspired by Arthurian legend. The composer himself said that the story is ’one of endless yearning, longing, the bliss and wretchedness of love…one sole redemption – death, finality, a sleep without awakening.’”

Click here to view a lecture by Bill Viola on Tristan und Isolde.

Watch a short film about the production, including exclusive behind the scenes footage.

Review by Ivan Hewitt, Telegraph:

“If any opera aspires towards a purely abstract “theatre of the mind” it must surely be Wagner’s Tristan. This UK premiere of a collaboration between film-maker Bill Viola, director Peter Sellars and conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen gets close to that ideal state, immersing us in a dream-like experience.

On the platform was the Philharmonia Orchestra, sounding almost uncannily brilliant and warm, and on absolutely top form.  […]

…All this might have been thought-provoking but chilling, had it not been for the passion and grandeur of the performance. Gary Lehman was a truly heroic Tristan, especially at the moment when he tears off his bandages in the ecstatic expectation of seeing Isolde. Violeta Urmana had the power to soar over the Philharmonia, and the range of tone to be stinging and proud in the first act and rapturously tender in the second. Anne Sofie von Otter I’ve never associated with Wagner, but she made a thrilling Brangane.”  …..

Review by Andrew Clements, Guardian:

…..”Salonen’s conducting was exceptional, not for its sense of line or febrile intensity, but for calm, almost nonchalant authority and musical clarity, combined with wonderfully sculpted playing from the Philharmonia. Gary Lehman and Violeta Urmana were not the most vocally alluring Tristan and Isolde, but in two taxing roles they were unfailingly secure and tirelessly confident. Anne Sofie von Otter contributed a elegant, calm Brangäne, Jukka Rasilainen a sturdy, forthright Kurwenal, and Matthew Best a noble and eloquent King Marke, his second-act monologue arguably the emotional fulcrum of the whole performance.”

Review by Andrew Clark, Financial Times:

…”The Birmingham performance had rare potency, thanks to the hall’s acoustical properties, Salonen’s clear-sighted vision and a cast that was able to focus on musical values. In the title roles, Gary Lehman and Violeta Urmana sang with the utmost refinement and conviction, while Anne Sofie von Otter made a regal Brangäne. 4 star rating”   Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2010.

Review by Lynne Walker, The Independent:

…”Once over the hurdle of what to focus on – the montage of imagery, the surtitles (situated impossibly high in the third act), the magnificent singers positioned around the hall, the doughty instrumentalists placed centre-stage – what really gripped one’s attention was the ebb and flow of Salonen’s conducting and the insightfulness of the orchestral playing. In the acclaimed acoustic of Symphony Hall, the surround-sound effect – enhancing lusty choral-singing and insightful orchestral playing – represented an electrifying aspect of an unforgettable evening.”    Copyright The Independent 2010

Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:

…”and where Esa-Pekka Salonen shaped, balanced and guided his tremendous orchestra with all the sense of pace, direction and transparency he had unobtrusively summoned all evening.

We were left with a powerful stage-picture, too: Violeta Urmana’s Isolde subsiding with all the control and dignity of her entire performance, Gary Lehman’s Tristan lying dead at last after tribulations so powerfully expressed, and Matthew Best’s sorrowing, compassionate King Marke sadly bestowing one last blessing on these two people he had loved most in all the world.”

Nelsons Conducts Shostakovich

Wednesday 22 September 2010 at 7.30pm

Symphony Hall, Birmingham +44 (0)121-780 3333

 City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Andris Nelsons  conductor
Christian Tetzlaff  violin

Brahms: Violin Concerto 36′
Shostakovich: Symphony No. 8 62′

In Soviet Russia, listening to Shostakovich’s Eighth Symphony could
have got you arrested. Huge in scale, and overwhelmingly powerful, this
epic symphonic portrayal of a nation broken by war and tyranny is the
ultimate proof that some music speaks louder than any words. No wonder
they banned it! Today, we can listen without fear – but Shostakovich’s
Eighth Symphony remains one of those masterpieces that everyone
needs to experience for themselves. No-one conducts Russian music
with more emotion – or power – than Andris Nelsons. In the hands of
German virtuoso Christian Tetzlaff, Brahms’s serene concerto should
be the lyrical calm before Shostakovich’s devastating storm.

Christian Tetzlaff’s Encore – Bach …

Review by John Gough, Birmingham Post:

…..”Christian Tetzlaff was a soloist of real distinction with a beautiful sound, subtle rubato and a spontaneity which had one on the edge of one’s seat. After a slow movement full of contemplation and lyricism the finale exploded with joy, moving in one urgent and brilliant arc towards the irresistible dance of the final bars.

Shostakovich’s Eighth symphony is music of extraordinary vehemence and power. Nelsons gave the death-haunted bleakness of the piece an aching emotional intensity in which the long, desolate cor anglais solo that emerged out of the first movement’s huge climax was a particular high-point, beautifully shaped by Alan Garner.” …..

The Birmingham Mahler Cycle: Andris Nelsons Conducts Symphony No. 8

Thursday 16 September 2010 at 7.30pm

Symphony Hall, Birmingham +44 (0)121-780 3333

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Andris Nelsons  conductor
Marina Shaguch  soprano
Erin Wall  soprano
Carolyn Sampson  soprano
Katerina Karnéus  mezzo-soprano
Mihoko Fujimura  mezzo-soprano
Sergei Semishkur  tenor
Christopher Maltman  baritone
Stephen Gadd  bass
CBSO Chorus & Youth Chorus   
CBSO Children’s Chorus   
Hallé Choir

Mahler: Symphony No. 8 (Symphony of a Thousand) 85′

Please note Matthew Best has withdrawn from this concert. We are grateful to Stephen Gadd who has agreed to replace him at short notice.

“Try to imagine the whole universe beginning to ring and resound. These are no longer human voices, but planets and suns revolving.” With its vast orchestra, and even huger chorus, Mahler’s mighty “Symphony of a Thousand” lives up to its nickname. But it’s much more than just the most spectacular symphony ever written; it’s an exultant hymn to the joy of creation itself, and every performance is a special occasion. You’ll be thrilled, you’ll be moved – and you’ll be blown backwards, as Andris Nelsons, the CBSO, three great choruses and a star-studded team of soloists launch Birmingham’s centenary Mahler Cycle in truly epic style.

Sung in Latin & German with English surtitles.

Blog Review by Norman Lebrecht:

“Britain’s second largest city launched its first Mahler cycle last night with a heart-stopping concert of the eighth symphony, shrunk to 600 performers. That was the most the hall could sensibly accommodate but the result was a performance of rare intimacy in which the conductor Andris Nelsons seemed to reach out and almost touch the banks of singers posted at the back of the stage, both sides and the overlooking balconies. It was 100 years to the week since Gustav Mahler gave the world premiere in Munich.”  ….

Review by Andrew Clark, Financial Times:

…..”The soloists were well balanced, with notable contributions from Erin Wall, Sergei Semishkur and the divine Carolyn Sampson. Birmingham’s Mahler cycle could not have made a better start. (4 star rating)”     Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2010


Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:

…”He opened the CBSO’s 90th birthday season with no less a challenge than Mahler’s Symphony no.8, the Symphony of a Thousand (and it seemed to be very nearly that, with choristers ranging halfway round both sides of the upper gallery – what a hall this is to accommodate such grandiloquence), the introduction to a huge MahlerFest marking both the composer’s 150th birthday and the centenary of his death. The result was magnificent.” …

Blog review by Intermezzo:

“Was it worth travelling all the way to Birmingham and back for just 90 minutes of music? You bet.” …

Review by Rian Evans, Guardian:

… “Conductor Andris Nelsons’s natural command of his forces – not quite the thousand associated with the symphony, but massive nevertheless – allowed him to exploit the potential of Symphony Hall’s phenomenal acoustic to the full. It was not just the sensation of being wrapped around by voices that was spine-tingling, or the ethereal beauty of Carolyn Sampson’s Mater Gloriosa, and then blazing brass from the hall’s highest galleries that made for a remarkable aural experience, but hearing the hundreds of voices at their infinitesimal quietest and feeling the gentle vibrations of sound permeate air.” …

Review by Geoff Read, MusicWeb-International:

…”In the Scherzo, the emphasis switched between the multiple choral sections – Angels, Cherubs, Younger Angels and More Perfect Angels, each contributing to the journey of Faust’s soul to paradise – with Nelsons at his busiest. The energy he exuded for 90 min never flagged. In Mahler 8 the conductor cannot hope to cue every entry, but Nelsons seemed to give it a damn good try. One delicious moment amidst these invocations, was the break from leader Laurence Jackson that introduces the First Alto contribution from Katarina Karneus. Sergei Semishkur, a Mariinsky soloist as Doctor Marianus (another hermit and reputably based on Anselm the 11th century Archbishop of Canterbury) handled his high tessitura with ease, including a resounding top B. Interspersed during this solo, the cellos led by Ulrich Heinen added a contrast of pure cream, both in Heinen’s solo and when playing together. At Semishkur’s sublime Jungfrau, rein im schösten Sinn (Virgin of the highest purity) the first violins delicately underlined the feeling of innocence. With presumably only room for two harps on the crowded Birmingham stage, stalwart Robert Johnson introduced another glorious Mahler moment from the first violins, this time backed by the harmonium.” …