50th Anniversary Performance: Britten’s War Requiem

Wednesday 30 May 2012 at 7.30pm

Coventry Cathedral

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Andris Nelsons conductor
Erin Wall soprano
Mark Padmore tenor
Hanno Müller-Brachmann baritone
CBSO Chorus & Youth Chorus

Britten: War Requiem 77′ Listen on Spotify

Coventry Cathedral 2012 Jubilee Fifty years ago today in Coventry Cathedral, the CBSO made world history. Benjamin Britten composed his War Requiem to celebrate the consecration of the new Cathedral, but it’s become one of the defining masterpieces of the twentieth century: a devastating meditation on the pity of war that’s every bit as relevant today. On the fiftieth anniversary of that legendary premiere, we return to Coventry as part of the Cathedral’s Golden Jubilee celebrations. This promises to be one of the artistic highlights of 2012.

Information for audiences: Due to the live broadcasting, streaming and televising of this concert, please note that the doors will close at 7.25pm to enable a prompt start. Unfortunately, it will not be possible to admit latecomers. Please therefore ensure you allow plenty of time; the doors will open at 6.30pm. Information about parking in Coventry can be found here.

Please note Kristine Opolais has withdrawn from this concert as she is indisposed. We are grateful to Erin Wall who has agreed to take her place at short notice.

Find out what our musicians love about this music – watch music director Andris Nelsons and CBSO double bass section leader John Tattersdill discussing Britten’s War Requiem.

To listen to some of the music in this concert, and explore the rest of the season, using our Spotify playlists, click here.

Click here to watch online at TheSpace.org – until end of October

Click here to listen again on BBC Radio 3 – until 6th June 2012

Article by Patsy Fuller, Coventry Telegraph:

Click here for full article

…     “Nelsons is only too aware of the importance of the work and its significance for Coventry and the rest of the world. “It speaks to everyone,” he says.

He has never conducted the work before but says he recognises the “great privilege” which the CBSO enjoys through its association with it.”     …

Article by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:

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“Fifty Years and Still Spellbound by Britten’s War Requiem”     …

Review by John Quinn, SeenandHeard:

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…     “The CBSO played superbly. Nelsons can inspire them to play with shattering power when appropriate but they’re equally adept when finesse is required. They were on top form tonight. At the first performance Britten imported a specialist chamber group, the Melos Ensemble, to accompany the soloists. Did he not trust the CBSO? No need for any guests this time: the chamber group consisted of CBSO principals who acquitted themselves marvellously, providing acute and sensitive support for the two male singers.”     …

Review by Andrew Clements, Guardian:

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…     “Nelsons’ performance suggested he knew well enough where the work’s shortcomings are to be found. He gave his tenor and baritone soloists Mark Padmore (at his best) and Hanno Müller-Brachmann (occasionally a bit under-characterised) a very free expressive rein in the Wilfred Owen settings, and concentrated his attentions on giving point and purpose to the requiem mass sections. The CBSO’s own Chorus and Youth Chorus were on their most responsive form, and soprano soloist Erin Wall, stationed as usual among them, proved incisive.”     …

Review by Rian Evans, ClassicalSource:

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…     “From the very outset, with the words “Requiem aeternam” sung in hushed whispers and the characteristic bell-tolls gently reverberating, the response from the angelic voices of CBSO Youth Chorus singing in the chancel created rather an extraordinary atmosphere, reverent yet dynamic. Like Verdi’s Messa da Requiem, its influence Britten acknowledged, War Requiem is sometimes quite operatic: it was this quality of theatricality – bringing into dramatic focus some of the musical effects, notably the brass and percussion writing with which Britten spelled out the battery of war – that emerged very powerfully in the ‘Dies Irae’, reinforcing the pacifist message at the heart of the work. Erin Wall (replacing Kristīne Opolais, Nelsons’s wife) sang the soprano role which for Britten represented the ‘healing angel’ and which he wrote especially for Galina Vishnevskaya (taken by Heather Harper in the first performance). Standing between chorus and orchestra, Wall’s silvery tone succeeded admirably in carrying over that body of sound and in the ‘Lacrimosa’ she conveyed eloquently all the anguish of loss.”     …

Review by Jeremy Pound, Classical-Music:

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…      “But back to that backdrop. Time and again, the pathos of Owen’s words from World War One was given added force simply by the sight of those cathedral ruins, the result of another global conflict just 22 years later. Of around 1000 buildings in Coventry city centre, just 31 were left in touch. It was a concert to move like no other.

Am I being melodramatic? Well, judge for yourself. The 50th anniversary concert was broadcast live in Europe and will be available on an Arthaus DVD later this year. If they have captured just a fraction of the impact of the occasion, I’d recommend it without hesitation.”

Review by Katherine Dixson, Bachtrack:

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…     “How exquisite when Mark Padmore breathed life into ‘What passing bells for those who die as cattle?’ The poems were shared with Hanno Müller-Brachmann, previously a pupil of Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, the baritone soloist at the première, who sadly passed away earlier in May. Their individual singing, with eyes as well as voice, and their rapport when they duetted, especially in ‘Strange Meeting’ – the imagined post-death mutual recognition of two enemy soldiers – was immensely moving.”     …

Article,  BBC Local News:

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…     “Adrian Spillett, the principal percussionist for the CBSO, who performed on the anniversary, said the atmosphere was no less charged 50 years on.

“With the silence, you could hear a pin drop – the audience seemed to be spellbound throughout.”


Blog posts by David Barber:

Click here and here for full posts

…     “For me, the silence at the end of the performance, lasting well over a minute, will remain in my heart for a very long time.

Music’s power to communicate indescribable feelings and experiences was never more apparent.”     …

Blog post by James Ridgeway:

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…     “Being in the CBSO Chorus gives you opportunities that others would kill for and having the opportunity to take part in the 50th anniversary performance of Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem in the place that it was written for, was something which I did not take for granted.”     …

Review by Richard Fairman, FT:

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…     “A commemorative performance does justice to one of the great works of the 20th century”     …

Review by Fiona Maddocks, Observer:

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…     “Last Wednesday the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, which gave that first performance in 1962, returned to Coventry with the CBSO Chorus and Youth Chorus and fine soloists: soprano Erin Wall, tenor Mark Padmore and bass-baritone Hanno Müller-Brachmann. The blistering performance, to a capacity audience, was led by the CBSO’s charismatic Latvian conductor Andris Nelsons – who, from a Soviet bloc country, would presumably have suffered the same fate as Vishnevskaya minus histrionics. It’s a sobering reminder of the bleak oppression of musicians in those cold war years and how, in this respect anyway, life has improved.

The light-filled building was used to full effect.”


@TheCBSO Storify coverage and tweets – click here


Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:

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…     “Any work which can draw a response such as we witnessed from hardened professional orchestral players, a chorus so dedicated to delivering clarity of text to the utmost possible, and a conductor whose magic hands elicited so much pointing of diction, even in these circumstances, and drama both universal and intimate, cannot easily be dismissed — as the huge contemplative silence at the end confirmed.”      ***** 

Dracula: The Music and Film

Original music by Philip Glass
Performed by Philip Glass and Kronos Quartet (Michael Riesman conductor) to the Universal Pictures 1931 film classic Dracula, starring Bela Lugosi.

Philip Glass keyboards
Kronos Quartet
Michael Riesman conductor

Dracula (film screening, Certificate PG)

The performance lasts approximately 1 hour 20 minutes with no interval.

Cinema’s most beguiling bloodsucker appears in a new light as Philip Glass’s revelatory score blows the cobwebs off the iconic 1930s movie Dracula. It’s a unique opportunity to witness one of the world’s most famous composers in action: Glass himself shares the stage with the internationally renowned Kronos Quartet, and his hypnotic music provides an eerie counterpart to the strange suspense of this creepy classic.

‘A night to remember… bewitching and hypnotic.’ Toronto Globe and Mail

Free post-concert performance by BiLE (Birmingham Laptop Ensemble) in the Symphony Hall Cafe Bar:
Seven laptops, one voice – a live blend of electronic music, improvisation, live sampling, visuals and laptop performance.
Supported by BEAST


Review by Diane Parkes, BehindTheArras:

Click here for full review

…    “Glass’s forms which repeat and yet develop are ideal for building the tension in the film as Bela closes in, travelling from his Transylvanian castle to England where he stalks about menacingly eyeing up potential victims.

The score perfectly complements the stylised manner of the film in which the suave Hungarian actor created a stereotype of the vampire count.”     …


Review by Maggie Cotton, Birmingham Post:

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…     “Filming was imaginative and fascinating with massive sets, plenty of swirling mists, armadillos, rats, skeletal creeping hands, inevitable coffins and beautiful young ladies confusing the disjointed tale.

Glass’s music was minimally repetitive, mostly around the same key and subtly haunting the brain.”     …

The Infernal Comedy

Starring John Malkovich

Confessions of a Serial Killer

Birmingham International Concert Season 2011/12

Saturday 26th May 2012

Symphony Hall

Written by Michael Sturminger
Based on an idea by Birgit Hutter and Martin Haselböck
Music concept and conductor Martin Haselböck
Stage director Michael Sturminger
Costume designer Birgit Hutter
Wiener Akademie
Martin Haselböck conductor
John Malkovich actor
Louise Fribo soprano
Marie Arnet soprano

Music includes:

Vivaldi Aria Sposa son disprezzata  
Beethoven Scene and Aria Ah, perfido  
Haydn Scena di Berenice  
Weber Scene and Aria Ah se Edmundo fosse l’uccisor!  
Mozart Recitative, Aria and Cavatina Ah, lo previdi  

The running time is approximately 1 hour 40 minutes with no interval.
Supported by Birmingham Repertory Theatre

John Malkovich stars in a stage play for baroque orchestra, singers and actor, based on the real-life story of convicted serial killer Jack Unterweger. Malkovich’s monologues journey through the life and mind of this notorious Viennese womaniser, writer and murderer, illustrated with music embodying joy, hatred, love, grief, and desire. Sometimes darkly comic, sometimes bleakly brutal, it’s a fascinating, provocative and sometimes controversial insight into the twisted mind of, as Malkovich says, “a bad, bad guy.”        www.thsh.co.uk

Review by Diane Parkes, BehindTheArras:

Click here for full review

…     “Malkovich is the perfect actor for the part of Unterweger blending charm and charisma with calculation and a chilling disregard for the hopes, dreams and lives of others. It is a difficult role but one he carries off incredibly convincingly.”

Article by Marion McMullen, Birmingham Mail:

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…     “The 58-year-old actor started his performance by striding onto the stage and announcing – in a strong Austrian accent – “Hi, we’re at the Symphony Hall.. not the Hippodrome.”

He also dropped in references to Villa Park and even left the stage to walk down the aisles and sit among the audience in his guise as the charming and chilling killer Jack.”     …


Blog post by EnglishChouChou:

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The Year 1912: Ives and Prokofiev

Thursday 24 May 2012 at 7.30pm

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

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Andrew Litton conductor
Lise de la Salle piano

Ives: Three Places in New England 18′ Listen on Spotify
Prokofiev: Piano Concerto No. 1 16′
Walton: Symphony No. 1 45′

1912: and as Charles Ives imagined what it would sound like if two marching bands collided, the student Prokofiev threw his feisty First Piano Concerto straight in the faces of his outraged professors. Andrew Litton turns up the voltage for this high-octane programme, and then goes even further, with the symphony that threw a stick of dynamite under British music. Walton’s volcanic First Symphony is always a gripping ride – and knowing how much Litton relishes it, we don’t think he’ll pull his punches. Hold on to your hats!

To listen to some of the music in this concert, and explore the rest of the season, using our Spotify playlists, click here.         www.cbso.co.uk

Lise de la Salle’s encore – Debussy – Preludes Livre 1 no 6, Des pas sur la neige.


Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:

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…     “And immediately we were into the taut, grinding passion which colours all of the magnificent opening movement, inexorable, horns trilling defiantly, timpani a constant presence, and Litton all the while taking huge risks — which, given this orchestra which seems incapable of leaving the top of its form, all came off. At the end, after the finale’s blistering fugue and desperately hard-won affirmation (though the Last Post-style trumpet does gainsay that), the sense of satisfied exhaustion on both sides of the stage was paramount.”     …

Visions of England

Saturday 19 May 2012 at 7.00pm

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

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Andrew Manze conductor
Lisa Milne soprano

Elgar: Introduction and Allegro 13′
Britten: Our Hunting Fathers, Op 8 27′ Listen on Spotify
Vaughan Williams: Symphony No. 5 42′

Premiered in the darkest days of the Second World War, Vaughan Williams’s Fifth Symphony seemed like a vision of peace. And if you enjoy British music at its transcendent best, you’ll love this symphony that begins in a misty sunrise and ends with some of the most serenely beautiful music even Vaughan Williams ever wrote. The superb British soprano Lisa Milne brings all her operatic power to Britten’s show-stopping song-cycle – and under conductor Andrew Manze, Elgar’s Introduction and Allegro opens the concert with an exuberant flourish.

To listen to some of the music in this concert, and explore the rest of the season, using our Spotify playlists, click here.

Review by Katherine Dixson, Bachtrack:

Click here for full review

…     “The programme was rounded off with a captivating performance of Vaughan Williams’ Symphony no. 5.     […]

[…] Throughout the piece, the shifting and contrasting tempi were expertly handled by the CBSO, drawing out maximum emotion, especially so in the Romanza, the movement in which Pilgrim rests. The heart-wrenching introductory chords virtually wept, followed by an exquisite contemplative solo on cor anglais, the highlight of the evening for me. The final movement delivered a satisfying sense of arrival and optimism, not to mention a delicious melody.”

Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:

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…     “The principals – Laurence Jackson, Briony Shaw, Chris Yates and Eduardo Vassallo –were outstanding, and Manze, a string-player himself, allowed the massed CBSO strings to reaffirm what a formidable force they have become.”          *****

Once Upon a Time

Wednesday 9 May 2012 at 7.30pm

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

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Kazuki Yamada conductor
James Ehnes violin

Ravel: Mother Goose Suite 16′ Listen on Spotify
Prokofiev: Violin Concerto No. 1 22′
Rimsky-Korsakov: Scheherazade 47′ Listen on Spotify

Once upon a time, three composers sat down to tell a story. Ravel paints his fairy-tales in glowing orchestral colours. Prokofiev makes a glittering solo violinist the hero of a very Russian tale of fantasy and romance. And Rimsky-Korsakov flies us to ancient Persia for an adventure beyond the imagination, in his spectacular, ever-popular Scheherazade. There’s action, there’s love, and there’s sheer magic, as conductor Kazuki Yamada and the great Canadian violinist James Ehnes ask the timeless question – are you sitting comfortably? www.cbso.co.uk

Review by Maggie Coton, Birmingham Post:

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…     “The indisputable star of the evening was leader Laurence Jackson, beguiling as Scheherazade with exquisite, sensuous sound throughout, eventually mesmerizing with a heart-stopping seamless gossamer thread.”


The Wizard of Oz

Birmingham International Concert Season 2011/12

Friday 4th May 2012

Symphony Hall

BBC Symphony Orchestra
John Wilson conductor

The Wizard of Oz (film screening, Certificate U)

Each performance lasts approximately 1 hour 45 minutes with no interval.

Film Courtesy of Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

We’re off to see the wizard! John Wilson conducts this lavish orchestral score as a live accompaniment to a screening of the magical 1939 movie, complete with original vocals. Forget scratchy soundtracks: this is the chance to hear Somewhere Over the Rainbow, Follow the Yellow Brick Road and all your favourites in vivid orchestral technicolour – the perfect Bank Holiday treat for munchkins of all ages.

‘The debonair flair of a matinee idol. He drew a fabulous quality of sound from his outstanding orchestra.’ The Guardian on John Wilson at the BBC Proms

Review by Chris Caspell, ClassicalSource:

Click here for full review

…      “The film has been shown on television many times and yet a two-thirds-full Symphony Hall demonstrated that, over seventy-years later, it still has pulling power. Indeed many of the younger members of the audience, perhaps seeing the movie for the first time, were as engaged in the adventures of Dorothy as were their parents and grandparents. The ‘feel-good’ factor has clearly not diminished.     […]

[…]     The quantity and quality of underscoring that is heard in The Wizard of Oz is surprising. Of the 101 minutes of film, as much as three-quarters (maybe more) has musical accompaniment. As with many of the best film scores, the music is complimentary to the action: an enhancement, never a distraction. ”     …