Benedetti plays Szymanowski

Wednesday 28 November 2012 at 7.30pm

Symphony Hall, Birmingham +44 (0)121 345 0603

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Kazushi Ono conductor
Nicola Benedetti violin

Dvořák: The Wood Dove 19′
Szymanowski: Violin Concerto No. 1 23′ Listen on Spotify
Bartók: Concerto for Orchestra 35′ Listen on Spotify

Nicola Benedetti is surely one of Britain’s best-loved violinists – and no player is closer to Karol Szymanowski’s glittering First Violin Concerto, the piece with which she won BBC Young Musician of the Year in 2004. That’s the magic spell at the centre of this enchanted programme from guest conductor Kazushi Ono. First, though, there’s something scary in the woods in Dvorák’s sinister musical fairytale; then the whole CBSO takes the spotlight in Bartók’s life-affirming Concerto for Orchestra – music that wrings the heart even while it dazzles the ear.

Get a taste for the music here and watch Nicola Benedetti backstage at the Edinburgh Festival where she discusses her love of Polish composer Szymanowski. She will perform his Violin Concerto No. 1 with the London Symphony Orchestra as part of their series of Szymanowski concerts.

Nicola Benedetti’s Encore – Bach – Sarabande from Partita D Minor




Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:

Click here for full review

…     “Nicola Benedetti brought impeccable intonation to the solo line of Szymanowski’s First Violin Concerto, a crucial element in such a crystalline work teeming with nocturnal imagery, perfumed with the aura of fin-de-siecle decay.

Gently oscillating melodic lines were matched by more energetic passages, Benedetti’s bowing so chippingly effective. But she was also able to command a persuasive stillness, always supported by the CBSO’s expressive collaboration. Her Sarabande from Bach’s D minor Partita made a welcome palate-cleanser of an encore – the best music we heard all evening.”     …

The Birmingham Beethoven Cycle: Mass in C

Thursday 22 November 2012 at 7.30pm

Symphony Hall, Birmingham +44 (0)121 345 0603

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Olari Elts conductor
Anna Leese soprano
Kai Rüütel mezzo
Robert Murray tenor
Stephan Loges bass
CBSO Chorus

Haydn: Te Deum 12′
Haydn: Symphony No. 104 (London) 29′
Beethoven: Mass in C 45′ Listen on Spotify

“What do I care for your wretched violin?” demanded Ludwig van Beethoven. “I am speaking to my God.” And whatever your beliefs, there’s always something profoundly inspiring about hearing one of the greatest creative minds in history tackling the biggest questions in human existence. Olari Elts conducts our world-famous Chorus in Beethoven’s noble, heartfelt Mass in C – but not before a ringing shout of joy from the happiest religious composer of all time, Beethoven’s teacher Joseph “Papa” Haydn.

To see the full Birmingham Beethoven Cycle, go to

Sponsored by BarclaysThe Birmingham Beethoven Cycle is being supported by Barclays and through the generosity of Miss Brant, a lifelong supporter of the CBSO who died recently.

Review by Neil Fisher, The Times (£)

Click here for full review


Review by David Hart, Birmingham Post:

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…     “Beethoven’s Mass in C, though, benefited from an almost minimal approach, its symbolism and fleeting drama more potently engaged by being understated.

It also sounded surprisingly beautiful (not least in the gentle opening Kyrie and when the same music is reprised in the final bars of the Agnus Dei) with soprano top notes of silvery lightness, punchy fugues that were never laboured, and a refreshing absence of making an ‘effect.’ ”      …




Review by Diane Parkes, BehindTheArras:

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…     “Conducted by Olari Elits CBSO, the four soloists and the CBSO Chorus were perfectly aligned to take us through the varying emotions of the Mass.

Beethoven’s work was performed alongside two pieces by one of his predecessor at the Esterhazy court – Haydn.

Keeping to the religious theme, Haydn’s Te Deum is an exuberant and vibrant piece. At just over ten minutes, it encapsulates faith, joy and a hope in the everlasting.”    …

The Year 1912: Brave New Worlds

Wednesday 14 November 2012 at 7.30pm

Symphony Hall, Birmingham +44 (0)121 345 0603

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra 

Jac van Steen conductor

Schoenberg: Five Pieces for Orchestra (1909 original version) 16′ Listen on Spotify
Mahler: Symphony No. 7 84′

Mahler called it his “song of the night”, and it’s true: the Seventh is a Mahler symphony like no other. It begins in a boat on an Alpine lake and ends with trumpets aloft in blazing, roof-raising celebration – but along the way there are distant bugles, moonlit serenades and spinechilling horror. It’s fantastic, and it’ll sound like a dream under the baton of renowned guest conductor Jac van Steen – who opens the concert with a revolutionary masterpiece premiered in 1912 by Mahler’s most devoted fan. With an oversize orchestra and a kaleidoscope of colours and textures, Schoenberg looks decisively towards a brave new musical world – and sheds fresh light on Mahler’s own futuristic vision.

Review by John Quinn, MusicWeb, SeenandHeard:

Click here for full review

…     “The mood of the symphony changes decisively and positively in Nachtmusik II, a warm and affectionate piece. Here Mahler reinforces his vast orchestra with mandolin and guitar. These instruments were carefully positioned on the platform so that their contributions were audible. There was great refinement in the CBSO’s playing, not least from leader, Laurence Jackson. Fired by this new mood of positivity the finale erupts in bright C major. This movement has often been criticised and there’s no doubt that it can seem weak and/or ramshackle. Jac van Steen’s solution was a simple but effective one: he really went for it, galvanising the orchestra into playing that had huge energy and high spirits. The movement is, by turns, delicate and tumultuous and both sides of the music were superbly delivered in a vibrant sharply etched performance.

With the CBSO on top form and an expert conductor at the helm I enjoyed this performance of Mahler’s Seventh greatly and got more from it than has been the case on most occasions that I’ve heard the work. The CBSO seemed to relish Mr van Steen’s work on their podium: I hope it won’t be long before he’s invited back to Birmingham.”     …


Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:

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“The CBSO have a wonderful ritual whenever their beloved music director Andris Nelsons conducts them. At the end of a concert they refuse to stand at his exhortation, remaining instead firmly in their seats as they applaud him with warmth, gratitude and affection.

Last Wednesday Dutch conductor Jac van Steen was granted a similar accolade from the players at the end of a remarkable programme of early 20th-century music featuring a huge orchestra. Listeners to the live BBC Radio-3 broadcast will have missed this touching visual but will certainly have enjoyed what they heard. Thanks to the Rattle days the CBSO have Mahler’s Seventh Symphony (certainly his most difficult to bring off) firmly under their fingers, and this performance was yet another marvellous one to add to the list.”     …

CBSO, Andris Nelsons, Shostakovich CD

Shostakovich: Symphony No.7 (CBSO/Nelson)

Shostakovich, Dmitri

Symphony No 7 – “Leningrad”

Available now – buy online here


Amazon review here


Watch –

“…exclusive access to Birmingham’s classical music sensation Andris Nelsons.”   

*** here ***


Review by Norman Lebrecht, Sinfini Music:

Click here for full review

…     “Andris Nelsons is the first, in my experience, to detach the music from its history. In concert with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, he dares to play for beauty. By underlining the delicacy and internal contrasts of the music, especially in the middle movements, Nelsons racks up tension by stealth. Ice-cool woodwinds add a surreal sense of isolation, while a rich body of strings hints at the totalitarian subjugation of individuality. Recorded in November 2011, the sound is outstanding and the playing world-class.”     …



Review by Simon Thompson, MusicWeb:

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…     “The finest thing about it is the orchestral playing, which is really very good indeed. There is a collective sense of adventure right from the bounding energy of the first phrases, strings surging upwards, buoyed up by rakish brass and timps. It is the strings who continually impress throughout. They are at their best in the Adagio, which is spectacularly good. The broad string sigh that opens the main theme pulsates with feeling and soulfulness that make it stand out as truly remarkable. It reminds you that this movement, above all the others, is Shostakovich’s love letter to his home city, a starry-eyed vision of the Nevsky Prospect and the Neva River by twilight. The cello tone that picks up the second theme at the end of the movement is simply delicious. The winds are just as special, and the frequent solos show up the CBSO players in the best possible light. Listen, for example, to the optimistic wistfulness of the flute that introduces the second theme after the first movement’s first subject has subsided. Then there’s that doleful bassoon lament that pours out its grief after the climax of the first movement has subsided. The “invasion theme” – and let’s call it that for the sake of argument; I know not everyone agrees – gives each section a chance to show off what it can do. The orchestral climaxes are thrilling when they come, but just as impressive is that sense of a collective identity, pulling together as an orchestra to give this work all they can.”     …

Review by Dan Morgan, MusicWeb:
Click here for full review (scroll down, is below Simon’s)
…     “Recorded live at two CBSO concerts last year, this Seventh is very closely miked. That, together with less than impeccable ensemble – especially in that remorseless first movement – makes for pretty uncomfortable listening. The soundstage is rather compressed too, and balances are far from natural; moreover, in those brutal climaxes there’s evidence of overload, which is very disappointing indeed. Technical issues aside, Nelsons seems to revel in the music’s banalities, and his phrasing of the Boléro-like march is very odd indeed.

The Moderato is much better though; it’s bright and airy, rhythms are nicely sprung and those brazen interludes are well judged. There’s some characterful woodwind playing as well; now this is much more like it. What a pity it doesn’t continue in this vein. The start to the Adagio isn’t as anguished as it can be – in mitigation it’s not overwrought – and the string sound is much too fierce for my tastes. Otherwise the movement is sensibly paced and its strange mood is carefully calibrated. For all that there’s a nagging sense of ‘nearly but not quite’, that jaunty tune heralding a return to ear-shredding brashness. No, Nelsons’ overall shaping and projection of this music is just too awkward and arbitrary for my tastes, and that robs the symphony of its dark and compelling narrative.”     …


Sue Perkins’ Cartoon Classics

Friday 9 November 2012 at 7.30pm

Symphony Hall, Birmingham +44 (0)121 345 0603

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Michael Seal conductor
Sue Perkins presenter and conductor *

Rossini: The Barber of Seville – Overture (Bugs Bunny)

Stravinsky: The Firebird Suite – Infernal Dance (Fantasia 2000)

Elgar: Pomp and Circumstance March No. 4 (Fantasia 2000) *

Elfman (arr. Malloy): The Simpsons theme *

Grieg: Peer Gynt – Morning ;  In the Hall of the Mountain King (Warner Bros)

Liszt: Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 (Bugs Bunny / Who Framed Roger Rabbit?)

Strauss: Die Fledermaus – Overture (Fantasia 2000)

Tchaikovsky: The Nutcracker Suite – Waltz of the Flowers (Fantasia)

Mancini: The Pink Panther Theme *

Dukas: The Sorcerer’s Apprentice (Fantasia) *

Giacchino: The Incredibles – Full Mayhem

Wagner: The Ride of the Valkyries (What’s Opera, Doc?)

Rossini: William Tell – Overture *

What’s up, doc? You might not realise it – but if you’re a fan of The Simpsons, Bugs Bunny or Tom and Jerry, you’ve probably heard enough classical music to fill a concert! And this is that concert – from Rossini’s barnstorming William Tell to the magical music of Disney’s Fantasia by Stravinsky, Tchaikovsky, Elgar and Dukas. But that’s not all, folks! Join us as we pack a whole evening full of looney tunes, silly symphonies and merry melodies, presented by comedian, TV personality and all-round entertainer Sue Perkins – she might just get to take a turn on the podium, alongside Birmingham’s own Michael Seal.

Autumn Contrasts

Wednesday 7 November 2012 at 2.15pm

Symphony Hall, Birmingham +44 (0)121 345 0603

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Andrew Manze conductor
Rainer Gibbons oboe

Mozart: Symphony No. 25 26′
Vaughan Williams: Oboe Concerto 19′ Listen on Spotify
Schumann: Symphony No. 2 34′ Listen on Spotify

Engaging, inspired and endlessly lively, Andrew Manze is quickly making a name as one of the most charismatic conductors around – and a firm favourite with musicians and audiences alike. Here he brings his famous verve to bear on Mozart’s explosive youthful masterpiece, before sharing two very personal musical passions: Schumann’s gloriously romantic Second Symphony, and Vaughan Williams’s radiant, serenely lyrical Oboe Concerto played by the CBSO’s own Rainer Gibbons. It could quite possibly be the loveliest piece of English music you’ve never heard.


Review by Norman Stinchcombe, Birmingham Post:

Click here for full review

…    “Vaughan Williams’ oboe concerto received its first CBSO performance for more than 30 years – and it’ll probably be another 30 before it’s heard again.

Rainer Gibbons was the eloquent soloist, nimble and neat in the scampering minuet and spinning some elegant lines in the finale.     […]

[…]     Schumann’s Second Symphony is a marvellous work but must be a conductor’s nightmare. In the opening movement the wind section could have been miming for much of the time as they were overwhelmed by brass and strings. Not Manze’s fault, just Schumann’s turgid orchestration. The scherzo was brilliant as was the finale with Manze unleashing the brass and timpani to great effect. The slow movement is the symphony’s madwoman-in-the-attic: woodwind wailing like a lost soul and shivering tremolo strings chilling the heart.”   …

Leonskaja Plays Grieg

Saturday 3 November 2012 at 7.00pm

Symphony Hall, Birmingham +44 (0)121 345 0603

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Alexander Vedernikov conductor
Elisabeth Leonskaja piano

Sibelius: Karelia Suite 14′ Listen on Spotify
Grieg: Piano Concerto 30′
Rachmaninov: Symphony No. 1 41′ Listen on Spotify

Elisabeth Leonskaja’s encore – Mozart’s piano Sonata no.12 KV 332 in F Major – Adagio

An angry snarl, an ominous chant, and a doom-laden fanfare – and that’s just the start! When the young Sergei Rachmaninov launched his First Symphony, he didn’t pull his punches. It’s an epic tragedy of fate and desire, poured out in music that burns with passion, and Russian guest conductor Alexander Vedernikov is sure to give it his all. Sibelius’s cheerful Karelia Suite is quite a contrast – and in the hands of the superb Elisabeth Leonskaja, Grieg’s ever-popular Piano Concerto should sparkle like new.



Review by Katherine Dixson, BachTrack:

Click here for full review

…     “She exuded an intriguing combination of business-like focus on the task in hand and passion for the music and her instrument. The result was a rare bell-like quality. Ms Leonskaja’s sensitive and masterful playing was complemented by a very watchable attitude that was completely at one with the music, including an endearing flourish of the arms at the end of fast passages, fists clenched, so powerful that it threatened to propel her into the front row.”     […]

[… ]    “Just when we thought the evening couldn’t get any more dramatic, guest conductor Alexander Vedernikov, formerly of the Bolshoi, demonstrated a remarkable affinity with compatriot Rachmaninov and directed the players through a blistering performance of his Symphony no. 1 in D minor. Vedernikov’s expressive arms seemed to reach for the roof and his over-the-collar hair bounced with vigour. The programme notes included the headings “A night in hell… From the ashes… Defying destiny… Grand passions”, and the music was correspondingly angst-ridden.”     …