Friday Night Classics: 21st Century Blockbusters

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Friday 6th March 2015 at 7.30pm

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

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Michael Seal  conductor
Tommy Pearson  presenter
Roopa Panesar  sitar

Williams ‘Hedwig’s Theme’ from Harry Potter/Philosopher’s Stone
Williams‘The Knight Bus’ from Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
Zimmer ‘Jack Sparrow’ from Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest
Shore ‘Over Hill/Dreaming of Bag End’ from The Hobbit
Greenwood Music from There Will Be Blood
Armstrong ‘Glasgow Love Theme’ from Love, Actually
Zimmer Gladiator – ‘The Battle’
Rahman Slumdog Millionaire: Suite
Williams Star Wars Ep.III: Revenge of the Sith – ‘Battle of the Heroes’
Powell The Bourne Ultimatum – Faces Without Names
Horner Main Theme from Avatar
Giacchino Star Trek Into Darkness
Williams War Horse – ‘Dartmoor 1912’
Arnold/Price Sherlock suite
Powell How To Train Your Dragon

Encore – Williams – ‘Aunt Marge’s Waltz’ from Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

A film doesn’t have to be old to be a classic. Think of the magic of Harry Potter, the sheer spectacle of Avatar and The Hobbit, the swashbuckling fun of Pirates of the Caribbean and the heartbreak of War Horse. And admit it… you’re already humming the tunes! Great music from great modern movies, delivered with flair by conductor Michael Seal and the full 80-piece City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. http://www.CBSO.co.uk

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Review by Paul Marston, BehindTheArras:

Click here for full review

…     “The music, much of it by the remarkable John Williams, was powerful and dramatic, providing opportunities for some delightful solo contributions from members of the 80-piece orchestra.

Williams’ Battle of the Heroes from Star Wars Episode III, Revenge of the Sith, contrasting with his beautiful, more gentle piece, Dartmoor 1912 from War Horse.

Other highlights included Howard Shore’s nostalgic melody for The Hobit: An Unexpected Journey, and James Homer’s stirring theme, I See You, from Avatar.

Another treat for the audience came with the stunning performance by Roopa Panesar, one of the finest sitar players to emerge on the Indian music scene in the UK, when she joined the orchestra for A.A. Rahman’s music for the suite from Slumdog Millionaire.”     …

Janacek’s Glagolitic Mass

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Thursday 5th March 2015 at 7.30pm

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

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Edward Gardner  conductor
Luba Orgonášová  soprano
Sarah Connolly  mezzo-soprano
John Daszak  tenor
Clive Bayley  bass
Thomas Trotter  organ
CBSO Chorus  

Berlioz: Overture – Roman Carnival 9′
Berlioz: Les Troyens: Royal Hunt and Storm 10′
Berlioz: La Mort de Cléopâtre 21′ Watch on YouTube

Janácek: Glagolitic Mass 45′
Listen on Spotify

“The fragrance of the trees was like incense,” declared Leos Janácek. “I felt a cathedral grow from a great forest.” And with its jubilant trumpets, thundering organ and raw, unbuttoned lust for life, there’s nothing quite like the Glagolitic Mass. The CBSO Chorus loves to sing it, and Edward Gardner gets the pulse racing straight away, with three barnstorming showpieces by Hector Berlioz. Hold tight!

This concert has been made possible with support from an anonymous donor through the Keynote Programming Fund.

Support the CBSO

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Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post

Click here for full review

…     “The Royal Hunt and Storm from Berlioz’ huge opera The Trojans made dramatic use of Symphony Hall’s spatial resources, brass scattered around the auditorium, Gardner drawing from the orchestra both pounding hooves and subtle sylvan delicacy.

But the real gem in this collection came with the early competition cantata La Mort de Cleopatre, where the gauche Berlioz painted vivid orchestral colours, pre-quoting the Carnaval Romain along the way, macabre both in timbre and harmony, and ending with a totally chilling death-rattle (Berlioz had once worked in a mortuary before fleeing into the arms of music).

Gardner conducted with flexible fluency and empathy with mezzo soloist Sarah Connolly (actually unacknowledged in the programme-book), singing with immense control and evenness throughout her range, and communicating the queen’s despair with self-possessed dignity.

Janacek’s Glagolitic Mass is as much a paean to nature’s life-force as it is to God.

It blazes with the earthiness of one late work (the Sinfonietta) and the pantheism of another (The Cunning Little Vixen).”    

*****

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Review by John Quinn, SeenandHeard, MusicWeb:

Click here for full review

…     “Sarah Connolly then joined the orchestra for the cantata La Mort de Cléopâtre. This was the piece that Berlioz submitted in 1829 as his third attempt to win the coveted Prix de Rome. The judges were renowned for their collective conservatism and so, since Berlioz didn’t trouble to dilute his adventurous style, the entry was unsuccessful. (The following year Berlioz submitted a somewhat more compliant composition and finally won the prize with the cantata La Mort de Sardanaple.) La Mort de Cléopâtre may not be top-drawer Berlioz but it’s well worth hearing and, my goodness, the music made a strong impression in this performance. The benefits of having a soloist and conductor who are highly experienced in the opera house were plain to hear. Sarah Connolly gave a gripping and completely convincing portrayal of the shamed, tragic queen, dishonoured and so doomed to die by her own hand. Her singing was intense and highly dramatic yet neither the sense of line nor her lustrous tone were ever sacrificed on the altar of drama. She was magnificent in the central Méditation (‘Grands Pharons, nobles Lagides’) and the way in which she almost whispered the queen’s last phrases was utterly compelling. Her performance was a riveting piece of musical acting. Edward Gardner matched her achievement, bringing out the highly original sonorities of Berlioz’s score and supporting his singer at all times. The very end, where bare-textured strings illustrate Cléopâtre’s death itself, was arresting. The astonishing originality of a passage such as that – and many others in the score – must have had the Prix de Rome judges calling for the smelling salts.     […]

[…]     As it was, Gardner was pretty persuasive in the familiar version of the score. Janáček’s pungent wind and brass writing registered extremely well – and there was a thrilling contribution from timpanist Matthew Perry – while the rhythms were crisply articulated throughout the performance. All the dramatic and exciting passages made an impact but the delicate side of this vibrant and colourful score was put across with equal success. All departments of the CBSO, with guest leader Charles Mutter deputising for an indisposed Laurence Jackson, responded as keenly to Gardner’s direction as they had done in the Berlioz items.

 A strong solo quartet had been assembled. It’s as well we’d had the chance to admire Sarah Connolly in Berlioz for Janáček confines the alto soloist to a fairly small contribution during what is in the Latin usage the Benedictus and a slightly fuller part in the Agnus Dei. Predictably, Miss Connolly was excellent in these pages. The bass has a bit more to do and Clive Bayley was firm of tone and projected strongly. The main solo parts are for the soprano and tenor.  Luba Orgonášová has the right timbre and vocal presence for this music and she impressed me. So did John Daszak who was not daunted by Janáček’s testing tessitura – Daszak’s profession of faith in the holy and apostolic church towards the end of the Creed was the thrilling moment that it should be.

 There is a fifth soloist in this work: the organist. Thomas Trotter gave a tremendous display, coming into his own completely in the wild organ solo which is the penultimate movement.  It was very exciting to hear that solo on the Kleist organ of Symphony Hall and, in a commanding and virtuoso performance, Trotter drew a wide range of sounds and contrasts from the mighty instrument.

 There probably isn’t a British choir that’s more familiar with this work than the CBSO Chorus – I think they first performed it well over thirty years ago. Their familiarity certainly showed here. Expertly prepared by Julian Wilkins, the choir sang with the tremendous assurance, flexibility, agility and depth of tone that we’ve long associated with this excellent choir.

 This was a fine performance of Janáček’s extraordinary score, which remains extraordinary no matter how often one hears it. It set the seal on a stimulating evening in Symphony Hall.”

Hong Kong Philharmonic play Beethoven and Dvořák

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

Tuesday 3rd March 2015

Symphony Hall

Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra Jaap van Zweden conductor Ning Feng violin

Fung Lam Quintessence 11’
Beethoven Violin Concerto 42’
Dvořák Symphony No 9, From the New World 40’

Ning Feng’s encore – Paganini – Caprice No. 7

Hong Kong Philharmonic’s encores – Wagner – Ride of the Valkyries, Dvořák – Slavonic Dance No.8

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The Hong Kong Philharmonic is one of China’s most established orchestras, and under music director Jaap van Zweden it’s been called ‘the Berlin Philharmonic of Asia’. Dvořák’s much loved New World Symphony and Beethoven’s Violin Concerto (with the award-winning Ning Feng) provide a wonderfully enjoyable showcase. Plus, there’s the chance to hear Quintessence, the new piece by orchestra’s 35-year-old resident composer Fung Lam, which received its World Premiere in London in June 2014 (read a Financial Times review of the concert here). Classic FM’s John Suchet says:

Now celebrating their 41st professional season, this is a fantastic opportunity to hear the esteemed Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra play one of the most popular symphonies of all time, Dvořák’s New World Symphony, along with the only concerto ever written for violin by one of the defining figures in the history of Western music: Ludwig van Beethoven.

http://www.thsh.co.uk

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Review by Sam Chipman, ThePublicReviews:

Click here for full review

…     “The great Leonard Bernstein himself encouraged Dutch born Jaap van Zweden to conduct, and he does so with such vigour. He tactfully directs his orchestra as they play a rousing rendition of the famous symphony. Where the concerto lacks in drama, this piece does not. It is a very brash and dark interpretation of the famous symphony played with great attack. The woodwind section are excellent throughout the Largo, with the Cor Anglais solo really adding to the dark undertone of the playing. When the strings swell it is almost euphoric, so delightful is the tone and harmony, particularly at the opening of the Adagio. The Allegro con fuoco sees the return of the memorable themes to end the evening with a flourish. Rousing work from the Hong Kong Philharmonic and Jaap van Zweden.

Breath-taking in parts, with a slight stumble in others. The Dvořák is played magnificently, but the Beethoven a little lacking – but the tuneful 9th Symphony will leave you feeling energised as you exit the auditorium.”

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Review by Richard Bratby, Birmingham Post:

Click here for full review

…     “And yet, Lam doesn’t really draw on this orchestra’s greatest strengths. The opening bars of Dvorak’s 9th Symphony laid those out unmistakably: a rich, focussed and gloriously warm-sounding string section, phrasing and moving together, plus as characterful and expressive a woodwind and horn team as you could hope to find anywhere in Bohemia.

Conductor Jaap van Zweden shaped a brisk but intensely lyrical performance – with long, singing lines that gave a really epic sense of sweep, notwithstanding van Zweden’s tendency to micromanage phrase endings and tempo changes. The whispered string phrases that underscored Kwan Sheung-fung’s plangent cor anglais solo in the Largo were wonderfully expressive and tender.

The sheer beauty of the orchestral sound was also the most enjoyable aspect of Beethoven’s Violin Concerto, with Ning Feng as soloist.”     …

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