Brahms’ Fourth: Youth Orchestra Academy

Sunday 26th July, 7.00pm



  • Lindberg Aventures, 12′
  • Strauss Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme – suite, 36′
  • Brahms  Symphony No. 4, 40′

“Astonishing” was one critic’s verdict on the CBSO Youth Orchestra’s recent 10th anniversary concert. Now the superb young players bring the birthday celebrations to a close with a concert that looks both forwards and back. Brahms’s mighty Fourth Symphony draws its strength from Bach, while Richard Strauss’s delicious Le Bourgeois gentilhomme brings the baroque spirit dancing into the 20th century. First, though, take a joyride through four centuries of orchestral favourites with one of our most brilliant living composers.


Review by Katherine Dixson, BachTrack:

Click here for full review

…     “Highlights included the gentle oboe joined by other winds and horns in the overture; flutes bringing out the dance-like quality of the minuet; the exuberance and confidence of the piano/trumpet combination painting the fencing master’s antics; leader Charlotte Moseley weaving in and out with the tailor’s precision stitches making sure the gentleman is suitably clad; an affecting, poignant muted sarabande; and the sheer joie de vivre of the dinner party itself, falling scales passed around the instruments like infectious laughter. The audience lapped it up and Seal applauded his players before turning to acknowledge the warm reception himself.

After the interval the stage was once more filled to the brim for Brahms’ Symphony no. 4 in E minor. As it happens, my last review also featured this piece, played by the Dresden Philharmonic, so how would these less experienced players fare by comparison? Let’s just say they didn’t just fill the stage, they owned it! The CBSO YOA tackled Brahms’ massive structure of a work with maturity beyond their years and really came into their own. From the confident, majestic attack and warmth of the strings, through fine handling of tempo changes to the first movement’s passionate close, they showed both discipline and musicality. The second movement allowed us a good wallow, the unanimity of the lower strings’ pizzicato paired with the poised line of brass and wind. In the third movement they brought out both a playful and martial feel, confident answering chords moving on apace. Full marks to the flute solo in the final movement, as well as the clarinet and eloquent trombones. Turning the corner into the clamorous closing stages, with staccato urgency and energy, this enthusiastic and talented orchestra rounded off a fine night of music-making. The audience may not have been full, but we enjoyed it fully.”


Review by Maggie Cotton, Birmingham Post:

Click here for full review

…     “A totally accessible, rarely performed, R Strauss’s ‘Le Bourgeois Gentilehomme’ suite charmed and delighted all. The reduced baroque orchestra has many exposed personal solos, from tender oboe, cello and viola to a sturdy bass trombone. As ever Strauss enjoys stretching his horns to the full, added to which the six percussionists tactfully made their mark with good effect. Smiling music for all, especially the braying sheep and twittering interruptive birds!

Then to the true meat of this evening: Brahms’ Symphony No 4. The full orchestra swept in with gutsy strings and splendid woodwind solo snippets. Although do take care with truly clean violin entries, even one hesitation shows through. Determined pizzicatos threatened to overwhelm at times but otherwise a truly passionate rendering of this challenging work. Brahms used a (beautifully played here) solemn flute as a soloist in the passacaglia until eventually trombones come into their own with their chunky solemn quasi sacred moment.”     …

Summer Concert

Thursday 23rd July, 7.30pm



  • Tchaikovsky  Sleeping Beauty (highlights) , 30′

Part 1 – Introduction, Pas de quatre (Act III), Introduction, La Fée-Or, La Fée-Argent, La Fée-Saphir, La Fée-Diamant, Coda, Finale (Act I)

  • Barber  Knoxville, Summer of 1915 , 14′
  • Tchaikovsky  Sleeping Beauty (highlights) , 30′

Part 2 – Panorama (Act III), Entr’acte symphonique (Le Sommeil) et Scène (Act III), Finale (Act II), Valse (Act I)

  • Beethoven  Symphony No. 7 , 36′

Tchaikovsky’s tuneful ballet, Barber’s nostalgic memory of another summer’s day 100 years ago, and Beethoven’s most energized symphony: perfect music for a summer evening.

Tonight the CBSO is joined by an outstanding young conductor, fresh from her recent appointment as Assistant Conductor at the LA Philharmonic, for a programme sure to warm you up whatever the weather!


Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:

Click here for full review

…     “She also has the imagination to create her own take on programming, sandwiching Samuel Barber’s dreamlike Knoxville: Summer of 1915 between two huge chunks of Tchaikovsky’s equally dreamlike Sleeping Beauty ballet. The flow worked brilliantly, Talise Trevigne, soprano soloist in the Barber, sliding unobtrusively into position as the first slab of ballet ended, and taking her platform seat at the end of her performance as the second began.

Trevigne’s communication of James Agee’s nostalgic poem was enchanting, her delicate, perfectly-formed delivery smiling in its engagement as it conveyed all the text’s innocent, wide-eyed, childish wonderment.

For the Tchaikovsky Grazinyte-Tyla encouraged a forward orchestral sound, powerful and energetic, but also shaping a delicate lilt to phrasing.

That latter quality was very evident in the allegretto of Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony, coming after a forceful, forward-moving opening movement, and followed by a scherzo as poised as clockwork, and a finale of evident exhilaration, with, given the context, surprisingly understated body-language at the very end. The few bumps along the way didn’t matter very much.”     …

BBC Prom – Beethoven Symphony No 9

Royal Albert Hall

Kensington Gore, London SW7 2AP 0845 401 5045

Sunday 19th July, 7.30pm

Price: £9.50 – £46
Andris Nelsons Marco Borggreve057.



  • Beethoven Overture: The Creatures of Prometheus, 5′
  • Woolrich Falling Down (London premiere) , 15′
  • Beethoven Symphony No. 9 in D minor, ‘Choral, 67′


Due to personal circumstances, Dmytro Popov has sadly had to withdraw from this concert. We are grateful to Pavel Cernoch for taking his place at short notice.

Beethoven’s ‘Choral’ Symphony is a celebration of human endeavour, as is his ballet score The Creatures of Prometheus. This is Latvian Andris Nelsons’ final concert with the CBSO as Music Director. John Woolrich’s dark, sardonic contra-bassoon concerto was written for the CBSO’s own contra-bassoonist Margaret Cookhorn.

This concert will be broadcast live on BBC Radio 3

Available on iPlayer here – until 18th August 2015

CBSO Storify here

Chorus Soprano Eluned Mansell writes about performing Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony at the BBC Proms with the CBSO”


Review by Andrew Clements, Guardian:

Click here for full review

…     “Nelsons’ performance, though – echoing the one he gave last autumn as part of his complete Beethoven cycle in Birmingham’s Symphony Hall – would have been blazingly memorable whenever and wherever it had taken place. There were all the hallmarks that have become so recognisable over the seven seasons he has been in Birmingham, especially the meticulous attention to detail and the knack of making it all seem utterly fresh, combined with an unwavering certainty about what the music’s ultimate destination is. The dynamic range of this performance was huge – the pianissimos intense, the fortissimos immense – whether in the first stirrings of the opening movement, the furious rush of the scherzo or the careful building of the finale, layer by layer, towards its huge choral affirmation, in which Nelsons’ gestures seemed to invite the whole Albert Hall into celebrating along with the CBSO Chorus and soloists Lucy Crowe, Gerhild Romberger, Pavel Černoch and Kostas Smoriginas.”     …



Review by Richard Bratby, Birmingham Post:

Click here for full review

…     “At first, it felt understated; but as Nelsons let inner voices sing out, and gave space for the woodwinds and horns to be their gloriously musical selves (has Marie-Christine Zupancic’s flute ever sounded more sweetly, poignantly expressive?), you began to sense a massive, tidal undercurrent of symphonic movement. By the time the CBSO Chorus was blazing with white-hot fervour through Beethoven’s final chorus, the build-up of emotion was almost unbearable. With its glowing sound, cosmic vision and quiet, piercing moments of both pain and joy, it’s tempting to say that this felt like a Ninth filtered through Parsifal – “made wise through compassion”. It certainly proved just how far Nelsons and the CBSO have come together since 2007, and how all the energy, spontaneity, and mutual affection that this orchestra and conductor have shared since day one – and which was pouring off the stage tonight – has matured into a great artistic partnership, cut heartbreakingly short.”


Blog post by Richard Bratby:

Click here for full blog

…     “It was one of those occasions where personal emotion takes precedence over critical detachment – something you’ll only really understand if you’ve been in Birmingham for the last 8 years. I’m not a fan of Beethoven’s Ninth: last night, though, I heard it say something new, surprising and very moving. There’s absolutely no sense that the CBSO / Nelsons relationship has run its natural course – I’ve never seen an orchestra and conductor have so lengthy a honeymoon, and last night’s performance made it sound as if the relationship is only now reaching its artistic peak. The loss of Nelsons is bitterly felt in Birmingham. It’s untimely, to say the least, which made last night a doubly poignant occasion.”


Review by Sebastian Scotney, ArtsDesk:

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…     “The virtues of Nelsons’s way with Beethoven had been there from the very start of the concert, with the short, early overture to the ballet The Creatures of Prometheus. He took it, on this occasion, surprisingly fast. It had humour, sparkle and charm, and made the very most of the contrasts of loud and soft. Nelsons has a way of crouching and reining himself in, of making himself almost invisible in quieter passages, and then presenting audience and orchestra with a far taller and more imposing version of himself when the volume and intensity are higher. The Prometheus overture was just a small-scale foretaste of what would be offered with Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. The performance of this infinitely complex work seemed to evolve naturally and organically. In the first movement the build-ups from very quiet to very loud were organic, accretive, totally convincing, the sense of landing harmonically always just right. In the second movement Nelsons’s gestures were a delight. Phrases in the minuet seemed to be treated as people, they were welcomed into the room, and waved goodbye. The trio section was expansive, free with tempo, giving soloists – particularly first horn Elspeth Dutch – opportunities to shine. The string section playing in the third movement was delightful, and this was an occasion when the whole movement cohered with nothing wasted.

The final movement with lower strings flawlessly energetic, and later with soloists (Lucy Crowe, Gerhild Romberger and Pavel Černoch Kostas Smoriginas, pictured right) and chorus in fine balance, again showed the strengths of Nelsons’s approach. He knows precisely how to get the best out of an English amateur chorus, by extracting each and every syllable from their mouths. They even got a jokey visual aid for the word “Götterfunken”. The first involvement of the solo quartet, placed in the chorus at the back of the stage, prompted the only brief moment of tempo-uncertainty of the whole symphony.”     …


Review by Ivan Hewett, Telegraph:

Click here for full review

…     “Then we arrived at the peak itself, Beethoven’s Ninth. In recent years, Nelsons has led the CBSO in an entire Beethoven symphony cycle, which was distinguished by huge, questing energy, as if the music were eagerly searching for its own future. This performance of the Ninth felt different, more majestic and spacious, less concerned to grip us by the throat with sheer rhythmic excitement. The slow movement was luxuriantly slow, and the way each section melted into the next via a change of harmony was beautifully eloquent, like a door opening onto a new landscape. In the Finale, though the jubilant moments were indeed jubilant (thanks to a fine quartet of soloists and the CBSO chorus), it was the reflective moments and impassioned invocation to “join in one embrace, you millions!” which really struck home.”


Blog post by Mark Berry – Boulezian:

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…     “Nelsons forestalled applause, thank goodness, by moving immediately to the finale. He and the orchestra fairly sprung into and through its opening: very impressive on its own terms, although it would surely have hit home harder, had it been properly prepared by what had gone before. The cellos really dug into their strings too. Nelsons had them and the double basses paly deliciously softly for their recitative; now, a true sense of drama announced itself, expectant rather than merely soft. Bass-baritone Kostas Smoriginas delivered his ‘proper’ recitative, ‘O Freunde …’, with almost Sarastro-like sincerity and deliberation. I liked the way the rejection of such ‘Töne’ was no easy decision. The soloists as a whole did a good job; that there remains a multiplicity of options, and dare, I suggest, a residual insufficiency to any one quartet, says more about Beethoven’s strenuousness of vision and humility before his God than performance as such. The CBSO Chorus, singing from memory, was quite simply outstanding. Weight and clarity reinforced each other rather than proving, as so often, contradictory imperatives. Nelsons imparted an unusual sense of narrative propulsion, almost as if this were an opera, or at least an oratorio: I am not sure what I think of such a conception, but it was interesting to hear it, and there was no doubting now the conviction with which it was instantiated. The almost superhuman clarity of the chorus’s words – ‘Und der Cherub steht vor Gott!’ a fitting climax to that first section – certainly helped. It was fun, moreover, to be reminded of the contrabassoon immediately afterwards. (Was that the tenuous connection with the Woolrich piece?) The infectious quality to the ‘Turkish March’ brought with it welcome reminiscences of Die Entführung aus dem Serail. And the return to ‘Freude, schöner Götterfunken’ proved exultant in that deeply moving way that is Beethoven’s own.”     …

Review by Melinda Hughes, Spear’s:
Click here for full review
…     “John Woolrich’s ‘Falling Down’ composed for double bassoon and orchestra was written especially for Margaret Cookhorn, the CBSO principal double bassoonist. What a piece, a highly spirited rhythmical onslaught of the senses, and what an instrument, reminiscent of the sounds of the mothership from Close Encounters.With Andris Nelsons conducting this Prom, one could be guaranteed a lively evening. This was his very last concert with the CBSO so it was a fitting farewell. Nelson’s energy and novel expression are very entertaining, yet he can be grand and regal when required, particularly in the hugely sonorous Ninth Symphony. He accentuated dramatic pauses in the music, producing a majestic moments of silence which seemed to fill the Albert Hall. The choir and soloists were in fine voice, particularly soprano Lucy Crowe, whose beautiful timbre simply thrilled me. What a luxurious tone she has. I simply love the Proms.”
Review by Colin Clarke, SeenandHeard, MusicWeb:
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“Andris Nelsons has been Music Director of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra since 2008, and this Beethoven Ninth formed part of his farewell for pastures new – Boston and its Symphony Orchestra, to be precise. The programming was intriguing: two works by arguably the greatest master of them all framed an over-long, inconsequential London première.
The Overture to The Creatures of Prometheus is a slim piece, a mere five minutes. But there is something of the core of Beethoven there, concentrated into a perfectly proportioned morsel. Beautiful orchestral balance, pinpoint scampering strings and razor punch to tutti chords characterised Nelsons’ Beethoven; and promised much for the Ninth of the second half.
But first came the London première of John Woolrich’s Falling Down – a “capricho” for double bassoon and orchestra dating from 2009. The soloist, Margaret Cookhorn, is the dedicatee – she also gave the world première of the piece, which was a CBSO commission – and her way with the long, resonant lines exuded confidence. This could have been such an eye-opening piece, and the Stravinskian element to the opening in particular augured well from the pen of a composer whose music in this writer’s experience has so often been characterised by its greyness. Yet the length of the piece far outweighed its invention. Effects abounded, not least antiphonal timpani, and the way that the lower orchestral instruments, such as cor anglais, tuba and trombones, both supported and extended the soloist. The opening gestures move towards the top of the orchestra’s range, from which the piece descends.”     …
Review by Nahoko Gotoh, BachTrack:
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…     “The second movement was swift and breezy, in fact too breezy so that the scherzo section lost some of its earthiness, and the contrast between the scherzo and the trio became blurred. Here too, Nelsons took the music in longer phrases, moving the music forward, but so mellifluously that the timpani interjections felt too abrupt. It was elegantly played, with some interesting attention to detail, but was this the “Affekt” Beethoven intended in this movement?
Elegant cantabile playing was certainly intended in the sublime Adagio movement and indeed there was beautiful playing especially by the woodwind and the violins. Nelsons took a decidedly Romantic approach and he micro-managed and shaped every single melody out of sheer enthusiasm, but I felt he pulled around the tempo too much (even in the first clarinet entry at the beginning was delayed for effect). In fact, throughout the work, there were some dynamic contrasts and ritardandi that seemed exaggerated.
The work regained momentum in the final movement, joined by the excellent CBSO Chorus and a harmonious vocal quartet of Lucy Crowe, Gerhild Romberger, Pavel Černoch and Kostas Smoriginas. The opening recitatives by the cellos and basses were fluent and eloquent, as was Smoriginas’ solo entry “O Freude”. Interestingly, in the Alla marcia section, Nelsons avoided bombast, taking a lighter approach and making sure the tenor could be heard over the choral forces. In the vocal quartet, Lucy Crowe’s soprano soared and her top B was spectacular. Nelsons controlled and inspired the massed forces and at one point in the first choral climax of “Freude schöner Götterfunken”, he seemed to turn around to the audience as if to say “join us!”. All in all, it was a warm, passionate and lyrical performance – if lacking a little in interpretative depth – to close CBSO’s magnificent chapter with Nelsons.”

Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman

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

Sunday 5th July

Symphony Hall

Orchestra and Chorus of Opera North
Richard Farnes conductor

Béla Perencz The Dutchman
Alwyn Mellor Senta
Mats Almgren Daland
Mati Turi Erik
Ceri Williams Mary
Mark Le Brocq Steersman

Peter Mumford concert staging & design concept
Peter Mumford lighting and projection designer
Fotini Dimou costume design

Wagner The Flying Dutchman 150’

There is no interval in this concert.

A phantom ship, a satanic curse, and a love more powerful than death itself: Richard Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman might just be the ultimate Romantic opera.

For Wagner novices, it’s an ideal place to start; for those who’ve followed Opera North’s triumphant concert Ring Cycle, this concert staging under Richard Farnes – with visuals by Peter Mumford – is an unmissable encore.

Concert performance sung in German with English surtitles. Please note surtitles may not be visible from every seat. Please check when booking.


The Ella Fitzgerald Songbook

Friday 3rd July, 7.30pm

They called her the First Lady of Song, and no-one’s ever sung the Great American Songbook with more style – and joy – than Ella Fitzgerald. Tonight’s show brings together one of the most glorious voices on the international jazz scene with the swinging orchestral arrangements from Ella’s own albums, for a deluxe tribute to Cole Porter, the Gershwins, Irving Berlin and Rodgers & Hart: a golden age of popular song.


Review by Paul Marston, BehindtheArras:

Click here for full review (also in Birmingham Mail here)

…     “It’s an awesome task to follow Ella Fitzgerald whose performances with the Great American Songbook were the stuff of legends, but attractive blonde Martin, a mother of one from Brighton, was superb and quick to acknowledge the part played by the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra.

Versatile conductor Laurence Cottle brought the best out of the musicians, and the audience also appreciated some impressive solo contributions from saxophonists, trumpeters and trombonists.

Jazz singer Martin, who said she had been looking forward to her Symphony Hall appearance for two years, opened with Lerner & Loewe’s Almost Like Being in Love, followed that with many other classics, and the audience joined her enthusiastically for the finale, Cole Porter’s Every Time We Say Goodbye.”     …


Review by Selwyn Knight, ThePublicReviews:

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…     “So the concept of a concert celebrating Fitzgerald’s songbook is at once an exciting but also nerve-wracking thought. Can anyone today hope to step into her shoes? If anyone can, surely a jazz singer who has won an OBE for her services to jazz should be a contender. That singer is Claire Martin OBE. And, of course we need musicians of the highest calibre led by someone with Ella’s music running in his blood. There can be no doubt that the mighty City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra (CBSO) is one of the finest groups of musicians you can find, and for this tribute to Fitzgerald, it is under the baton of Laurence Cottle, whose wide ranging career has seen him play with such jazz luminaries as Pee Wee Ellis and with Ronnie Scott’s All Stars. All the ingredients are there for a very special night celebrating the Great American Songbook, and Fitzgerald’s contribution to its continuing longevity.

Martin is indeed an exceptionally fine singer. Her voice is vibrant and warm, her range wide. Like Fitzgerald, she is at home with extensive scat – as evidenced in a break during Blue Skies during which one gets an inkling of how it may have sounded to hear the jazz greats improvising to a theme as soloist after soloist stands and plays. Some songs, including This Time The Dream’s on Me and All Too Soon including a beautiful muted trumpet solo, are sultry, others really swing, like Manhattan with its clever rhyme schemes, and Who Cares? Martin isn’t reverential, however, refusing to take herself too seriously, for example in Cheek to Cheek, to which she brings plenty of personality.”     …