Mendelssohn in Birmingham, Volume 4 is out NOW!

Mendelssohn in Birmingham, Vol. 4

Violin Concerto in E minor, Op. 64 with Jennifer Pike (violin)

A Midsummer Night’s Dream – incidental music, Op. 61 with

Rhian Lois (soprano I), Keri Fuge (soprano II)

CBSO Youth Chorus

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Click here to buy online (all volumes available here)

Or visit the Symphony Hall Gift shop

Baiba Skride: Tchaikovsky

Wednesday 16th December, 7.30pm


City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra


  • Rimsky-Korsakov The Snow Maiden – Suite, 12′
  • Tchaikovsky  Violin Concerto, 34′
  • Sibelius  Symphony No. 1 , 38′

Baiba Skride’s encore – Erwin Schuloff –

Our artist in residence Baiba Skride has been compared to the legendary violinists of the past, and critics reach for words like “transcendent”, “mesmerising” and “unparalleled” to describe her playing. But here in Birmingham, we’ve long since taken this schoolfriend of Andris Nelsons to our hearts. In partnership with Andrew Litton, her performance of Tchaikovsky’s ever-popular Violin Concerto will make a gloriously sunny upbeat to Sibelius’s powerful First Symphony.

CBSO+ 6.15pm 15-16 Artist in Residence Baiba Skride talks to CBSO Chief Executive Stephen Maddock.


Be Uplifted this Christmas!

Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra

perform Sibelius

Part of Birmingham International Concert Season 2015/16 Concert Package,
SoundBite, Birmingham International Concert Season 2015/16 and
Competitions highlights

Thursday 10th December

Symphony Hall

Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra
John Storgårds conductor
2015 International Jean Sibelius Violin Competition Winner:

Christel Lee violin

Sibelius En Saga Op 9 20’
Violin Concerto Op 47 in D major 31’
Karelia Suite Op 11 14’
Symphony No 7 Op 105 in C major 21’


Helsinki Philharmonic’s encore – Sibelius- Scene with Cranes

BBC Radio 3 – Live in Concert – available here for 29 days

Breaking News: The winner of the International Jean Sibelius Violin Competition, and soloist in this concert, has been announced as Christel Lee (USA).

‘Simmering intensity’ is how Gramophone described the way the Helsinki Philharmonic plays Sibelius under its chief conductor John Storgårds. And as the Sibelius anniversary year draws to a close, you won’t hear more authentic or insightful performances than these: in a concert that spans Sibelius’s whole life, from the early En Saga to the monumental Seventh Symphony.


Review by Peter Marks, BachTrack:

Click here for full review

…      “The orchestra played with remarkable ensemble and precision but also with warmth where this was required. I have rarely heard the timpani flourish that opens the Seventh Symphony played with such clarity, for instance, and this important part was unusually clear throughout. Also, the crystalline sound of the Helsinki strings became much warmer as the violas and cellos gradually and tenderly laid the foundations for the first of the three great trombone solos that permeate the symphony at such key moments in the work. These solos were played with an edge that ensured they sang out above the orchestra without being too brash. The final return of this solo was truly hair-raising.

Storgårds’ conception of the symphony was spacious and tempi felt just right, such that phrases seemed to ebb and flow in and out of existence quite seamlessly. There was a feeling of gravitas even in the section that might be considered to be the ‘scherzo’ if following symphonic convention, which of course this symphony does not. The shock of the supposed tonic final chord of C major only emphasizes this point and Storgårds ensured this chord was both crystal clear and short-lived. 

An insert in the programme was necessary as the identity of the winner of the 2015 International Jean Sibelius Violin Competition was not known at the time it went to press. This prestigious competition is held every five years in Helsinki. Famous past winners include Viktoria Mullova and Leonidas Kavakos. The final round mandates a performance of Sibelius’ Violin Concerto and so this year’s American winner, Christel Lee, had the benefit of a practice run of the concerto she brought to Birmingham, albeit under rather different circumstances.

Lee was certainly in command of the formidable technical challenges this work presents.”   …

Nelsons Conducts Bruckner

Håkan Hardenberger & Andris Nelsons

Sunday 6th Dec 2015, 7.30pm
Royal Festival Hall, London

Philharmonia Orchestra

Andris Nelsons conductor

Håkan Hardenberger trumpet

Zimmermann, Trumpet Concerto Nobody Knows De Trouble I See


Bruckner, Symphony No. 8 biography | programme note

Bruckner’s awe-inspiring Eighth Symphony, a veritable cathedral of sound, is conducted here by Andris Nelsons, the recently appointed Principal Conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. In the first half of the concert, soloist Håkan Hardenberger opens his series The Trumpet Shall Sound with a performance of Bern Alois Zimmermann’s jazz-inspired trumpet concerto.

This concert is part of the The Trumpet Shall Sound series

Håkan Hardenberger & Andris Nelsons in Conversation and Rehearsal


Review by Chris Garlick, BachTrack:

Click here for full review

…     “He was particularly effective in the first movement, which must rank very highly in the pantheon of great first movements, where the inevitability of the progression towards the final apocalyptic climax was breathtaking. The orchestral sound here and throughout the performance, had just the right mix of weight, lushness and transparency. Only occasionally was the balance slightly awry, not allowing some of the telling woodwind solos their room to breathe. The tempo of the Scherzo was spot on, enabling the main sections to have a unique rhythmic heft. The trios weren’t allowed to linger, with a constant sense of the inevitable return of the Scherzo.

It was in the Adagio that Nelsons’ passionate approach to the writing bore most fruit. The three glorious main themes of the movement were beautifully presented, with the strings supported by a lustrous carpet of brass. As these themes are developed over the rest of the movement and Bruckner is at his most remarkable when he is developing his material, the impetus created was spectacular, culminating in the glorious E flat major climax.

The finale set off at a fastish pace, with the fanfares of the main theme sounding as they should – heroic, but still on the edge of the abyss. As in many Bruckner finales, the constraints of sonata form can seem to hold the composer back from achieving the character of the music he wants to create. To an almost irrelevant degree this is the case in the Eighth Symphony and finding a way through this poses particular interpretative problems for all conductors. Nelsons again navigated with an immediacy that was impressive, but his grading of the climaxes was not as sure-footed as in the Adagio. The development of the main material is so overwhelming here, with climax after climax trying to find a way out of the labyrinth, that only in the coda is the destination point of C major reached and the final joyous conflagration is allowed to wash away all the doubts and fears. Achieving the full impact of these final bars has proved to be a massive challenge to the most experienced conductors and to his credit, Nelsons was nearly there.”


Review by Barry Millington, Evening Standard:

Click here for full review

“Some of the finest interpreters of Bruckner — Bernard Haitink and Günter Wand come most readily to mind — have been those who take an Olympian view, towering above the fray. That’s not the way of Andris Nelsons, who likes to dig deep into the entrails of the work, revealing its nerves and sinews. In his account of the Symphony No. 8 in C minor, Nelsons came closest to this Mahlerian aspect of the music in the deeply felt Adagio.

He has a way of highlighting detail within the texture yet also succeeds in marshalling individual paragraphs into the broader structure. Nor was there any shortage of firepower: the heavy artillery of trumpets, trombones and tuba (not to mention horns and Wagner tubas) was unleashed to crushing effect. By the time the apocalyptic final bars were reached, the Philharmonia players, who drove themselves to the limits demanded by Nelsons, looked as shell-shocked as we felt. Quite overwhelming: not simply in the volume of sound but in the nervous energy expended.”     …


Review by Martin Kettle, Guardian:

Click here for full review

…     “Nelsons is a classic podium fidget, visibly and audibly attentive to phrasing and dynamics. In the abstract, this detailed way of doing things might seem too exhausting for Bruckner’s 70-minute span. Yet Nelsons has a sense of architecture, too. His changes of pace felt idiomatic, always part of the larger picture, and he gets the obsessive, uncertain and unresolved nature of Bruckner’s writing.

The opening movement never lost momentum in spite of some breathtakingly effective quiet playing by the Philharmonia in moments of stillness. The scherzo was admirably lithe rather than bombastic, the trio particularly eloquent. The adagio pushed forward where others always hold back, but the control was unfailing, the playing eloquent and the falling away at the close mesmerising as ever. The finale, quicker than you often hear it, felt rather generalised, the argument sacrificed in favour of effect.

Although Bruckner was the centrepiece, the evening began with a performance by Håkan Hardenberger of Bernd Alois Zimmermann’s scintillating 1954 Trumpet Concerto.”     …


Review by Antony Hodgson, ClassicalSource:

Click here for full review

…     “It was gratifying in this Philharmonia performance to hear carefully-calculated balancing since in Bruckner brass can be over-powerful and often the strings get swamped. Nelsons avoided this and with something left in reserve for the bigger climaxes. Given this grand, carefully integrated sound, Nelsons’s expressive way with Bruckner’s invention was given a firm basis.

The first movement was taken broadly, there was space for eloquent phrasing and the music moved forward in an unhurried manner. Bruckner’s imaginative revision whereby he turned a conventionally triumphant ending to the movement to a quiet one was a stroke of genius and Nelsons allowed the music to flow gently to its poignant close. As the work progressed Nelsons’s personality began to impose itself: the Scherzo started firmly enough but after the announcement of the main themes the lovely countersubject with its close-harmony woodwind lingered unexpectedly. The careful shaping of the section was some compensation but freedom of tempo was also evident in the Trio. The Adagio was even more expressive, it was also very beautiful, full of beguiling phrasing, ample recompense for the lingering. By the Finale Nelsons had ceased to use his baton and after the initial onslaught this assisted him in caressing shaping that was more expressive still.

The last movement is somewhat episodic and from the moment the slower second subject arrived and was taken very broadly it seemed that attention to sections was overcoming forward motion – full marks for great sensitivity but here, even more than in the Adagio, there was a sense of indulgence. By giving loving and detailed attention to every phrase the music sometimes came across as languorous; however the vividness of the climaxes and in particular the radiance of the final pages ensured that a sense of triumph was achieved.”


Review by Alan Sanders, MusicWeb, SeenandHeard:

Click here for full review

…     “There isn’t a dull moment in its single movement. It teems with solo brilliance of all kinds, pungent orchestral timbres and tremendous rhythmic vitality. And it has just the right length. Zimmermann understood the value of brevity in a composition of this kind.

Andris Nelsons’ approach to the Bruckner symphony’s first movement had initially almost a feeling of exploration. The opening statements were presented calmly and straightforwardly at an easy-going tempo. But as the movement progressed so did the conductor’s use of phrase and inflection become more pronounced, very effectively so, since he did not allow any pulse variations to disturb a strong onward momentum or his overall control of the large-scale structure. The contemplative ending was beautifully managed and rounded off a most satisfying account of the movement as a whole.

Nelsons adopted a middle-of-the road tempo for the Scherzo. Some conductors feel the need to jolly things up in this movement to form a contrast with the slower moving structures that flank it. Here the rhythm was pointed clearly yet there was no feeling of haste. And the contrasts implicit in the trio sections were tellingly brought out with some lovely turns of phrase.

The enormous span of the Symphony’s third movement – usually over 25 minutes in length – and its Adagio tempo present a conductor with a great interpretative challenge. This was met by Nelsons with great skill, yet with great sensitivity. Each episode was strongly characterised with heart-easing warmth of expression, but as in the first movement one always had the feeling that inexorable and logical progress throughout the mighty structure was taking place.

At the outset of the finale Nelsons brought out very clearly Bruckner’s curious but masterly effect of the music having two tempi: a throbbing rhythmic ostinato underpinning a slow brass chorale. Again he showed great skill in pacing the movement’s strongly contrasting elements, and the final climax was overwhelming. One truly had the feeling of having been through a profound symphonic experience.”


Review by Gavin Dixon, TheArtsDesk:

Click here for full review

“Bernd Alois Zimmermann’s Nobody knows de trouble I see is a popular concerto, but it’s an unlikely hit. Zimmermann maintains a distanced relationship with the spiritual on which the work is based, and, while there are jazz elements too, this is a long way from crossover. Zimmermann maintains his modernist/serialist perspective throughout, and all the jazz ideas – the trombone glissandos, the sax section replacing the French horns, the vaguely improvisatory trumpet writing – are configured within a strict and austere single-movement structure.

Fortunately, both trumpeter Håkan Hardenberger and conductor Andris Nelsons have the measure of this music, giving a performance that fully acknowledges both the composer’s desire to connect with the radical jazz of the 1950s, and the loyalty to modernist conventions that prevent him from doing so. Hardenberger seemed more constrained than usual, effortlessly virtuosic, but without any flamboyant displays. The work has a pervasively dark mood that Hardenberger conveyed well, especially in the flat, broad tone that he applied. The orchestra is occasionally required to play the big band, with brass outbursts, and even a Hammond organ break at one point. But nothing here ever sounded laidback or casual. This was a performance fully in keeping with the spirit of the music, but what dark and unyielding spirit that is.” …

Beethoven’s Eroica

Wednesday 2nd December, 7.30pm

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra


  • Rimsky-Korsakov  Capriccio espagnol, 15′
  • Scriabin  Piano Concerto, 28′
  • Beethoven  Symphony No. 3 (Eroica), 47′


Yevgeny Sudbin’s encore – Scriabin Mazurka Op 25 No 3

Available on BBC Radio 3 Live in Concert – here – for 29 days

With two mighty chords, Ludwig van Beethoven launched a musical insurrection. There’s still nothing in all of music to match the drama of Beethoven’s revolutionary Eroica symphony, and CBSO associate conductor Michael Seal conducts it with absolute commitment and unstoppable energy. Expect some serious voltage; an explosive contrast to Scriabin’s deliriously romantic early masterpiece – the greatest concerto Rachmaninov never wrote? – and Rimsky Korsakov’s all-glittering, all-dancing Capriccio espagnol.

Support the CBSO’s Be Uplifted A Festive Appeal supporting youth and community singing

Michael Seal on Rimsky-Korsakov, Scriabin and Beethoven


Review by Richard Bratby, TheArtsDesk:

Click here for full review

…     “Throughout, Seal’s reading followed through on the subversive logic of that headlong opening; paragraphs of Bruckner-like spaciousness and grandeur were punctuated, confronted and swung around by those climactic passages of violent release. This wasn’t the roughest “Eroica” you’ll hear – or for that matter the smoothest – but it was intelligent, articulate and on its own terms powerfully convincing.

Seal had opened the concert with a performance of Rimsky-Korsakov’s Capriccio Espagnol – one of those supposedly hackneyed popular classics that you actually never seem to hear any more. Rimsky said that in the Capriccio orchestral colour is the musical substance, and Seal responded by simply playing the socks off it. Rhythms were crisp, colours iridescent, and amidst a parade of exuberantly characterised solos, Oliver Janes’s clarinet and flautist Marie-Christine Zupancic’s fresh, fluid tone stood out. It was gleefully, unapologetically up-front, and the all-rattling, all-jangling final Alborada brought cheers from the audience. There’s life in this warhorse yet.

Yevgeny Sudbin

Scriabin’s solitary Piano Concerto, meanwhile, continues to hover on the fringes of the repertoire, with most of its (fairly rare) champions treating it either as supercharged Chopin or half-baked Rachmaninov. Not Yevgeny Sudbin (pictured above). Seal went for clarity rather than poetry in the opening bars, and it soon became clear that this was precisely Sudbin’s own approach. Scriabin’s too: what we usually hear as a perfumed dream of a first movement is actually marked Allegro.” …


Review by Hedy Mühleck, BachTrack:

Click here for full review (for matinee of same programme)

Cymbals crashed, tambourines rattled, the triangle threw a sprinkling of silver over the orchestral clatter that opens Rimsky-Korsakov’s Capriccio espagnol, and the CBSO’s Spanish picture was one full of red and earthen colours, varied textures and well directed dynamic developments. The musicians gave it transparency where needed and opened the windows to let in sound scraps of travelling folk in the third movement violin solo, aptly played gypsy-style with scratching attack and quick, strong vibrato.

While the various solo passages for the violin still hint at the composer’s initial plan for the piece to be set for violin and orchestra, he later abandoned this in favour of a compositional outline that allows all groups of the orchestra to display their art. And they shone, from Oliver Janes’ lively clarinet to Marie-Christine Zupancic’s bubbling flute. The orchestra seemed to burst with energy, expressed with softer articulation in the woodwinds, proud brass and ever-precise percussion, culminating in wild, whirling abandon – a magnificent noise!

How different a picture Scriabin’s Piano Concerto painted after this exuberance of sunshine and joy. “No one was more famous during their lifetime, and few were more quickly ignored after death,” writes Scriabin’s biographer, and there is at least some truth to it as his works still seem to be programmed fairly infrequently – unjustifiedly so! Just listen to his wonderfully emotional piano concerto for a few minutes. It is a work awash with Chopinesque sentiment and lush orchestral passages that often threaten to smother the piano’s expressive chord statements in the first movement.

Yevgeny Sudbin often surrendered to the orchestra’s forces, but then again wound his way out in intricate tracery, tender, round articulation and a brilliant tone without acidity. While one would often have wished to hear more of him and just a little bit less orchestral sweep, his playing mirrored the great influence Chopin had on Scriabin’s early works, not just in the fleeting arpeggios, but also the mazurka with alternating tender, dreamy passages and a more energetic, resolute reply that, heard just one, will not leave your head for weeks.

Sudbin played with relaxed concentration, using his fingers rather than the entire arm, as if he was playing Chopin’s very own 19th century Pleyel. His strokes were very controlled and rounded, almost all emphasis came from the wrists which otherwise breathed along with the phrases. There were no great gestures, no mannerisms, just a very honest, solemn and modest performance that made for my personal highlight that afternoon.”   …