Welcoming Mirga

Welcoming Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla

Friday 26th August, 2016, 7.30pm

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra


  • Mozart The Magic Flute: Overture, 7′
  • Abrahamsen let me tell you, 30′
  • Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 4, 44′
A new era in Birmingham music – and Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla opens her first concert as Osborn Music Director with the overture to Mozart’s joyous fable of hope and renewal. Tchaikovsky’s passionate autobiography of a Fourth Symphony and a set of magical, Shakespeare-inspired songs performed by one of the world’s most adventurous living sopranos complete Birmingham’s most eagerly anticipated concert of 2016.
Encore – Tchaikovsky – Sleeping Beauty, final variation and coda. 

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Review by David Hart, Birmingham Post:

Click here for full review

…     “The sense of occasion was almost palpable. Even Mozart’s Magic Flute overture fizzed and sparkled with a clarity and subtlety we rarely hear in such a well-worn opener. And at the end of the programme Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4 transcended its fanfare opening to develop into something of a musical quest, lovingly and elegantly sculptured by this remarkable young conductor (strings wonderfully effulgent, woodwind singing with nostalgia), which, after characterful middle movements, concluded in a glorious peroration of life-affirming joy. 

An even more impressive vehicle for Gražinytė-Tyla’s musicianship and technique was Hans Abrahamsen’s Shakespeare-inspired 30-minute vocal monologue ‘let me tell you’ for soprano (the stunningly brilliant Barbara Hannigan, who has made the work her own). […]

[…]     So – has the CBSO at last found a worthy successor to Andris Nelsons? You bet they have. In just one evening we witnessed exactly what the Mirga magic can do. And this is just the start. “



Review by Andrew Clements, Guardian:

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…     “The drama that had been latent in the performance of the overture erupted in Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony in the second half of the concert. Technically, it was impeccable – it may be a standard repertory piece, which the CBSO has played under Nelsons and his predecessor Sakari Oramo, but this was just that bit more vivid than usual, more generously characterised in every detail. Gražinytė-Tyla seems to have that precious conductor’s knack of allowing players all the expressive freedom they want, while still being able to shape every aspect of a performance in exactly the way she wants.

The bewitching centrepiece of the evening was a repeat performance of one of the most remarkable works the CBSO has introduced in many years. In 2014, Nelsons conducted the UK premiere of Let Me Tell You, Hans Abrahamsen’s spellbinding song cycle, with a text by Paul Griffiths, taken from his novel of the same name, itself woven around the character and words of Ophelia in Shakespeare’s Hamlet.”     …



Review by John Quinn, SeenandHeard, MusicWeb:

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…     “As for Barbara Hannigan’s singing, it was quite astonishing. Abrahamsen makes demands on his soloist that are almost unreasonable at times – though Miss Hannigan was closely involved in the composition process, I understand. Every challenge, not least those which involved the extreme registers of her voice, was met with compete assurance. There are many things that I admire about this work but one of them is the nature of the writing for the voice. Abrahamsen requires his soloist to deploy quite a number of vocal effects during the piece. However, unlike many contemporary composers, at no time does he expect his soloist to do anything other than sing. In other words, there’s nothing outlandish or ugly in the vocal writing.

Barbara Hannigan displayed extraordinary control and technical accomplishment during this performance. Furthermore, this was a performance that engaged totally both with the music and with the audience. Part II is the section of the work that uses the largest orchestral forces and there were a number of times when the accompaniment rather drowned the soloist – that’s not a criticism of the orchestra, by the way. Part III is simply spellbinding, the music slow-moving and rapt. This is music of the utmost refinement and eloquence and it received here a performance that was completely worthy of Hans Abrahamsen’s extraordinary musical imagination. The whole of let me tell you is a wonderfully imaginative creation but the invention and inspiration reaches a peak in Part III. It was a tribute to the quality of both the music and the performance that the audience was clearly absorbed in the performance. Both Hans Abrahamsen and Paul Griffiths were present and they, as well as the performers, were most warmly applauded. let me tell you is an extraordinary score and I was thrilled to experience it live. My only hope is that now that Barbara Hannigan has so successfully launched the work other sopranos will take it up so that it establishes the secure pace in the repertoire that it deserves.    […]


The finale, taken attacca, was as fast and brilliant as I’d expected. But to describe the performance simply in those terms would be grossly unfair for amid the festivities there was further evidence of this conductor’s attention to detail. One example occurred within the first couple of minutes where the woodwind have a succession of chords, each marked with a crescendo. Each and every one of these crescendi was individually cared for by Miss Gražinytė-Tyla. It sounds like a small point but it isn’t; these chords can go for nothing – or very little – in the excitement of performance but here they made their mark yet without any feeling of exaggeration. The performance as a whole was thrilling and when the ‘Fate’ motif returned the theme blazed out from the CBSO’s brass section – which was on collectively fine form throughout the evening. The ending was exhilarating as Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla whipped the orchestra to an electrifying conclusion.

Predictably this superb performance was greeted by a huge ovation and after several minutes of highly enthusiastic applause Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla emerged once more onto the stage but instead of coming back to the podium she climbed the risers at the back of the stage, picked up the music stand in front of one of the CBSO’s percussionists and led him, triangle in hand, to a much more prominent position on the platform from where he proceeded to play a key role in the short, witty encore which I couldn’t initially identify but now understand – thanks to the comment sent in below – was from Tchaikovsky’s Sleeping Beauty.

I have to report that Miss Gražinytė-Tyla then faced a first-night mutiny. The orchestra resolutely refused her requests to stand, insisting instead that she should take a bow by herself. This gesture suggested that the orchestra has already formed a strong relationship with their new music director but, frankly, that was evident throughout the evening in performances of commitment, skill and freshness. The orchestra repeats this programme at the Proms on Saturday 27 August. It will be broadcast live on Radio 3 and recorded for television transmission in early September so a much wider audience will get an early chance to experience this new musical partnership in action.

So, the Mirga Era has been well and truly launched in Birmingham. Buckle up: I think we’re in for an exciting ride.”



Reviews for BBC Prom 55 27th August, 2016- same programme as at Symphony Hall:-

Review by Mark Pullinger, BachTrack:

Click here for full review

…     “And what a landscape Abrahamsen paints, clusters of microtones over the soft tread of xylophone ostinatos, silvery piccolo shards of glass and spectral high violins. Glockenspiel, celesta and harp daub their icy tintinnabulations, while paper is grazed over the skin of the bass drum. Even if Hannigan’s words did not always carry across the Royal Albert Hall’s difficult acoustic, under Gražinytė-Tyla’s hypnotic beat, the music entranced.

The interpretation of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony no. 4 in F minor was full of thought and incident. The fateful opening fanfares were crisply delivered – with meticulous care over dynamics – and the development section was lovingly caressed, although momentum sagged once or twice. Gražinytė-Tyla’s energetic conducting clearly signals what she wants, from the flick of the wrist to a left-hand ‘claw’, a hip wiggle to a slowly raised hand giving the lower brass free rein. She wields a baton with dramatic flair, but in the pizzicato Scherzo she led with an inviting hand and a graceful smile. A couple of pregnant pauses displayed bags of personality and only the symphony’s coda, the percussion leading off a tad too fast, threatened to derail her, but a quick recovery led to a triumphant finale.

Clambering to the back of the platform to retrieve a percussionist’s music stand, Gražinytė-Tyla brought it – and him – to just behind the second violins, his triangle launching the Diamond Fairy’s sparkling variation and coda from the final act of The Sleeping Beauty. “See you in Birmingham!” she piped while its final note still resounded. No doubt about that.”


Review by Doundou Tchil, ClassicalIconoclast:

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“Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla and the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra  in a truly sensational Prom 55 at the Royal Albert Hall, an occasion which those of us lucky enough to have been there will not forget. The CBSO is unique. Its members have an uncanny knack for picking relatively unknown conductors and growing with them.  They picked Simon Rattle as Music Director when he was 25, Sakari Oramo at 31, Andris Nelsons at age 30, and now Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla, also 30.  This symbiotic relationship between orchestra and conductors makes the CBSO what it is: a very different dynamic from the usual way orchestras are run.  In each case the orchestra shaped the conductor as much as the conductor shaped the orchestra.  This close relationship – like family, some say – is fundamental to understanding the orchestra and, indeed, its conductors, who carry the CBSO imprint with them just as much as the orchestra developed duringn their stewardship. The CBSO is easily one of the Big Five in British music, and absolutely world class.  Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla has a lot to live up to, but from this Prom, it’s clear that she has what it takes.     […]

[…]     The Overture to Mozart’s The Magic Flute sparkled: clean, shining brass, vivacious winds, strings whizzing along with manic brio. So expressive that the spirit of the opera – and its composer – seemed to materialize. Magical, yes, but also with diabolic fervour.  In the opera, Tamino is tested. Sarastro  is no cuddly father figure.  Thus the discipline in the CBSO’s playing underlined the moral resolve that lies at the heart of the Singspiele, which is by no means a pretty bit of fluff.  Being a Freemason in Mozart’s time was secretive and rather sinister. Gražinytė-Tyla’s background lies in vocal music. Like Nelsons, she could achieve great things if she did opera.  To my delight, she announced plans on the radio rebroadcast for a concert performance of Mozart Idomeneo in a future CBSO season.”      …


Review by Robert Matthew-Walker, ClassicalSource:

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…      “The singing of Barbara Hannigan (mostly from memory) was exceptionally compelling, and the playing maintained the high standards of the Mozart – but Hannigan, for some extraordinary reason, performed at times to one side of the auditorium rather than centre-stage and tended to project to her left, which obliged half of those in the Hall (on her right, where I sat) to try to catch what she was singing and having to make do by seeing her almost constantly turning away.

(L-R) Paul Griffiths, Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla, Hans Abrahamsen, Barbara Hannigan and the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra at the BBC Proms 2016. Photograph: BBC/Chris ChristodoulouBut overall, the influence of Stockhausen came across as being the foundation of Abrahamsen’s score, certainly in the first of its three movements wherein a monotony of tonality (pace Griffiths) is subjected to a few textural variations over too great a length of time (half the work’s 35-minute duration), so that one’s interest is in serious danger of being lost; in addition, the composer’s word-setting tends to inhabit too narrow an expressive range in depicting a teenager contemplating – and achieving – suicide. The performance though was magnificent, and must have thrilled the composer, taking his bow along with Griffiths.”     …


Review by Richard Morrison, The Times (££)

Click here for full review (££)

“It’s too early to say what personality lies behind the incredibly graceful conducting technique of Mirga Grazinyte-Tyla, the new music director at the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra (CBSO). Thirty this year, the Lithuanian clearly has bags of musicality. That was evident within 30 seconds of her starting her Proms (and indeed London) debut, with Mozart’s Magic Flute overture.

The chording was pungently accented; the string phrases lushly nuanced. Like many of today’s young conductors she seems to be (in Boris Johnson’s phrase) “pro cake and pro eating it” when it comes to 18th-century music: timbres and textures that mimic period instruments, but dynamics that would have had Wilhelm Furtwängler nodding approval.”     …


Review by Amanda Holloway, Critics’ Circle:

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“After a bouncy little encore from The Sleeping Beauty, conductor Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla stepped forward and shouted to the audience: “See you in Birmingham!”

Symphony Hall should be full this season on the strength of this, her second concert as music director of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, and first Proms appearance. The buzz that surrounded the London debut of the slight, determined 30-year-old Lithuanian conductor was fully justified: her effect on the orchestra is electrifying, very differently from that of her predecessor, the more laid-back Andris Nelsons. She has firm ideas of what she wants – pace and definition – and the orchestra eagerly complies. From the opening bars of the overture to The Magic Flute the energy flew from her baton like a rapier and the orchestra replied with punchy chords fresh from the page. She leaned in to the cellos, urged on the trumpets and, having whipped the orchestra into a frenzy, stopped them dead in their tracks to produce shocking silences.”     …


Review by Alan Sanders, SeenandHeard, MusicWeb:

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…     “Hannigan is an extraordinary artist. She is rightly described as a “singing actress”, since her repertoire, much of it contemporary, often calls for more than just singing, and she certainly has a most compelling stage presence. Not only does she have a most beautiful voice, but that voice is a most outstandingly agile instrument, for it has a huge range of notes from very high low, and is capable, with great varieties of tone colour, of making sure footed leaps across the most demanding and awkward intervals. Hannigan feels that her Ophelia “role” should be committed to memory, and that she has done. To have absorbed such a rhythmically anchorless and tonally fractured vocal part lasting half an hour, with little respite, is an amazing feat in itself.

To complement this display the orchestra contributes an accompaniment that is for the most part curiously pretty – a strange word to use, maybe, but one that seems appropriate. There’s nothing in the piquant scoring that would seem very foreign to, say, the later Frank Bridge or John Foulds, except that the bounds of tonality are broken more that they would break it. The work’s main drawback, maybe, is that most the music is slow moving, and greater variations of tempo would have enhanced the drama of the text. Both Paul Griffiths and Hans Abrahamsen were in attendance to acknowledge generous audience applause.

The appointment of Mirga Gražinyté-Tyla as the CBSO’s new Music Director has generated a good deal of advance publicity, for here is a 29-year-old young woman, previously unknown to the British public, filling the role previously occupied over the last three decades by Simon Rattle, Sakari Oramo and Andris Nelsons. She had made her debut in her new appointment the previous evening in Birmingham (review), and now she presented the same concert for her London debut.”     …


Review by John Allison, Telegraph:

Click here for full review (scroll down “Prom 55”)

…     “The toughest test here was Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4, a well-known warhorse full of pitfalls when it comes to pacing. It was no mean achievement that Gražinytė-Tyla, conducting from memory, shaped such a fresh-sounding performance. The opening fanfares poured out generously and the full orchestral punches were sharply etched before this conductor got down to the business of a naturally flowing performance. The symphonic argument in her unhurried first movement was keenly detailed, and the succeeding movements had lyrical warmth and crisp articulation. A compelling force on the podium, Gražinytė-Tyla clearly signals exciting times ahead for the CBSO.”



Review by Alexandra Coghlan, TheArtsDesk:

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…     “The Tchaikovsky, similarly, had a zest and invention to it that demanded attention even from this most fidgety of Proms audiences. The Fate theme burnt through the hall in cruel fortissimo, musical shock and awe, before the clarinet led us to the ballroom floor for the waltz – a dance whose ghostly strings, wispy and fragile, suggested that the floor might dissolve at any minute leaving us waltzing into the abyss. Atmospheric but always mindful of structural clarity, with a beautifully organic evolving set of tempi, this was the prelude to a big, generous Andantino, the CBSO singing out with Russian heart, a witty pizzicato Scherzo and a Finale that returned us to the fire of the opening. Woodwind soloists shone, while strings found the rhetorical clarity encoded in Tchaikovsky’s phrases.”     […]

[…]     In a curious sleight of hand, the composer’s slow-moving harmonies, often circling around a clear tonic, seem to react when set against shards of musical light from tuned and untuned percussion and high woodwind, lost in woozy clouds of microtones, creating time at once static and swift-moving. If it seems far-fetched to think of these in terms of Henri Bergson’s temps and durée – the absolute clock-time of temps and the psychological flexi-time of durée – it’s an interpretation grounded in Paul Griffiths’s gloriously allusive text (shaped only from the limited words Shakespeare’s Ophelia speaks during Hamlet), which meditates persistently on precisely this: “time of now and then tumbled into one another,/ time turned and loosed,/ time bended”.

At the centre of this still sonic world is Barbara Hannigan (pictured above with Gražinytė-Tyla), the soprano whose extraordinary range and expressive capacity inspired and helped shape the work. To watch Hannigan is to see Griffiths’s Ophelia (a more emancipated, articulate creature than Shakespeare’s) come alive. The tone-colours available to her – from the white light of her denatured purity at the top of her register, to the guttural directness of the bottom – are myriad, and deployed with deft musicality and care. Together with Gražinytė-Tyla and the CBSO she wove a musical tale here all the potent because this Scheherazade, we know from the start, is already condemned to death.

London had better get used to feeling jealous, because Gražinytė-Tyla has just given us one more reason to envy Birmingham her wonderful CBSO.”


Review by Fiona Maddocks, Observer:

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…     “Graceful, with an almost gymnastic energy on the podium, arms wide-stretched to embrace the full orchestra, Gražinytė-Tyla is never showy, a team player but with natural authority. Sometimes the sound balance was slightly awry, but the Albert Hall, especially compared with Birmingham’s Symphony Hall, plays acoustical tricks and from another area of the auditorium it may not have been noticeable.

Gražinytė-Tyla elicited an incendiary quality from her players, whether in the transparency and precision of Mozart and Hans Abrahamsen – his song cycle Let Me Tell You was given its London premiere by the soprano Barbara Hannigan – or in the dark grandeur of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No 4. Prom 55 was a “were you there?” kind of event. If you weren’t, you can watch it this evening on BBC4, then on iPlayer. It was as if yet another awkward fence in the long steeplechase of female conductors has been cleared: Gražinytė-Tyla’s CBSO predecessors include Simon Rattle, Sakari Oramo and Andris Nelsons, which needs no further comment.”










Space Discovery

Symphony Hall, Birmingham

Friday 5th August, 2016, 7:30pm

National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain

Edward Gardner conductor
CBSO Youth Chorus

Iris ter Schiphorst     Gravitational Waves (new work)
R. Strauss                      Also sprach Zarathustra
Holst                                The Planets
Colin Matthews        
Pluto, the Renewer

£5 under 25s offer in association with Classic FM (only available at Symphony Hall, Birmingham)

Open your ears to the music of the universe as the world’s greatest orchestra of teenagers embarks on a voyage back through a century of space discovery.

The journey begins with Gravitational Waves by German composer Iris ter Schiphorst. This is music for the here and now, for the beginning of a new era in astronomy. Fasten your seat belts and prepare for a thrilling ride to new musical frontiers as the original sound of the gravitational wave echoes through the orchestra and individual players gradually become one united force.

Next are two of classical music’s must-hear pieces: Strauss’s Also sprach Zarathustra, with its glorious, spine-tingling opening fanfare made famous by Stanley Kubrick’s film 2001: A Space Odyssey, and Holst’s The Planets completed by Colin Matthews’ Pluto:The Renewer. This music never fails to stir the emotions with its huge melodies and luscious harmonies and in the hands of these young musicians, it will fizz with an explosive, barely containable energy.

The countdown is on – join us for a fearless, totally teenage cosmic adventure.


Review by Rian Evans, Guardian: (for same programme at Snape Maltings 4th August)

Click here for full review

…      “Growing out of mystic Neptune’s dying notes – sung by the girls of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra youth choir – the feeling here was of an implicit and organic connection with the original suite. Moreover, the shimmering solar winds of Pluto took the ear back, orbit completed, to the work specially commissioned to launch the evening.

Iris ter Schiphorst’s Gravitational Waves was inspired by new scientific research validating Einstein, and it summoned a novel and symbolic mix of visual, aural and vocal gestures. The synchrony, whereby the players first wore white or black masks, then embodied the waves of the title in perfectly choreographed movements rippling through the serried ranks, created an arresting counterpoint to the imaginative, otherwordly soundscape realised by Ter Schiphorst and co-composer Uros Rojko. Evanescent and evocative, embracing known and unknown, it captured something of the awesome history and infinity of time.”


Review by Penny Homer, BachTrack: (for same programme, BBC Prom 29, 6th August)

Click here for full review

…     “More impressive, however, was their handling of the outer planets, whose mature themes might have been beyond such young players. Not so; Saturn, the bringer of Old Age proved the best of all the movements. From its haunting start, the slow march towards death felt visceral and personal – I felt the weight of each passing second. Jupiter was also excellent; driving forward to what we now know as I Vow To Thee My Country, full of warmth and power. Uranus is the movement that I have in the past struggled to recall its identity – no more after the freshness brought to it here, its rousing climax quickly contrasted with a taut subito p to end. Neptune showed that the delicacy lacking in Venus was not beyond the orchestra, and was utterly transfixing. This delicacy extended to the balance with the off-stage voices of the CBSO Youth Chorus, giving them enough space to emerge. For such a seemingly small involvement, Neptune is a surprisingly tough ask for the voices, coming in high and quiet after a long period of silence. These difficulties weren’t quite surmounted and at times the tuning was a little unsettled, but the fade out was perfectly judged.

In his programme note for Pluto, the Renewer, Colin Matthews remarks that its dedicatee, Holst’s daughter Imogen, “would have been both amused and dismayed by this venture”. It was probably a sentiment that continues to be shared by many – after the beautiful fade out of Neptune, what could possibly come next? And yet if such a venture had to be undertaken, thankfully it was done in great style, breaking out before Neptune had fully died way. For the most part Matthews provided a thorough re-working of all the ideas in each movement while never veering into pastiche. The only awkward moments were the Mars motives, which jarred, although the orchestra attacked it all gamely, and the CBSO Youth Chorus voices were more confident with their involvement here. An interesting exercise, and fortunately not one detracting from Holst’s vision, or the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain’s brilliance. I expect bright futures for many of them.”


Review by Brian Barford, ClassicalSource: (for same programme, BBC Prom 29, 6th August)

Click here for full review

…     “Iris ter Schiphorst’s Gravitational Waves is prompted by the recent detection of emissions set in motion over a billion years ago by the collision of two black holes. Schiphorst uses sounds from the scientific project heard through a sampler and reflected in the orchestra as well as a broadcast narrative. The soaring brass, scurrying strings and metallic percussion offer a sense of infinity. There is also a strong sense of visual performance, for the musicians don masks, sway in unison, make vocal interjections, and at the end raise their arms in a gesture of hope for the future. It proved an arresting piece to see and one imagines it was enjoyable to present.

Richard Strauss’s Also sprach Zarathustra is a problematic work to bring off convincingly. The Nietzsche element can be unattractive although one should remember that Strauss subverts the text at the conclusion where nature not metaphysical inspiration has the last word and the piece ends with a question mark. Also, following the now-famous ‘2001’ opening Zarathustra is a free-form fantasia that can seem meandering.

Gardner and the NYO welded all of the sections into a convincing whole. The horizon-searching opening was delivered in ringing style, underpinned by the Royal Albert Hall organ at its most sonorous. The music for solo strings was played with feeling and the players made up for what they may have lacked in opulence with real ardour and intensity. There were thrusting horns in the “expression of joys and passions”. The Viennese waltz was elegant with a fine violin solo from Millie Ashton and the Midnight Bell episode was given a tremendous dark intensity and the eerily ambiguous close beautifully rendered. Overall, this was a well-paced account delivered with thrilling virtuosity.”     …