Andris Nelsons Conducts Bruckner

Thursday 12th January, 7.30pm

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra


  • Maxwell Davies Trumpet Concerto, 28′
  • Bruckner Symphony No. 4 (Romantic), 64′

The air seems to shimmer, and a horn calls softly in the mist. The loveliest opening to any symphony ever? Decide for yourself as Andris Nelsons unfolds the glowing peaks and sweeping vistas of Bruckner’s Romantic symphony – and sets it against the windswept seascapes of Peter Maxwell Davies’ Trumpet Concerto, played by one of the world’s greatest living trumpeters. Nelsons’s first concert in Birmingham since 2015 is certain to be a highlight of our season.

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Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:

Click here for full review

…     “Hardenberger’s contribution scuttered with tripping articulation and sang with generous phrasing, and Nelsons (let’s not forget he began as a trumpeter) breathed as one with his soloist.

If this offering was a revelation, the performance of Bruckner’s Fourth Symphony which followed was a glorious affirmation of Nelsons’ stature as a conductor of this Wagner-revering composer.

We were made subconsciously aware of the huge arc of the work’s architecture, from the shimmering opening (and Elspeth Dutch’s evocative and immaculate horn solo) right to the very ending, almost rainbow-bridge in its grandeur, and with Nelsons achieving a cut-off which left us stunned in midair.

Along the way there was so much to admire: the empathetic interweaving of Dutch and Marie-Christine Zupancic’s flute; the magisterial timpanism of another returnee, Peter Hill; Nelsons’ firm grip over the score’s characteristic two+three rhythms; the sturdy brass chorales (trumpeter Alan Thomas yet another welcome returnee).

There was a huge emotional release at the end, from audience, players, and from Andris Nelsons himself, whose gestures and body-language signified so much joy at being back in what had once been his “home”.”



Review by Richard Bratby, TheArtsDesk:

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…     “But he can still charge a melody with meaning, whether powering through a rainshower of bells, grinding against the altogether more menacing sheen of the CBSO’s trumpet section, or chanting a muted prayer amidst keening violins in Maxwell Davies’s central vision of St Francis preaching to a wheeling flock of Orcadian gulls and skuas.

If that was something of a surprise success, there was every reason to expect a lot from Bruckner’s Fourth Symphony, the “Romantic”. Nelsons’s credentials in Wagner might be presumed to give him a headstart in Bruckner, and in the Alpine clarity of Symphony Hall’s acoustic (sorry, London) it’s possible to create a truly colossal range of dynamics. No fear: Nelsons’s grasp of Bruckner’s symphonic architecture is too sophisticated for such cheap wins. With a modest, precise-looking beat he let the music stride forward in eloquent, articulate paragraphs, allowing incidental motifs and twists of harmony to find their own space, and pointedly declining to overemphasise the first movement’s more spectacular geographical features. It felt almost classical.

this performance of a Bruckner symphony was still, remarkably, a kind of chamber music The Andante evoked Schumann in its inwardness and warmth: Nelsons has the ability to create forward momentum amid a feeling that there’s all the time in the world. He tied the tempi of the scherzo’s slower passages back to the earlier movements, and only with the first climax of the finale did he finally unleash the full power and scale of sound that this orchestra can create in this hall – an overwhelming moment of arrival. From that point on, not even Nelsons could bring absolute coherence to Bruckner’s stop-start ramble of a finale, but the journey towards those mighty final chords was certainly beautiful. Rich string textures built from the basses up, luminous woodwinds and cellos and violas that can sing – really sing – the heart out of Bruckner’s yearning second groups: we’ve come to expect all this when Nelsons conducts the CBSO. The honeymoon never really ended between this band and this conductor. On this showing they’re still rather more than just good friends.”     …

Marina Medvetskaya’s Saint Petersburg Classic Ballet

Present Swan Lake

Saturday 7th January 2017

Symphony Hall, Birmingham

Swan Lake is the story of the Prince and the Swan Princess, a tragic tale of love that triumphs over evil, set to Tchaikovsky’s sublime, soaring dramatic score performed by a live orchestra.

Following a triumphant premier UK tour earlier this year, Saint Petersburg Classic Ballet makes its debut here at Symphony Hall. Under the direction of Marina Medvetskaya, SPCB has won plaudits across Russia, Scandinavia and the USA.

Demonstrating the superb technique and artistic heritage from the cradle of Russian ballet – the City of St. Petersburg – and presenting the best-loved Russian ballet titles, Saint Petersburg Classic Ballet’s performances have an air of magic, along with outstanding young soloists who will take your breath away!


Interview with Natalia Romanova, by Andy Coleman, WeekendNotes:

Click here for full interview

“Principal dancer Natalia Romanova, who joined the company in 1998, talks about her career and how the dancers prepare for a big production.

Natalia Romanova, Marina Medvetskaya's Saint Petersburg Classic Ballet, Birmingham Symphony Hall, Swan Lake, Tchaikovsky, Swan Lake,

Why did you decide to become a professional ballerina?

I have wanted to be a dancer ever since I can remember. Dance, particularly ballet, is a huge part of our culture, dating back to the 17th century, so we all learn about it in school and it’s a big part of our lives.

Natalia Romanova, Marina Medvetskaya's Saint Petersburg Classic Ballet, Birmingham Symphony Hall, Swan Lake, Tchaikovsky, Swan Lake,      ” …


Symphony Hall, Birmingham

Friday 6th January, 2017, 7:30pm


National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain

John Wilsonconductor

Tamara Stefanovichpiano


Lauren Marshall – Suspended Between Earth and Air (conducted by Joshua Mock)

Brett DeanKomarov’s Fall

SzymanowskiSymphony No 4 (Sinfonia Concertante)

RachmaninovSymphony No 2

It’s cold outside. But step inside the concert hall and the world’s greatest orchestra of teenagers is fired up and ready to put on a show of orchestral brilliance.

The journey begins in the chilly isolation of outer space, lands in the middle of a lively Polish party and ends in the radiant warmth of a showstopping Russian symphony. Your guide for the evening is John Wilson, charismatic conductor and conjurer of musical magic.

Brett Dean’s Komarov’s Fall is music that sharpens the senses. Its eerie opening requires precise and fearless playing as sparse, icy strings and woodwind glisten in the silence of space. As the tragic drama unfolds, jagged percussion and urgent brass take over the story of the Russian cosmonaut who became a hapless victim of the ruthless 1960’s space race.

For a fun-filled feast of toe-tapping rhythms, joyful dances and cheerful marches look no further than Szymanowski’s Symphonie Concertante. It is a cross between a symphony and a piano concerto and was one of the composer’s favourite pieces. With playful banter between the orchestra and piano, it is energetic and spirited, just like a stage-full of teenage musicians.

The finale of the evening is Rachmaninov’s Symphony No. 2, the ultimate Russian Romantic symphony. With big, bold melodies and lush, glowing harmonies, this music will smoulder and blaze in a performance of irresistible sparkle and flamboyance.

Totally teenage orchestral brilliance. Come and hear it.

BBC Radio 3 Live Broadcast –

Available on BBC Radio iPlayer here until 5th February 2017


Review by Roderic Dunnett, MusicWeb, SeenandHeard:

Click here for full review

…     “This is an orchestra of marvellous flair and panache, profoundly intelligent, miraculously accurate, immensely responsive to scores of different hues, romantic and modern, producing a thrilling overall sound that is sheer joy to listen to. “Aurally volcanic” was how The Observer dubbed these breathtakingly talented young players. And indeed there were plenty of full-blooded explosions throughout this concert.

The chief surprise was an unexpected opener, Suspended between earth and air, by Lauren Marshall. She studied at the Purcell School and is currently NYO’s Principal Composer. This work turned out to be a miracle of inspiration. To behold at the outset eight trombones and a mass of horns arrayed in front of us, with a vast, possibly quadruple, spread of woodwind and strings, was in itself pretty astonishing, even if the NYO has more than 160 players to call upon.

But the impression made by Marshall’s largescale yet compact, beautifully argued piece and its use of a bigger-than-Wagner sized orchestra was astonishing: so atmospheric, indeed, that it actually managed to upstage Brett Dean’s Komarov’s Fall, a piece with which it had affinities both in subject matter (the might of the universe) and deployment of thickly massed orchestral sections. The start alone made a wondrous impact: low tympani, growling soft trombone, yielding to a striking early string build-up and some vivid chattering — almost a conversation — from the percussion. Some of the birdlike chirruping in the strings sounded uncannily like Szymanowski (the opening of his Violin Concerto No.2), which was especially appropriate given what was to come.     […]

[…]    There followed another piece of inspired programming by the NYO: one of the very rare live performances one can hear of Szymanowski’s Sinfonia Concertante (Symphony No.4). It is the work the Polish composer sketched late in life in an attempt to keep alive his performing on the platform when tuberculosis was beginning to play havoc with his health. Though the composer attempted to keep the solo part restrained, it is in fact a pretty full-blooded concerto, with a great deal of virtuosity which calls for an able soloist. Tamara Stefanovich brought colour and life and vivacity to the solo role, ably supported by the orchestra as a whole.

It is too unwieldy a task to elaborate on every detail of this work, which responded so well to the Symphony Hall acoustic. The start was mysterious and quizzical as it should be, with pizzicato cellos and basses, later a hinterland of flutes and clarinets, and the piano part characterised by the octaves and other parallellings that form part of its identity. The violins’ delayed entry was wonderfully robust, and they led in the falling-third patterns which become so essential to the argument. After a faultless surge from horns and trombones — I did not hear a single hint of a brass fluff all evening, which is a rare treat — the timpanist ushers in the cadenza, a great medley of material from the movement’s themes. Finely performed as that was, the orchestra’s scampering to a sudden, rather Ravel-like close, was yet more brilliant.     […]

[…]     The final movement gained equal impact thanks to the enduring quality of the NYO’s playing. The swellings and subsidings, all meticulously measured out, continued from earlier movements, the sensitive violas again supplied a plangent link, and the horn flutters — all eight of them beautifully synchronised — sounded like something out of Wagner. The movement, like the others, contains some tricky junctures calling for total attention and excellent conducting, which Wilson, nursing each section with intimacy and encouragement, and an unerring twinkle in his eye, dutifully supplied. In fact it was the links throughout the Rachmaninov, as in the Szymanowski, which showed off to great satisfaction the intelligence and attentiveness of these player en masse. The explosion of timpani and bass drum, and cymbals too, at the close, perfectly engineered, demonstrated with a final burst the magnificent effort put in by all their fellow players. Only occasionally one sensed the massed violin sound could be a little edgy, a mite domineering. But all in all, this was a concert to die for.”


Review by Andrew Clements, Guardian:

Click here for full review

…     “Wilson energised and balanced everything very precisely, but even in Symphony Hall, which can probably clarify such massive textures better than anywhere else in Britain, there were moments in both works that suffered from problems of scale. Tamara Stefanovich’s fabulously secure solo playing tended to disappear altogether at the climaxes of the Szymanowski, while, though played with enormous verve and skill, the outer movements of the Rachmaninov seemed glutinous and flabby. Even the beautifully sculpted clarinet solo in the slow movement sounded oddly out of place in such a larger-than-life performance.

The published programme began with Brett Dean’s Komarov’s Fall – his short, touching memorial to the first astronaut to die in space – but before it one of the orchestra’s cellists, Joshua Mock, had conducted a beautifully paced account of Suspended Between Earth and Air, by NYOGB’s principal composer scholar, 16-year-old Lauren Marshall, which unfolds a sequence of striking musical images – fluttering woodwind, dense packed clusters and a final, enigmatic chorale – in a wonderfully assured way.”


Review by Vincent Coster, Blog:

Click here for full review

…     “Tonight they played another concert that is a testimony to the fine work of this orchestra and proudly supports the fact that their ethos is a noble and worthy one. It was evident from the very beginning when we were treated to a surprise piece not originally listed. One that was written by the orchestra’s principal composer Lauren Marshall called Suspended Between Earth and Air. The piece itself was one of those typical modern compositions, which oscillate sharply, jagged and sharp in their contortions, and this too was wonderfully constructed in that mode. It was a treat and fitted in with the direction of the concert, setting us up perfectly for the next piece which was Dean’s piece Komarov’s Fall. So well blended where these two pieces that one thought they had stumbled into the film score of a futuristic nightmare set deep in the cold wastes of space. I for one hope we hear more of this young composer in the future, and that this piece gets performed more often.

Hardly had one time to breathe or recover from the modernistic style which begun this concert when the Orchestra took us backwards to an earlier part of the modern period with Karol Szymanowski’s Symphony No 4 (Sinfonia Concertante), this time joined on stage by Tamara Stefanovich. Together they treated the audience to such a wonderful rendition of a difficult and strikingly beautiful symphony.”     …




Tamsin Waley-Cohen

in Recital

Monday 3rd October, 2016, 7:30pm

Town Hall, Birmingham


Tamsin Waley-Cohenviolin
Huw Watkins piano


Beethoven – Violin Sonata No 5, Spring
Ravel – Violin Sonata No 2 in G major
Oliver Knussen – Reflection (World premiere)
Elgar – Violin Sonata in E minor
Gershwin (arr. Heifetz) – Selection from Porgy and Bess
Our Birmingham Classical season bursts to life this October with the wonderful young British violinist Tamsin Waley-Cohen, who will be familiar to audiences from her time asAssociate Artist at Orchestra of the Swan. We are thrilled to now also be able to announce an addition to this already stunning programme in the form of a new work from composer Oliver Knussen (Artist-in-Association at Birmingham Contemporary Music Group) entitled Reflection.This work has been written specially for Tamsin and commissioned by THSH and the European Concert Hall Organisation, in memory of Lyndon Jenkins who served as Town Hall Symphony Hall’s Music Adviser from 2004 – 2014. Money raised from Lyndon’s memorial concert at Town Hall in 2014 has been used to fund this new commission. Joined by regular partner Huw Watkins, Cohen promises to bring all her signature fantasy and flair to the violin sonatas of Elgar and Ravel, plus an unashamedly virtuosic take on Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess in addition to this exciting new work.


“Facing the music: Tamsin Waley-Cohen”

Click here for Guardian article


Review by Richard Lutz, BirminghamPress:

Click here for full review

…     ” Both men were taken by American blues and, in her recital, the violinist used pieces relying heavily on Americana: Ravel’s Sonata no. 2 in G Major and Gershwin’s suite from Porgy and Bess.

Both were beautiful renditions of this genre; the Ravel sonata hard edged and at times atonal, the Gershwin (arranged by Jascha Heifetz) a swooping series of the composer’s operatic songs that summons up the heat of the South.

Ms Waley-Cohen also introduced an Oliver Knussen world premiere (Reflection) which the composer himself enjoyed in the Town Hall stalls and stood to applause after the violinist sought him out following her piece. He seemed happy with the result.”     …




Beethoven’s Fourth

Wednesday 28th September, 2016, 7.30pm

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra


  • Wagner Tannhäuser: Overture and Venusberg Music , 24′
  • Sibelius Violin Concerto , 31′
  • Beethoven Symphony No. 4, 32′

Jack Liebeck’s encore – Francisco Tarrega – Memories of the Alhambra

At the court of the goddess Venus a young poet enjoys pleasures beyond his wildest imaginings. Finland’s greatest composer relives his childhood dreams of being a great violinist. And Beethoven cuts loose in the brightest, lightest symphony he ever wrote. It’s all about the stories: and violinist Jack Liebeck and former Opera North music director Richard Farnes know exactly how to make them spring, tingling, into life.


Review by Norman Stinchcombe, Birmingham Post:

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 …     “Once conductor Richard Farnes unleashed the fortissimo chords that send the movement roaring on its way there was a vast improvement. Basses ground away gruffly, the upper strings soared and suddenly the music began to resemble the composer Robert Simpson’s description of its “compact supple movement” and “dangerous lithe economy.”

The danger lurked just below the slow movement’s seemingly placid surface while on top Oliver Janes’ lovely clarinet sang mournfully. The scherzo’s manic energy was infectious while Farnes and the players clearly relished the finale’s Haydnesque high jinks. Similarly, the performance of the Overture and Venusberg Music from Tannhäuser impressed most in the extrovert passages where the percussion section excelled – castanets in Wagner!

It’s the fashion now for many soloists, seeking to make an instant impact during their entry in Sibelius’s violin concerto, to play it barely audibly in an attempt at making it ethereal.

Jack Liebeck played it straight and mezzo-forte just as the composer requested and this set the pattern for a strong, sinewy performance which didn’t try to make the work more “poetic” than it is. ”     …


Review by Richard Ely, Bachtrack:

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…     “By contrast, Farnes’ stately canter through Beethoven’s Fourth Symphony almost did. This was a winning performance with the right kind of attention paid to balance and dynamics and the orchestra, for the first and only time this evening not seeming hemmed in by the sense of properness that had afflicted the earlier items. Described by Robert Schumann as a “slender Greek maiden” (between the Nordic giants of the Third and Fifth symphonies), this is a work that can struggle to make an impact because it lacks the assertive character of its immediate neighbours. Farnes didn’t seek to make apologies for the Fourth’s ‘small scale’ character in a reading that balanced the darker elements that hang over the opening moments with the lighter ones that overtake them as the work progresses. The acceleration into the Allegro vivace of the first movement was expertly handled and there was a glowing account of the Adagio as well as an ideally contrasted repetition of the Trio section in the Scherzo.  ”     …



Steven Osborne: Beethoven

Symphony Hall, Birmingham
Thursday 22nd September, 2016, 7.30pm

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra


  • Beethoven Egmont: Overture, 8′
  • Beethoven  Piano Concerto No. 1, 37′
  • Butterworth  A Shropshire Lad , 11′
  • Walton Symphony No. 2, 27′

Steven Osborne’s encore – Beethoven Bagatelle op.

No-one conducts British music with more eloquence and flair than Edward Gardner, who tonight rediscovers two very different twentieth century masterpieces: Walton’s sparkling, neglected Second Symphony and – 100 years since Butterworth’s death on the Somme – the heartbreaking A Shropshire Lad. First though, another treasure of British music, pianist and CBSO Artist in Residence Steven Osborne, brings all his poetry and power to Beethoven’s exuberant First Concerto.



Review by Richard Ely, Bachtrack:

Click here for full review

…    Even in as fine a performance as this one under Edward Gardner, it was easy to hear why this relatively brief (under half an hour) but richly textured work has struggled to be heard. Although displaying all Walton’s acknowledged gifts for orchestration, the absence of instantly memorable themes (‘pop’ music, if you like) and a passacaglia finale that seems merely repetitious on first hearing can make the symphony seem more a virtuoso exercise in style than a work of depth and feeling. But for anyone familiar with the piece, there was no doubting that Gardner had the measure of it. This was a performance that galvanised all sections of the CBSO, reaching a peak of expressiveness in the central Lento assai movement – considered by Michael Kennedy to be a character study of Cressida, the mercenary courtesan from Walton’s contemporaneous opera Troilus and Cressida – where the violins and the woodwind created an inspired body of sound that was both seductive and sinister. Anyone with more than a glancing acquaintance with this score would have been delighted by such an exciting performance. Judging from their faces at the end, both conductor and orchestra felt they’d pulled off quite a coup!

Dating from immediately before the First World War, Butterworth’s ‘rhapsody for orchestra’ A Shropshire Lad is an altogether more approachable work, an evocation of the English countryside of the kind we are perhaps over-familiar with from the contemporaneous likes of Moeran and Delius. But this was a fine, sensitive performance of a difficult to programme piece, an evocation of the Housman cycle of poems which Butterworth had earlier set to music. Most of the burden of the work falls on the strings and woodwinds, whose reiteration of the rhapsody’s defining Dorian motif was powerfully expressive.”     …


Review by Ivan Hewitt, Telegraph:

Click here for full review (scroll down)

…     “The conductor was Ed Gardner, a longtime favourite guest conductor of the orchestra, who has a way of bringing out the best in the players. The opening chords of Egmont were brusque as well as stern, and the answering plaintive phrases in the woodwind were beautifully shaped. One had the sense of the music labouring under a massive weight, eventually thrown off in the joyous final minutes, where it seems as though tyranny has been banished for ever.

Steven Osborne, pianist in Beethoven’s first piano concerto, gave a similar sense of throwing caution to the wind. He can be the most fastidious and careful of pianists, and what made this performance so thrilling was that these qualities lived side-by-side with reckless daring-do. The cadenza of the first movement (that’s the moment where the soloist gets a chance to spin some virtuoso solo fantasies on the melodies) was especially telling. With ostentatious cleverness, it combined things we’d already heard, then seemed to invite the orchestra to join back in, and then unexpectedly went back to the first melody but in the wrong key. It was gruffly humorous in a properly Beethovenian way, but who composed it? I suspect it was Osborne himself.

After all that blazing Enlightenment optimism and Olympian laughter, the gentle nostalgia of George Butterworth’s Rhapsody on his own A Shropshire Lad might have seemed a terrible come-down. In fact the performance was so beautifully shaped, the lovely opening phrase from clarinetists Oliver Janes and Joanna Paton so tenderly evocative of a long-lost summer afternoon, that one didn’t mind the lowering of the emotional temperature.”     …


Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:

Click here for full review

…     “Steven Osborne, this season’s CBSO artist-in-residence, was soloist, bringing a Mozartean clarity of articulation combined with well-coloured pedalling, and there was a wonderful fluidity of phrasing from all concerned. Particularly memorable were the magical soundworld of the Largo, with the pearly elaboration of Osborne’s filigree, and the twilit conclusion of the finale, spoilt only by Beethoven’s own noisy shooting himself in the foot.

George Butterworth’s Rhapsody: A Shropshire Lad was a poignant reminder that a century ago the Battle of the Somme was raging, and that indeed the composer himself had been killed during its course. During his tragically short life Butterworth made quite a mark on the English musical scene, and this account revealed how much parts of Holst’s Planets owe to the composer, with Oliver Janes’s solo clarinet singing regretfully over the shimmering nostalgia of the strings, aching and yearning.

The zippy urgency with which Walton’s Second Symphony opens provided quite a contrast under Gardner’s energising conducting, sympathetic as well to the dappled, sunlit timbres which link the work to the contemporaneous Cello Concerto.

In the Lento Assai Walton gives us one of the greatest slow movements ever penned by an Englishman in any format, its gorgeous outpouring of melody caressed so fervently by a willing, alert CBSO responding to this remarkable conductor.”



Sue Perkins Live!

In Spectacles

Sunday 18th September, 2016

Birmingham Town Hall


Doors open: 7PM
Event start time: 7:30PM
Interval: Time TBC
Approx finish time: 10PM

A rare chance to enjoy an evening with Sue Perkins packed full of sparkling wit, great stories, a user’s guide to Mary Berry and the very best bits from her hilarious best-selling memoir Spectacles.

Sue is best known for being one quarter of double act Mel and Sue. In 2008 she won the BBC show Maestro culminating in her conducting at The Last Night of the Proms. She has collaborated with food-critic Giles Coren on the Supersizers series, created the acclaimed travel documentary The Mekong River with Sue Perkins and is a regular contributor to Have I Got News For You, Just a Minute, Qi and The News Quiz.

Oh, and apparently she does some cake show on BBC1.

Read more about the tour by clicking here.

Each ticket will include a copy of Sue’s new book Spectacles (RRP £7.99) to be collected on the night. Sue will be signing copies after the show.

Spectacles is as charming and funny as Perkins herself. Like going for a long, slightly drunken lunch with your naughtiest friend.

RED magazine

Warm, crisp and beautifully layered – like its author, Spectacles is a complete delight.

Independent on Sunday