The People United Will Never Be Defeated

Tuesday 10th May, 2016, 7:30pm

Town Hall, Birmingham


Igor Levit    piano


Sonata No 17 Op 31 No 2
Frederic Rzewski
The People United Will Never Be Defeated
A revolutionary anthem, a homage to Bach and a pianist who yells, whistles and slams the lid… this is Rzewski’sThe People United Will Never Be Defeated and if you’ve never heard it, you’re about to discover an experience unparalleled in 20th century music! It demands a truly exceptional pianist: with the phenomenal Igor Levit giving it his all, this isn’t just a concert: it’s a must-see event.

6.15pm Pre-concert conversation with Igor Levit.
This conversation will be signed by a British Sign Language interpreter

Presented in the round. Stalls only. Unreserved seating. Choir Benches not available.


Review by Norman Stinchcombe, Birmingham Post:

Click here for full review

“He played spotlit surrounded on four sides by a hushed and fascinated audience – like a green baize gladiator in the world snooker championships.

Indeed it was gladiatorial as the Russian pianist alternately charmed, beguiled, hammered and finally finessed into submission Frederic Rzewski’s epic The People United Will Never Be Defeated.

Levit has recently recorded it along with Bach’s Goldberg Variations and Beethoven’s Diabelli Variations. It doesn’t have their musical substance but it’s a flamboyant, hugely demanding yet audience-friendly showpiece.

The intimate and intensely involving in-the-round layout was a huge success – when did we last get a standing ovation for a piano recital at the Town Hall? So why aren’t more solo and chamber music recitals presented this way?”     …



CBSO Youth Orchestra

Rachmaninov’s Second

Sunday 21st February, 7.00pm

CBSO Youth Orchestra


  • Prokofiev  Scythian Suite , 20′
  • Rachmaninov  Symphony No. 2, 55′

Conductor Jac van Steen has a special rapport with the CBSO Youth Orchestra – and if you’ve heard them play Rachmaninov before, you’ll know to expect absolute commitment, glorious playing and pure, unbuttoned emotion when our fabulous young players tackle the ultimate Russian romantic symphony. Though after van Steen has unleashed them on the pagan frenzy of Prokofiev’s electrifying Scythian Suite, pulses should already be racing!

Serenade to Music

Thursday 21st January, 7.30pm

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra


  • Grainger  In a Nutshell, 20′
  • Vaughan Williams  Serenade to Music †, 14′
  • Varese  Ionisation, 8′
  • Judith Weir Storm †, 18′
  • Grainger  The Warriors , 20′

Imagine warriors of all times and all lands, gathering in one place to drink and dance; imagine jazz breaks, three pianos, and a super-sized orchestra… and you’re starting to get some idea of Percy Grainger’s jaw-dropping The Warriors. Add Vaughan Williams’ ravishing, Shakespeare-inspired Serenade, 16 brilliant young soloists, a spirited showcase for the CBSO’s world-beating young choruses and a “Gum-Suckers’ March”, and…well, what can we say? You’ve simply got to hear it!

Available on BBC Radio 3 Live in Concert here for a month


Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:

Click here for full review

…     “And because of these forces we had a remarkable bonus, Edgard Varese’s Ionisation for 13 percussionists and piano, crisply, precisely directed by Seal, and beautifully phrased and coloured by the players.

By contrast, a tiny instrumental ensemble (including many of the flute family) accompanied the expert CBSO Youth and Children’s Choruses in a revival of Judith Weir’s Storm, keenly imagined and with a lovely serene ending. Under Simon Halsey the youngsters sang with confident projection and brilliant diction, and all from memory, to the delight of the composer, interviewed engagingly onstage, like the two conductors, by presenter Tom Redmond.

The texts came from The Tempest, this performance a contribution to the CBSO’s Shakespeare quatercentenary thread. And particularly heartwarming was the presentation of one of the most beautiful Shakespearean works ever penned, Vaughan Williams’ Serenade to Music.

This setting of the Belmont Scene from Act V of The Merchant of Venice requires 16 solo singers, and for its premiere celebrating Sir Henry Wood’s Golden Jubilee as a conductor in 1938, the composer specified 16 named soloists at the top of the professional tree.

Here Simon Halsey presented 16 students from Conservatoires UK-wide, and what a wonderful sound they created, both in their individual contributions and in their melding together as a choral group.”     …


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

The Tallis Scholars

perform Tallis, Allegri and Arvo Pärt

Part of Birmingham International Concert Season 2014/15 Concert Package, SoundBite,
Birmingham International Concert Season 2014/15, Vocal Music and Early Music
Thursday 4th June
Symphony Hall

The Tallis Scholars
Peter Phillips conductor

Tallis Loquebantur variis linguis 4’
Taverner Leroy Kyrie 5’
Mouton Nesciens mater 5’
Pärt The Woman in the Alabaster Box 6’
Tribute to Caesar 6’
Tallis Sanctus deus 6’
Sheppard Libera nos, salva nos 1 and 2 3’
Allegri Miserere 12’
Tallis Miserere 3’
Pärt Triodion 15’
Which was the Son of… 8’

Encore – text by Donne / music by Harris – Bring Us, Oh Lord God…

For 42 years, The Tallis Scholars have been the world’s pre-eminent performers of early vocal music. But they’ve long since turned their intense commitment and ravishing purity of sound on vocal music from later centuries and our own.

This concert under their founder-director Peter Phillips counterpoints renaissance classics by Tallis and Allegri with the searching, profoundly beautiful new visions of Arvo Pärt.

Oliver Condy, Editor of BBC Music Magazine, explains his recommendation:

The Tallis Scholars combine great works, not least Tallis’s and Allegri’s sublime but achingly plangent Miserere settings, with the music of Arvo Pärt, a contemporary choral great.

6.15pm Pre-concert conversation with Peter Phillips.


Review by John Quinn, SeenandHeard, MusicWeb:

Click here for full review

…     “Returning to Tudor Polyphony, we heard pieces by Tallis and by John Sheppard. It was shrewd to juxtapose the quite slender Sanctus Deus with the two Sheppard pieces, which are much more rich of texture. I especially admired Libera nos, salva nos I which spans a tremendous range from the firm bass lines up to the flamboyant, soaring soprano parts. The Tallis Scholars’ sopranos were fantastic here, their pure, clear tone soaring above the ensemble.

In What We Really Do Peter Phillips relates that, in response to popular demand, the group has performed Allegri’s Miserere more than any other piece of music. Between 1979 and the end of 2012 they had sung it 370 times and I daresay there have been a few more performances since. How on earth do you keep a piece fresh after so many outings, especially when the piece is, frankly, somewhat repetitious? Well, part of the answer seems to lie in imaginative – but definitely not gimmicky – presentation. Here Phillips made excellent use of the spatial opportunities offered by the venue, His main consort of five singers (SSATB)was placed at the front of the stage, right in front of him. The SATB semi-chorus was positioned high above the platform, right in front of the organ console. That much I had half-expected. What came as a very pleasant surprise was that the chant passages were sung by three off-stage tenors. These singers were high up somewhere in the backstage area – on the same level as the semi-chorus – and we heard their singing in the distance, wafting through the partially opened acoustic doors at the right-hand side of the stage, as if from a distant cloister. It was a most effective and thoughtful presentation of this over-familiar piece.

The full ensemble returned to the front of the stage for Tallis’s Miserere. This is infinitely more compact than Allegri’s piece, setting just one line of Psalm 51 in a tone of gentle supplication. It’s a brief but eloquent piece, given a beautifully poised performance here.

Pärt’s Triodion is a fascinating piece, heavily indebted to Orthodox liturgical music, which is refracted through the composer’s own style. Alexandra Coghlan memorably commented that in the piece “we can clearly hear the contemporary ghost-double of Faburden chant, transformed here in collision with Pärt’s own Orthodox faith and spare soundworld.”  I don’t doubt for a minute that the element of Faburden chant is present though so far in listening to the piece I’ve found the Orthodox influence is much more evident. Perhaps it’s that influence that accounts for the greater richness of choral texture that we hear in this piece compared to many of the composer’s vocal pieces.  Each of the three Odes, which are sung without a break, ends with a short plea for mercy. In these passages Pärt’s writing is particularly masterly. He manages to invest the music most effectively with an air of hesitancy and humility. That’s especially evident at the end of the first Ode where marginally different note values in the various parts give an impression of what I can only call “stammering”. Triodion is a most affecting and prayerful composition and it here received a magnificent performance.”     …


Review by David Hart, Birmingham Post:

Click here for full review

… “What makes the Tallis Scholars so special is not what they sing, but how they sing it. Their founder-director Peter Phillips is, in the best sense of the word, a purist, who believes Renaissance sacred choral music can speak for itself, without exaggerated dynamics or dramatic excess. […]

[…] Even more rewarding were the four works by Pärt. ‘The Woman with the Alabaster Box’, in which sustained upper voices provide a connecting thread to a harmonised recitative, explored a wide range of tessitura and sonorities; ‘A Tribute to Caesar’, with the simplest of means, made poignant use of discords as parts nudged into each other; ‘Which was the Son of…’ offered a quite rhythmically catchy (for Pärt) account of Christ’s family tree; and ‘Triodion’, where Pärt echoes aspects of Renaissance style in an incantatory sequence of spiritual odes, hit all the right emotional buttons. Sheer magic.”


Fisk Jubilee Singers

Part of Birmingham International Concert Season 2014/15 Concert Package, SoundBite,
Birmingham International Concert Season 2014/15 and Vocal Music
Saturday 23rd May
Town Hall

Fisk Jubilee Singers
Paul T Kwami
musical director

This isn’t the Fisk Jubilee Singers’ Birmingham debut – but given that they last appeared at Town Hall in March 1874, this is an overdue and very welcome return.

Originally founded in Nashville, Tennessee, by George L White, Treasurer of the Fisk School, the Fisk Jubilee Singers are the heirs to two centuries of African-American Spiritual tradition, performing with a beauty and a power that has moved audiences on three continents.

141 Years Later, Fisk Jubilee Singers Return to England.


Brahms and Beethoven

ThumbnailRelax and Revitalise

Saturday 28th March 2015 at 7.00pm

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

Concert Packages

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Andrew Manze  conductor

Steven Osborne  piano

Vaughan Williams: Five Variants of Dives and Lazarus 13′

Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 2 28′ Listen on Spotify

Brahms: Symphony No. 2 45′

Steven Osborne’s encore –

Beethoven – ‘Hammerklavier’ Sonata 29 – Second Movement

When Brahms went on holiday, all his troubles fell away – and that’s exactly the effect of his lovely second symphony, 45 minutes of glowing landscapes, jubilant trumpets and tunes that never seem to end. The very English serenity of Ralph Vaughan Williams is a gentle prelude to Beethoven’s most brilliant piano concerto, played today by one of Britain’s brightest keyboard stars.

Support the CBSO


Review by , BachTrack (for matinee of the same programme)

Click here for full review

…     “As it rose again, it was for a remarkable rendition of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto no. 2 in B flat major. Whether it was actually Beethoven’s first, strongly influenced by Mozart’s style, or whether it was his second, showing the composer looking back to his hero, Steven Osborne captivated the personalities of both great composers in a sheer magical way. At no point were we aware that active interpretation was taking place, it was as if the music streamed from him in a natural flow, and only long afterwards did you notice how unobtrusively sophisticated phrasing was, or the shaping of dynamics.

Introduced with a strongly textured orchestral sound, Manze virtually threw little dynamic accents that the orchestra eagerly caught. Then Osborne entered with such a pleasantly soft attack I hadn’t thought possible on Symphony Hall’s terribly hard piano (which, it has to be said, also has its merits: Beethoven’s strong bass lines came out beautifully and carried well through the orchestra without becoming muddy). Osborne’s playing was simple, calm and thoughtful, matching Manze’s laid-back movements, making the dialogue-like alternating passages of piano and orchestra in the second movement so intensely focused you didn’t dare to breathe.

His noble reserve also suited the playful Rondo very well: no exaggerated mannerisms distracted from this pure performance, no dramatic movements accompanied those scales of notes like gleaming beads on strings that still threatened to burst with virtuosity. Even though the solo passages, especially in the beginning, struggled to connect seamlessly with the much richer and softer orchestral tissue (I blame it on the piano), the dynamic agility of both soloist and the orchestra made for an arresting last few bars, and the strong connection between conductor and soloist was tangible and gave the concerto developed a simple and natural charm so strong that not even several untidy cues in the orchestra could break its spell.”     …


Review by David Hart, Birmingham Post (for matinee of the same programme)

Click here for full review

…     “One can look past the Mozartian elements of the Adagio (easily done when there are no clarinets) and the hovering spirit of Haydn; in the right hands it’s a gem of a concerto by Beethoven at his most romantic.

At least that’s how Steven Osborne played it last Wednesday afternoon, in a performance that, while demonstrating many aspects of an historically informed reading in its elegant phrasing (conductor Andrew Manze engaged all his period-instrument experience to give appropriate weight and articulation of the orchestral support), allowed dynamic contrasts, especially crescendos and diminuendos, to sing with emotional meaning rather than just change volume.

The finale was a particular delight, its humour gently pointed with an almost tongue-in-cheek reticence, and a total avoidance of affectation or posturing (Lang Lang and others please note).”     …

Elgar’s Enigma Variations

ThumbnailPure Emotion

Saturday 13th December 2014 at 7.00pm

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

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Andrew Litton  conductor
James Ehnes  violin

Britten: Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge 27′
Walton: Violin Concerto 28′ Watch on YouTube

Elgar: Engima Variations 31′
Listen on Spotify

James Ehnes’ encore – JS Bach – Sonato No.3 Final movement

Elgar dedicated his Enigma Variations to “my friends pictured within”, and if all you know of them is Nimrod, you’re about to meet some of the most engaging characters in British music. Guest conductor Andrew Litton begins with Britten’s playful salute to a well-loved teacher, and James Ehnes scales the gleaming heights of Walton’s dazzling Art Deco violin concerto.

Support the CBSO



Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post (for Wednesday’s matinee of same programme)

Click here for full review

…     “Whatever thoughts of the Brahms were in his head, Ehnes delivered a wonderfully poignant, soul-searching account of the Walton, his rich, full tones seamlessly singing with resigned regret (despite a waspish, brilliantly-bowed attempt at heady escapism), and Litton and the CBSO reciprocated with arching phrasing and piquant interjections.

What should have opened the concert then followed, Britten’s Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge the showcase for a CBSO string section on top form, adept in the young composer’s brilliant compendium of styles and techniques.

Britten’s musical characters were followed by the human characters of Elgar’s Enigma Variations.

Litton’s reading was refreshingly unsentimental (thank you for such an honest, unaggrandised Nimrod) but always tender.”     …



Review by Rian Evans, Guardian (for Wednesday’s matinee of same programme)

Click here for full review

…     “Ehnes’s fearless response to both works spoke for itself. The fine balance of Walton’s reflective lyricism and its capricious displays of technique were handled with flair, and the tone that Ehnes produced high on the E string lent a sweetness to the music too often lost in more effortful performances. Litton’s instinct for the jazzy element in Walton’s score added to the scintillating effect.

The CBSO string players’ admiration of Ehnes seemed to fire them up for Britten’s Variations on a theme of Frank Bridge, which had been moved to later in the programme so as to allow Ehnes a fast getaway. They played with great elan.”     …

CBSO Opens New Season – Support your orchestra

“CBSO opens new season amid £1m fundraising plea

Symphony orchestra in battle to raise huge amount of money after facing budget cuts of 24 per cent since 2010

The CBSO will open its new season tonight with a plea to concert goers to help it raise £1 million to support the company after it was hit by budget cuts.

The orchestra, which will be performing the complete Beethoven symphonies over six days at Symphony Hall from tonight, has seen its funding cut by 24 per cent since 2010.

It says it needs the extra cash to support its work delivering key concerts, providing musical opportunities for youngsters and to continue with its four-year major community project in Perry Barr to commemorate the First World War.

The orchestra, which is planning its centenary in 2020, says it is looking to raise £1 million to support its work this year, around 80 per cent of which has already been committed.

Players from the orchestra are writing personally to thousands of regular concert goers with an appeal to raise £50,000 after an anonymous supporter pledged to match fund every £1 up to £50,000.

The CBSO has won international acclaim for its concerts and performs for more than 200,000 people each year”     …
Click here for full article


Click here to donate online

Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty

Tue 5 – Sat 9 Feb

New Adventures’ 25th birthday culminates with the world premiere of Matthew Bourne’s latest re-imagining of a ballet classic.
Sleeping Beauty sees Bourne return to the music of Tchaikovsky to complete the trio of ballet masterworks that started with Nutcracker! and the international smash hit, Swan Lake.Our story begins in 1890 at the christening of Princess Aurora, a time when fairies and vampires fed the gothic imagination, before moving forward in time to the modern day.Featuring designs by Olivier Award winners Lez Brotherston (Set and Costumes), Paule Constable (Lighting) with Sound Design by Paul Groothuis, which will take the audience into the heart of Tchaikovsky’s magnificent score in specially recorded surround sound.Matthew Bourne’s haunting new production is a Gothic Romance for all ages; a supernatural love story that even the passage of time cannot hinder.

Sound Design by Paul Groothuis Lighting Design by Paule Constable Set and Costume Design by Lez Brotherston Directed and Choreographed by Matthew Bourne

WATCH… …Channel 4’s report on the brand new production HERE. …The BBC’s report HERE. …Matthew Bourne talk to the BBC about his wide appeal HERE.READ… **** Review from The Guardian HERE. …The Sunday Times’ interview with Matthew Bourne HERE.
****’ ‘WONDERFUL. Bourne’s clever gothic re-write has discovered something beguiling and true’ The Guardian‘A production with a beating heart and a twinkle in its eye’ Daily Telegraph‘A tightly choreographed delight’ Metro‘The great showman of British dance, with an instinctive understanding of what audiences want’ Daily Telegraph

‘Demolishing conventions, bestriding art forms from ballet to musical comedy to film, Bourne’s work isn’t just high-brow or low-brow. It’s all-brow’ Time Magazine






Review by Roger Clarke, BehindTheArras:

Click here for full review

…     “A novel feature was the use of two travelators, those moving pavements that do the walking for you at airports, moving in opposite directions at the rear of the stage, producing fascinating movement all helping to emphasise we are in a land of make believe and fairy stories.

As always long time collaborator Les Brotherston’s sets are just dazzling whether the opulent black and gold velvet draped palace, with columns holding up a ceiling detail stretching  right across the flies, to the elegant garden party with its stately home on the hill.

There is a wonderful star lit forest that has grown up in the palace grounds during the century of sleep or the neon, scene of a dreamlike sleepwalking scene, one of Bourne’s favourites, and, down-market, the tacky headquarters of the bad fairy lot – all beautifully lit by Paule Constable.”     …