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!

Elgar’s Enigma Variations

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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.

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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.”     …

Tchaikovsky’s Pathétique Symphony

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  • Pure Emotion

Saturday 14 December 2013 at 7.00pm

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

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra 

Andrew Litton  conductor

Benjamin Grosvenor  piano

Rachmaninov: The Rock 13′

Saint-Saëns: Piano Concerto No.2 23′

Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 6 (Pathétique) 45′ Listen on Spotify Watch on YouTube

Benjamin Grosvenor’s encore – Saint-Saëns – Le Cygne

Tchaikovsky   didn’t stint on emotion, and with his shattering Pathétique Symphony,   he wrote out his very soul. Music simply doesn’t get more overwhelming than   this, so we’ve paired it with a complete contrast: Saint-Saëns’s outrageously   entertaining Second Piano Concerto, played tonight by the brightest new star   of British piano playing, the 21-year old Benjamin Grosvenor, who opened the   BBC Proms last year.

“The Pathétique is Tchaikovsky at his best: full of   drama and great tunes, with the most tragic final movement… Cello and Double   Bass heaven!” (Catherine Ardagh-Walter, Cello)

Due to the popularity of the Birmingham Christmas Market please allow ample time for your journey to Symphony Hall.



Review by Norman Stinchcombe, Birmingham Post:

Click here for full review

…     “Benjamin Grosvenor’s performance encompassed its various moods with ease; cleanly articulated thunderous chords alternating with coquettishly delicate passagework and Saint-Saëns occasional vamp-till-ready passages were adroitly made to sound better than that. The CBSO under Andrew Litton (himself a fine pianist) gave excellent support.

Litton has long been a perceptive conductor of Rachmaninov and Tchaikovsky, as his recordings of their complete symphonies testify. The former’s youthful tone poem The Rock was given a splendid performance from its bass-led opening – black as the pit of Acheron – to the contrasting skittish woodwind section with some delightful playing from Marie-Christine Zupancic (flute). Litton built up the final delayed when-will-it-modulate section into an ecstasy worthy of Scriabin.”     …

The Year 1913: Falstaff

Wednesday 20 February 2013 at 7.30pm

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

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Andrew Litton  conductor

Freddy Kempf  piano

Elgar: Falstaff 35′ Listen on Spotify

Prokofiev: Piano Concerto No. 2 31′

Respighi: The Pines of Rome 26′ Listen on Spotify

When England’s greatest composer met England’s greatest writer, the results were bound to be special. Elgar’s Falstaff might just be his masterpiece; it’s a big-hearted, deeply personal tribute to Shakespeare’s comic hero, written in 1913 and filled with glorious tunes – as well as ominous shadows. Popular guest conductor Andrew Litton has matched it with two spectacular musical panoramas: Respighi’s sumptuous postcard from Rome, and the cold steel of Prokofiev’s electrifying Second Piano Concerto, also exactly 100 years old. Played tonight by Freddy Kempf, one of today’s true stars of the keyboard, it’s guaranteed to thrill.


Review by John Quinn, SeenAndHeard, MusicWeb:

Click here for full review

…     “It certainly requires a pianist of exceptional virtuosity as well as a conductor who is a very adroit accompanist: happily this performance had both. In the first movement the performers brought out well the piquancy of the march-like material but the high point was Kempf’s rendition of the formidable extended cadenza. This is a remarkable passage, demanding consummate technique and reserves of physical strength.  Kempf has both. He was commanding in this solo and although much of the music is forward looking and dissonant it also shows, I think, an awareness of the heritage of Russian Romantic piano music. The brief, fast and furious Scherzo was dispatched through dazzling fingerwork on Kempf’s part and no little dexterity from the CBSO under Litton’s alert and lively direction. Calum MacDonald describes the third movement Intermezzo as “dissonant and angular”. It was powerfully projected in this performance though there are also passages that call for finesse both from the orchestra and the soloist and these came off equally well. There’s a good deal of percussive, powerful music in the finale and this was excitingly delivered. Another demanding cadenza gave Kempf a further opportunity to show his mettle before the pyrotechnical end of the work. I’d not experienced this piece in the concert hall before but tonight’s performers made a powerful case for it and Kempf’s virtuosity was rightly acclaimed by the Birmingham audience.     […]

[…] Once again the CBSO was on cracking form in this concert and it was evident from their response to him that they like working with Andrew Litton. I thought this programme was a mouth-watering, fascinating feast of extravagantly scored orchestral music when I first saw it advertised and it lived up to my expectations. There were a surprising number of empty seats in Symphony Hall; those who stayed away were the losers.”




Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:

Click here for full review

…    “Andrew Litton proved yet again that it’s not only British  conductors who hold the secret to Elgar. His reading of Falstaff, a masterpiece valedictory in  tone, was sensitive to mood, allowing so much character to come from the players  themselves (Laurence Jackson’s dreamy violin, Eduardo Vassallo’s avuncular  cello, Gretha Tuls’ sorrowing bassoon, Cliff Pick’s so-sensitive timpanism – and  such beefy, generous sounds from all the rest) as he unfolded this sad old man’s  story with such clarity of texture and richness of colour. There were surtitles  recounting the episodes; they were almost redundant, given the communicative  grip of Litton’s reading.

Also written at the death-throes of self-bloating  romanticisim, but expressing itself in a totally different, twilight-denying way  is Respighi’s symphonic poem The Pines of  Rome, the CBSO winds fizzing in its boisterous opening  before more portentous matters take over, with a march-past of Roman legionary  forces.”     …



The Year 1912: Ives and Prokofiev

Thursday 24 May 2012 at 7.30pm

Symphony Hall, Birmingham +44 (0)121-780 3333

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Andrew Litton conductor
Lise de la Salle piano

Ives: Three Places in New England 18′ Listen on Spotify
Prokofiev: Piano Concerto No. 1 16′
Walton: Symphony No. 1 45′

1912: and as Charles Ives imagined what it would sound like if two marching bands collided, the student Prokofiev threw his feisty First Piano Concerto straight in the faces of his outraged professors. Andrew Litton turns up the voltage for this high-octane programme, and then goes even further, with the symphony that threw a stick of dynamite under British music. Walton’s volcanic First Symphony is always a gripping ride – and knowing how much Litton relishes it, we don’t think he’ll pull his punches. Hold on to your hats!

To listen to some of the music in this concert, and explore the rest of the season, using our Spotify playlists, click here.

Lise de la Salle’s encore – Debussy – Preludes Livre 1 no 6, Des pas sur la neige.


Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:

Click here for full review

…     “And immediately we were into the taut, grinding passion which colours all of the magnificent opening movement, inexorable, horns trilling defiantly, timpani a constant presence, and Litton all the while taking huge risks — which, given this orchestra which seems incapable of leaving the top of its form, all came off. At the end, after the finale’s blistering fugue and desperately hard-won affirmation (though the Last Post-style trumpet does gainsay that), the sense of satisfied exhaustion on both sides of the stage was paramount.”     …

Russian Classics

Saturday 14 May 2011 at 7.00pm

Symphony Hall, Birmingham +44 (0)121-780 3333

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Andrew Litton conductor
Simon Trpceski piano

Prokofiev: War and Peace – Overture 6′
Rachmaninov: Piano Concerto No. 2 32′ Listen
requires Real Player
Shostakovich: Symphony No. 10 50′

The Soviet censors called it an “optimistic tragedy”. Shostakovich simply called it his Tenth Symphony. Dark, deeply emotional, packed with secret messages and featuring at its heart a terrifying musical portrait of Stalin himself, Shostakovich’s Tenth is certainly one of the most powerful of all 20th-century symphonies. Regular guest conductor Andrew Litton guides the CBSO through its dark corridors – and joins the dazzling young Macedonian virtuoso Simon Trpceski in another emotional epic, from a very different Russia. You might still think of Rachmaninov’s Second as the Brief Encounter concerto, but with Trpceski at the keyboard, prepare to hear it with new ears.

Review by Elmley de la Cour, Birmingham Post:

…     “Litton doesn’t sugar-coat his demands and the CBSO responded with great flexibility, shaping the first movement’s giant crescendo into a terrifying, muscular climax.

A mesmerising account of the savage allegro followed. It would be hard to imagine how this could have been any better.”     …

Chopin 200

Thursday 25 February 2010 at 2.15pm

Symphony Hall, Birmingham +44 (0)121-780 3333

Andrew Litton  conductor
William Wolfram  piano

Tchaikovsky: Romeo and Juliet 21′
Chopin: Piano Concerto No. 2 30′
Vaughan Williams: Symphony No. 4 34′

Next week the musical world celebrates the 200th birthday of its favourite composer of piano music, and the CBSO gets in early with performances of his dazzling and lyrical second concerto, played by a leading American pianist. This is gloriously romantic music, and Tchaikovsky’s famous Shakespearean overture is even more so. Regular guest conductor Andrew Litton is renowned for his commitment to English music, and here he conducts Vaughan Williams’ most dramatic symphony.

Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:

…”William Wolfram (a name new to me, but one for which I shall watch out from now on), delivered a scintillating account of the intricate solo writing, effusive decorations fluently assimilated into a poetically-phrased, fluent singing line, richly chorded where appropriate and subtly pedalled.

And Vaughan Williams’ Symphony no.4 was searing and passionate, taking no prisoners, in Litton’s reading with this pliant orchestra. Textures and timbres were consummately layered, instrumental solos (not least the flute on what I was told was a substitute instrument) were engaging, and the drama unfolded with relentless timing. “