Andris Nelsons Conducts Bruckner

Thursday 12th January, 7.30pm

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Programme

  • 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.

Support the CBSO

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Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:

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…     “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”.”

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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.”     …

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

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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

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Review by Chris Garlick, BachTrack:

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…     “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.”

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Review by Barry Millington, Evening Standard:

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“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.”     …

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Review by Martin Kettle, Guardian:

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…     “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.”     …

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Review by Antony Hodgson, ClassicalSource:

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…     “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.”

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Review by Alan Sanders, MusicWeb, SeenandHeard:

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…     “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.”

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Review by Gavin Dixon, TheArtsDesk:

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“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.” …

BBC Prom – Beethoven Symphony No 9

Royal Albert Hall

Kensington Gore, London SW7 2AP 0845 401 5045

Sunday 19th July, 7.30pm

Price: £9.50 – £46
Andris Nelsons Marco Borggreve057.

Featuring

Programme

  • Beethoven Overture: The Creatures of Prometheus, 5′
  • Woolrich Falling Down (London premiere) , 15′
  • Beethoven Symphony No. 9 in D minor, ‘Choral, 67′

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Due to personal circumstances, Dmytro Popov has sadly had to withdraw from this concert. We are grateful to Pavel Cernoch for taking his place at short notice.

Beethoven’s ‘Choral’ Symphony is a celebration of human endeavour, as is his ballet score The Creatures of Prometheus. This is Latvian Andris Nelsons’ final concert with the CBSO as Music Director. John Woolrich’s dark, sardonic contra-bassoon concerto was written for the CBSO’s own contra-bassoonist Margaret Cookhorn.

This concert will be broadcast live on BBC Radio 3

Available on iPlayer here – until 18th August 2015

CBSO Storify here

Chorus Soprano Eluned Mansell writes about performing Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony at the BBC Proms with the CBSO”

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Review by Andrew Clements, Guardian:

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…     “Nelsons’ performance, though – echoing the one he gave last autumn as part of his complete Beethoven cycle in Birmingham’s Symphony Hall – would have been blazingly memorable whenever and wherever it had taken place. There were all the hallmarks that have become so recognisable over the seven seasons he has been in Birmingham, especially the meticulous attention to detail and the knack of making it all seem utterly fresh, combined with an unwavering certainty about what the music’s ultimate destination is. The dynamic range of this performance was huge – the pianissimos intense, the fortissimos immense – whether in the first stirrings of the opening movement, the furious rush of the scherzo or the careful building of the finale, layer by layer, towards its huge choral affirmation, in which Nelsons’ gestures seemed to invite the whole Albert Hall into celebrating along with the CBSO Chorus and soloists Lucy Crowe, Gerhild Romberger, Pavel Černoch and Kostas Smoriginas.”     …

*****

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Review by Richard Bratby, Birmingham Post:

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…     “At first, it felt understated; but as Nelsons let inner voices sing out, and gave space for the woodwinds and horns to be their gloriously musical selves (has Marie-Christine Zupancic’s flute ever sounded more sweetly, poignantly expressive?), you began to sense a massive, tidal undercurrent of symphonic movement. By the time the CBSO Chorus was blazing with white-hot fervour through Beethoven’s final chorus, the build-up of emotion was almost unbearable. With its glowing sound, cosmic vision and quiet, piercing moments of both pain and joy, it’s tempting to say that this felt like a Ninth filtered through Parsifal – “made wise through compassion”. It certainly proved just how far Nelsons and the CBSO have come together since 2007, and how all the energy, spontaneity, and mutual affection that this orchestra and conductor have shared since day one – and which was pouring off the stage tonight – has matured into a great artistic partnership, cut heartbreakingly short.”

*****

Blog post by Richard Bratby:

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…     “It was one of those occasions where personal emotion takes precedence over critical detachment – something you’ll only really understand if you’ve been in Birmingham for the last 8 years. I’m not a fan of Beethoven’s Ninth: last night, though, I heard it say something new, surprising and very moving. There’s absolutely no sense that the CBSO / Nelsons relationship has run its natural course – I’ve never seen an orchestra and conductor have so lengthy a honeymoon, and last night’s performance made it sound as if the relationship is only now reaching its artistic peak. The loss of Nelsons is bitterly felt in Birmingham. It’s untimely, to say the least, which made last night a doubly poignant occasion.”

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Review by Sebastian Scotney, ArtsDesk:

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…     “The virtues of Nelsons’s way with Beethoven had been there from the very start of the concert, with the short, early overture to the ballet The Creatures of Prometheus. He took it, on this occasion, surprisingly fast. It had humour, sparkle and charm, and made the very most of the contrasts of loud and soft. Nelsons has a way of crouching and reining himself in, of making himself almost invisible in quieter passages, and then presenting audience and orchestra with a far taller and more imposing version of himself when the volume and intensity are higher. The Prometheus overture was just a small-scale foretaste of what would be offered with Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. The performance of this infinitely complex work seemed to evolve naturally and organically. In the first movement the build-ups from very quiet to very loud were organic, accretive, totally convincing, the sense of landing harmonically always just right. In the second movement Nelsons’s gestures were a delight. Phrases in the minuet seemed to be treated as people, they were welcomed into the room, and waved goodbye. The trio section was expansive, free with tempo, giving soloists – particularly first horn Elspeth Dutch – opportunities to shine. The string section playing in the third movement was delightful, and this was an occasion when the whole movement cohered with nothing wasted.

The final movement with lower strings flawlessly energetic, and later with soloists (Lucy Crowe, Gerhild Romberger and Pavel Černoch Kostas Smoriginas, pictured right) and chorus in fine balance, again showed the strengths of Nelsons’s approach. He knows precisely how to get the best out of an English amateur chorus, by extracting each and every syllable from their mouths. They even got a jokey visual aid for the word “Götterfunken”. The first involvement of the solo quartet, placed in the chorus at the back of the stage, prompted the only brief moment of tempo-uncertainty of the whole symphony.”     …

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Review by Ivan Hewett, Telegraph:

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…     “Then we arrived at the peak itself, Beethoven’s Ninth. In recent years, Nelsons has led the CBSO in an entire Beethoven symphony cycle, which was distinguished by huge, questing energy, as if the music were eagerly searching for its own future. This performance of the Ninth felt different, more majestic and spacious, less concerned to grip us by the throat with sheer rhythmic excitement. The slow movement was luxuriantly slow, and the way each section melted into the next via a change of harmony was beautifully eloquent, like a door opening onto a new landscape. In the Finale, though the jubilant moments were indeed jubilant (thanks to a fine quartet of soloists and the CBSO chorus), it was the reflective moments and impassioned invocation to “join in one embrace, you millions!” which really struck home.”

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Blog post by Mark Berry – Boulezian:

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…     “Nelsons forestalled applause, thank goodness, by moving immediately to the finale. He and the orchestra fairly sprung into and through its opening: very impressive on its own terms, although it would surely have hit home harder, had it been properly prepared by what had gone before. The cellos really dug into their strings too. Nelsons had them and the double basses paly deliciously softly for their recitative; now, a true sense of drama announced itself, expectant rather than merely soft. Bass-baritone Kostas Smoriginas delivered his ‘proper’ recitative, ‘O Freunde …’, with almost Sarastro-like sincerity and deliberation. I liked the way the rejection of such ‘Töne’ was no easy decision. The soloists as a whole did a good job; that there remains a multiplicity of options, and dare, I suggest, a residual insufficiency to any one quartet, says more about Beethoven’s strenuousness of vision and humility before his God than performance as such. The CBSO Chorus, singing from memory, was quite simply outstanding. Weight and clarity reinforced each other rather than proving, as so often, contradictory imperatives. Nelsons imparted an unusual sense of narrative propulsion, almost as if this were an opera, or at least an oratorio: I am not sure what I think of such a conception, but it was interesting to hear it, and there was no doubting now the conviction with which it was instantiated. The almost superhuman clarity of the chorus’s words – ‘Und der Cherub steht vor Gott!’ a fitting climax to that first section – certainly helped. It was fun, moreover, to be reminded of the contrabassoon immediately afterwards. (Was that the tenuous connection with the Woolrich piece?) The infectious quality to the ‘Turkish March’ brought with it welcome reminiscences of Die Entführung aus dem Serail. And the return to ‘Freude, schöner Götterfunken’ proved exultant in that deeply moving way that is Beethoven’s own.”     …

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Review by Melinda Hughes, Spear’s:
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…     “John Woolrich’s ‘Falling Down’ composed for double bassoon and orchestra was written especially for Margaret Cookhorn, the CBSO principal double bassoonist. What a piece, a highly spirited rhythmical onslaught of the senses, and what an instrument, reminiscent of the sounds of the mothership from Close Encounters.With Andris Nelsons conducting this Prom, one could be guaranteed a lively evening. This was his very last concert with the CBSO so it was a fitting farewell. Nelson’s energy and novel expression are very entertaining, yet he can be grand and regal when required, particularly in the hugely sonorous Ninth Symphony. He accentuated dramatic pauses in the music, producing a majestic moments of silence which seemed to fill the Albert Hall. The choir and soloists were in fine voice, particularly soprano Lucy Crowe, whose beautiful timbre simply thrilled me. What a luxurious tone she has. I simply love the Proms.”
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Review by Colin Clarke, SeenandHeard, MusicWeb:
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“Andris Nelsons has been Music Director of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra since 2008, and this Beethoven Ninth formed part of his farewell for pastures new – Boston and its Symphony Orchestra, to be precise. The programming was intriguing: two works by arguably the greatest master of them all framed an over-long, inconsequential London première.
The Overture to The Creatures of Prometheus is a slim piece, a mere five minutes. But there is something of the core of Beethoven there, concentrated into a perfectly proportioned morsel. Beautiful orchestral balance, pinpoint scampering strings and razor punch to tutti chords characterised Nelsons’ Beethoven; and promised much for the Ninth of the second half.
But first came the London première of John Woolrich’s Falling Down – a “capricho” for double bassoon and orchestra dating from 2009. The soloist, Margaret Cookhorn, is the dedicatee – she also gave the world première of the piece, which was a CBSO commission – and her way with the long, resonant lines exuded confidence. This could have been such an eye-opening piece, and the Stravinskian element to the opening in particular augured well from the pen of a composer whose music in this writer’s experience has so often been characterised by its greyness. Yet the length of the piece far outweighed its invention. Effects abounded, not least antiphonal timpani, and the way that the lower orchestral instruments, such as cor anglais, tuba and trombones, both supported and extended the soloist. The opening gestures move towards the top of the orchestra’s range, from which the piece descends.”     …
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Review by Nahoko Gotoh, BachTrack:
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…     “The second movement was swift and breezy, in fact too breezy so that the scherzo section lost some of its earthiness, and the contrast between the scherzo and the trio became blurred. Here too, Nelsons took the music in longer phrases, moving the music forward, but so mellifluously that the timpani interjections felt too abrupt. It was elegantly played, with some interesting attention to detail, but was this the “Affekt” Beethoven intended in this movement?
Elegant cantabile playing was certainly intended in the sublime Adagio movement and indeed there was beautiful playing especially by the woodwind and the violins. Nelsons took a decidedly Romantic approach and he micro-managed and shaped every single melody out of sheer enthusiasm, but I felt he pulled around the tempo too much (even in the first clarinet entry at the beginning was delayed for effect). In fact, throughout the work, there were some dynamic contrasts and ritardandi that seemed exaggerated.
The work regained momentum in the final movement, joined by the excellent CBSO Chorus and a harmonious vocal quartet of Lucy Crowe, Gerhild Romberger, Pavel Černoch and Kostas Smoriginas. The opening recitatives by the cellos and basses were fluent and eloquent, as was Smoriginas’ solo entry “O Freude”. Interestingly, in the Alla marcia section, Nelsons avoided bombast, taking a lighter approach and making sure the tenor could be heard over the choral forces. In the vocal quartet, Lucy Crowe’s soprano soared and her top B was spectacular. Nelsons controlled and inspired the massed forces and at one point in the first choral climax of “Freude schöner Götterfunken”, he seemed to turn around to the audience as if to say “join us!”. All in all, it was a warm, passionate and lyrical performance – if lacking a little in interpretative depth – to close CBSO’s magnificent chapter with Nelsons.”

Andris Nelsons’ Farewell Concerts

Symphony Hall, Birmingham

Thursday 18th June, 7.30pm

Programme

  • Ešenvalds Lakes Awake at Dawn, 13′
  • Mahler Symphony No. 3, 92′

All good things come to an end. And on what are sure to be emotional evenings, Andris Nelsons has chosen to say farewell to Birmingham with Mahler’s huge, rapturous hymn to nature – both unchanging, and forever renewing. A beautiful new choral work by Andris’s fellow-Latvian Eriks Ešenvalds – jointly commissioned (thanks to support from the Feeney Trust) with Andris’s new orchestra in Boston – brings our orchestra, choruses, audience and conductor together to celebrate seven inspirational years.
Share your memories of Andris’ time with the CBSO
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Support the CBSO
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Andris Nelsons says Birmingham must keep loving the CBSO.

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Farewell Andris – CBSO Gallery, video, etc

Storify here

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Review by John Quinn, SeenandHeard, MusicWeb:
Click here for full review
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     “Lakes Awake at Dawn is scored for SATB choir and a large orchestra and in this performance played for about 10 minutes. In it Ešenvalds sets some lines by the Latvian poet, Inge Ābele in an English translation to which the composer has appended some words of his own, also in English. The score plays continuously but has two clearly defined sections. In the first, the Ābele setting, the music is tense and powerful, depicting, to paraphrase the composer’s own description, “one’s emotional unrest, anxiety, and physical running away from danger at night in a forest.” Nelsons inspired his combined forces to project this music very strongly, creating a potent atmosphere. Ešenvalds’ own words depict the arrival at the consoling safety of a lake. Here the music becomes hymn-like. The writing for both choir and orchestra has great beauty and is initially tranquil though it gradually builds to a majestic climax, retreating thereafter to a soft consonant orchestral conclusion. The piece has great impact – especially in such a committed performance as this one – and its enthusiastic reception by the audience clearly delighted the composer, who was present. […]

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The concluding Adagio opened with wonderfully rapt playing from the CBSO strings; you sensed they were on their collective mettle, determined to deliver one last time for Nelsons – and they did. Nelsons paced the music broadly and generously but though the tempo was expansive there was always a sense that the music was moving forward with purpose: there was a goal in sight. Throughout this movement the orchestra were at the top of their game. Impressive dynamic contrasts were a telling feature of the reading. In the last few minutes there was a true sense that Nelsons was leading his forces to the summit; certainly he drew every last ounce of commitment from the orchestra. He surely knew that the last great D major chord would be followed by an immediate ovation but Nelsons held the moment, his arms aloft, so that no applause intruded until the music had reverberated around the hall and properly died away. Only then did he lower his arms.[…]

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During a prolonged standing ovation Nelsons plunged into the ranks of the orchestra; it seemed as if he shook hands with or hugged most of the players on the platform. After several minutes he gave a disarming short farewell speech in which, typically, he stressed two themes: the CBSO family, including its audience, and a strong plea to the people of Birmingham to cherish their orchestra. And so with this unforgettable performance the Nelsons era came to an end, though it’s not quite the end for he and the orchestra and the CBSO Chorus have one last outing together: Beethoven’s Ninth at the BBC Proms on 19 July. He will be back in Birmingham, I’m sure, as an honoured guest, but for now, with his successor still to be chosen, he leaves big shoes to fill.”     …

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Review by Robert Gainer, BachTrack:
Click here for full review
…       “Ešenwald’s composition was commissioned by both the CBSO and the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Nelson’s new home. It was fitting that the great Latvian conductor should have used the opportunity to promote the music of one of Latvia’s best contemporary composers in this UK première. The CBSO Chorus clearly relished the work, projecting their magnificent sound throughout the hall with enthusiasm and diction that made the most of the counterpoints and rhythms. Although a number of the lines from the text were repeated, it was never repetitive thanks to the imaginative and colourful orchestration. At various points I could hear the sound of gulls on the lake coming from the violins, the waters of the lake rippling in sync with Nelsons’ elongated fingers, and the sun finally breaching the horizon to a percussive technique that looked from afar like a string bow being drawn across a xylophone block. Yet this was not ‘experimental’ music, but a mature and innovative composition in its portrayal of both imagery and narrative. I have heard some of Ešenwald’s work before on recording and I have been impressed. Its impact in concert is manifold, and I shall be seeking opportunities to hear his work again. (sic) […]
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Highlights from the other movements were aplenty. The changes of mood in the third movement were brilliantly executed, with the offstage flugelhorn exquisitely lyrical. Mezzo-soprano Michaela Schuster’s performance was perfectly measured and supported by some mellifluous French horn playing. The CBSO Youth and Children’s Choruses were enchanting in the fifth movement, maintaining good balance with the adult chorus and bringing joyous light relief after the profundity of the fourth movement. In the final movement Nelsons, who had conducted with passion and energy throughout and sometimes jumping on the spot, seemed to get renewed strength and there was a palpable response from the musicians as the finale built to its emphatic conclusion.As Nelsons cut the final thunderous chord his arms remained aloft, motionless and statuesque. Two thousand two hundred lungs simultaneously suspended their breath. Not until the sound had completely faded away after a prolonged pause did he move. Only then did the audience exhale, rising spontaneously as one in a standing ovation that went well past the point of hand hurting.

 

So, what is it that Nelsons has with the CBSO that they find so difficult to replace? Personal chemistry. Despite the risks, the CBSO is right to hold out until they find such chemistry again before appointing Nelsons’ successor.”    

*****

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 Review by Fiona Maddocks:

Click here for full review

…     “A hundred minutes is a long time to be on the edge of your seat, but Nelsons kept us there throughout this epic hymn to man and nature.

During his time in Birmingham he has made his mark with resplendent Wagner and Strauss, electrifying Beethoven and a shoal of world premieres and recordings. The orchestra, trained for 18 years by Simon Rattle and for a decade by Sakari Oramo, was already on fine form. With Nelsons they have discovered a new freedom of expression. This reflects the qualities of this warm-hearted musician from Riga, not yet 40, who encountered his first opera – Tannhäuser – aged five, cried when the hero died, and decided to become a conductor.

Nelsons working his way round the entire CBSO to say his goodbyes.

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Nelsons working his way round the entire CBSO to say his goodbyes. Photograph: Neil Pugh

The Ešenvalds work, Lakes Awake at Dawn, recalls a dark event in Latvian history – June 1940 – when a mass Soviet deportation to Siberia forced thousands to flee their homes and spend a fearful night in the forest. After an explosive start, the work achieves a radiant calm as dawn arrives. The writing is tonal and ecstatic, immediate in impact rather than radical. Commissioned both by the CBSO and Boston, where it was premiered last year, it was a thoughtful prelude to the Mahler, troubling more for its subject matter than its harmonies.

Nelsons has always shaped every phrase and nuance – unlike, say, Barenboim, who sometimes drops his arms altogether and leaves his players to get on with it. Edging towards the precipice with his fascination for detail, Nelsons somehow always holds the work secure and intact. This was true in the half-hour-long first movement of the Mahler. Colours and effects stood out as if for the first time – the burbling bassoons, the military wind-band mood of the high E flat clarinets. (“Yes, Mr Mahler has E flat clarinets on the brain,” sniped a Viennese critic, one of many who questioned the composer’s sanity when the work was new.)

Watch the CBSO’s farewell video.

Using a full avian repertoire of gestures, Nelsons shifts from gawky wet crow to elegant flamingo to shrinking sparrow to, in the limitless melody of the final movement, a giant kite gliding freely in space. His players, never knowing what might happen next, are ever alert. Check out the CBSO’s tribute video, and see him waggle his hands behind his ears to conjure a brass trill. Boston will enjoy him, if they can keep him.”     …

*****

Andris Nelsons’ Farewell Concerts

Symphony Hall, Birmingham

Wednesday 17th June, 7.30pm

Programme

  • Ešenvalds Lakes Awake at Dawn, 13′
  • Mahler Symphony No. 3, 92′

All good things come to an end. And on what are sure to be emotional evenings, Andris Nelsons has chosen to say farewell to Birmingham with Mahler’s huge, rapturous hymn to nature – both unchanging, and forever renewing. A beautiful new choral work by Andris’s fellow-Latvian Eriks Ešenvalds – jointly commissioned (thanks to support from the Feeney Trust) with Andris’s new orchestra in Boston – brings our orchestra, choruses, audience and conductor together to celebrate seven inspirational years.
Share your memories of Andris’ time with the CBSO .
See the final rehearsal pictures of CBSO with Andris Nelsons here
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Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post
Click here for full review
…     ” “Please continue to love this orchestra; I feel almost guilty that I am leaving,” were Andris Nelsons’ parting words to the packed audience gathered for his final concert in Symphony Hall as music director of the CBSO after seven amazing years. […]
Sticking with these supposedly slighter central movements, Michaela Schuster was the Erda-like mezzo soloist in the “O Mensch, gib Acht!” Nietzche setting, joined by the ebullient CBSO Chorus Ladies, sounding delightfully youthful, and Julian Wilkins’ remarkable CBSO Youth and Children’s Choruses for the medieval exuberance of “Es sungen drei Engel”.

Full marks to the youngsters for their exemplary attentiveness throughout such a long concert. And so to the top and tail.

The opening movement, nature stirring into life, was persuasively delivered under Nelsons, his conducting gestures constantly alert and choreographic (one of his CBSO predecessors, Boult, would not have approved), balancing colour, dynamics and multi-metred textures always with the most detailed clarity.

World-stopping is an appropriate word for the finale, and some conductors might make its melodic/harmonic richness sound glutinous. Nelsons gave it a flow and sense of direction, growing at last to the tremendous affirmation, two timpanists pounding out the most fundamental of musical intervals (nice to welcome back Peter Hill as an old-stager — trumpeter Alan Thomas was another), as Mahler’s vision of the world was at last achieved.

This finale’s gorgeous melody has a phrase initially sung out by Eduardo Vassallo’s cellists, and it sounds hauntingly like the tune of the old song “I’ll be seeing you in all the old familiar places”.

Sorry, Andris, we won’t. But we all wish we were.”

*****

Review by Ivan Hewett, Telegraph:

Click here for full review

“Andris Nelsons, the brilliant Latvian conductor who’s led the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra these past seven years, is departing for Boston. It seemed appropriate that, to say their farewells, he and the orchestra chose to play the most colossal symphony in the repertoire, Mahler’s 3rd.

Andris Nelsons may not be particularly big in stature, but on the podium he seems like a giant. He leans forward eagerly as if to scoop the sound from the players, sculpting it with huge embracing gestures.

This might seem domineering, but what makes Nelsons’ music-making so humanly appealing is that the music possesses him, not the other way round. That inspires the players as well as us. “He catches your eye to enthuse you, then lets you do things your own way,” said one of the wind players, one of several orchestral members who gave spoken tributes to Nelsons from the platform.

These followed the 12-minute curtain-raiser, a setting of two poems for chorus and orchestra by Latvian composer Eriks Esenvalds about cold Siberian lakes, and hope arising even in the dead of night.”     …

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Review by Andrew Clements, Guardian:

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…     “Some conductors ease their way into what is the longest of all Mahler’s symphonies, but that is not Nelsons’s approach. The CBSO horns delivered the opening theme like a challenge, setting the stage for a performance that bristled with combative energy, and the kind of vivid incident that Nelsons finds in everything he conducts. There was some tendency to compartmentalise things, to micro-manage detail at the expense of the overall symphonic scheme, which mattered more in the 30-minute opening movement than it did in the later ones where Nelsons regularly sought out the sinister undertow to the music, whether in the faster sections of the second, or the nature imagery of the third, despite the escapist dream offered by its offstage posthorn solos.

But the finale was very much all of a piece, and it built to a final, gloriously assured affirmation; the sense that every section of the orchestra was determined to give its music director the best possible send-off was quite obvious.”     …

Parsifal

Symphony Hall, Birmingham

Sunday 17th May, 3.00pm

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Featuring

Programme

  • Wagner  Parsifal, 306′

“In this realm, time becomes space”. Wagner’s Parsifal tells of the knights of the Holy Grail: a story of truth, suffering and redemption, set to music so beautiful that it pierces straight to your very soul. Andris Nelsons has been hailed around the world as one of the finest Wagner conductors of our time: this concert performance of Wagner’s final opera should be transcendent.

The approximate running times of Acts 1, 2 and 3 are 118’, 63’ and 75’ respectively.
There will be a one-hour interval after Act 1, and a 30-minute interval after Act 2.

Storify audience reaction to Parsifal here

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Review by David Karlin, BachTrack:

Click here for full review

…     “Individual vocal phrases were also brought through with the full richness of their character. When Burkhard Fritz’s Parsifal cries out the he feels Amfortas’s wound, we feel the stab of heart-wrenching pain. When Mihoko Fujimura’s Kundry tells us that she is forever cursed because she laughed at Christ, her scream of “ich lächte” rips through the hall. At the end of Act II, he tells Kundry that she knows where she can find him, his near-whisper drips with derision.

Acts I and III are the domain of the elderly knight Gurnemanz, and Georg Zeppenfeld gave a performance of exceptional lyricism, bringing out the fundamental kindness and nobility of the man with a timbre that is smooth and powerful all the way down to its lowest notes, and phrasing that continually added splashes of sympathetic colour.     […]

[…]     Fujimura’s powerful mezzo achieved just as much smoothness and control as Zeppenfeld, spanning the far greater emotional range demanded by her role. Fritz excels at the heldentenor technique for long notes, in which a single note develops in colour and dynamics as it progresses. His attractive voice transmits great feeling for this music.

The supporting cast were uniformly impressive. Wolfgang Bankl sang Klingsor with much power and venom, employing a lot of parlando in a way that provided a total contrast to Zeppenfeld’s lyricism. James Rutherford gave us particularly well-rounded phrasing as Amfortas, while Paul Whelan’s Titurel, sung from high above the orchestra near the organ, was especially powerful. Amongst a fine set of flower maidens, Erica Eloff was especially notable with a voice that soared high above the orchestra.

But the performance’s high point came from Nelsons and the orchestra. The music in Act I for Parsifal and Gurnemanz’s ascent to the Grail castle was delivered with an immense degree of measured power. It’s music of incredible rapture whose effect was even palpable on the performers: Fritz could be seen blinking back the tears in his seat.”     …

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Review by Andrew Clements, Guardian:

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…     “There is urgency, spaciousness and radiance in Nelsons’ approach, and a total understanding of how the climaxes of both of the outer acts build like series of overlapping waves of ever increasing amplitude. The CBSO played out of their skins for him, as if all too aware of what they will lose when he steps down in two months’ time. The Transformation Music in both acts had spine-tingling power and grandeur, the Good Friday Music sustained lyrical beauty, and the choral set pieces, with the CBSO Chorus making full use of Symphony Hall’s spatial effects, had fabulous clarity and precision. Perhaps the numbed prelude to the third act was less bereft, less intensely tragic than some great conductors make it, but in Nelsons’ hands it was still intense and mysterious.

Despite its swan shooting, magic garden and hovering spear, not to mention time becoming space, Parsifal loses less in a concert performance than most operas, and this was not simply a sumptuous orchestral and choral treat. The soloists were outstanding, every one an experienced, totally assured Wagner singer, and the drama was fiercely etched. Burkhard Fritz was Parsifal; he was a little stolid in the first act, perhaps, but gained steadily in presence until his assumption of authority in the final scene became utterly authentic. Georg Zeppenfeld was the Gurnemanz, noble, never histrionic and making every word of his first-act narration crystal clear. James Rutherford was Amfortas, stoically resilient in his great lament. And while there was nothing remotely vampish about Mihoko Fujimura’s Kundry in the second act, her control, even beauty of tone, and musical poise proved startlingly effective alongside Wolfgang Bankl’s fiercely stentorian Klingsor.”     …

*****

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Review by Alexander Campbell, ClassicalSource:

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“This fleet, magical performance of Wagner’s Parsifal in the warm generous acoustic of Birmingham’s Symphony Hall was one with the highest musical values allowing those present to revel in glorious playing and singing without the distractions of a director’s ‘know it all’ interpretation. From the start of the Prelude the CBSO produced playing with sheen and bite, with warm string sound, punchy brass and some superlative playing from the woodwind soloists. Using the spatial possibilities of the Hall to maximum advantage the off-stage chorus was above and behind the bulk of the audience, and the off-stage brass behind the stage. The tricky integration of the Bells of the Grail Temple was superbly realised. The atmosphere when the composer’s intentions were properly considered and realised was about as perfect as one could imagine.

Andris Nelsons’s Wagner was alert and energetic, yet the sense of architecture and purpose felt unerringly correct. It was also very dramatic and intelligent. The Prelude was an instance, where the initial appearance of the chorale associated with the rituals of the Grail Knights had an indefinable coolness to it, perfectly delineating their spiritually uncertain state. Only in the final pages of the entire score did these themes finally get the full glow as Parsifal takes control and harmony is restored. Likewise Klingsor’s restless motifs were very obvious in the first Act where he does not even appear. In the middle Act there was sensuality with a touch of detachment – again perfectly appropriate.”     …

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Review by Peter Quantrill, ArtsDesk:

Click here for full review

…     Fujimura, too, had the unique ability to fill the hall without great apparent effort: there is a rounded, vatic quality to her dramatic mezzo which suggests that it is coming to the listener at the end of a long tunnel. As Gurnemanz, Georg Zeppenfeld most nearly approached her authority, with a scrupulous use of the text to lift his lengthy narratives, and a gently resonant, bell-like bass that fell easily on the ear. Rutherford’s Amfortas also sounded well in the hall, and comfortable, too much so to leave more than a neutral impression of compromised kingship.

The effort to do more than sing must be considerable under the antiseptic conditions of a well-lit concert hall, but Fujimura made it, seemingly with the prop of her Bayreuth experience foremost in mind, since the Kundry of this first act was no wild woman but a stern governess fully in charge of James Rutherford’s Amfortas while simultaneously in thrall to forces of arrogance and shame she is only beginning to understand, knowing rather than wounded in her retort to the impertinent squires (sung by Alexander Sprague and Edward Harrisson), “Are the beasts here not holy too?” Chemistry with her saviour and master in Act Two was never confined by her imagination but by the limited responses of Fritz, and the stolidly sung, gruffly presented Klingsor of Wolfgang Bankl.

Without yet having led a performance from the pit – that time will surely come, and soon – Andris Nelsons has a clear vision for the piece, at least in the first two acts, and after eight years as Music Director, he has the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra right at the end of his baton: the orchestral response was remarkably prompt, and in a neat accelerando back-out of Act One’s communion scene to the knights’ dispersal, he conducted with progressively smaller beat to bring everyone together with him. He is well prepared to pull around the tempo rather than plod through recitative,”     …

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Review by Anna Picard, Spectator:

Click here for full review

…     “The pristine acoustic of Symphony Hall was intrinsic to the numinous sonority of on and off-stage voices and instruments in Acts I and III and the raw tumult and refined sensuality of Act II. From the purity of ‘Durch Mitleid wissend, der reiner Tor’ to the steady glow of redemption at the close, Nelsons and his players and singers balanced expressive urgency and expansive musical architecture. Words and music combined to extraordinary intensity, with the simplest phrases among the most powerful — Amfortas’ ‘Wehe! Wehe!’, Kundry’s ‘Dienen, dienen’. This was an outstanding cast, from Burkhard Fritz’s tireless Parsifal to Mihoko Fujimura’s tormented Kundry, James Rutherford’s gleaming Amfortas, Wolfgang Bankl’s snarling Klingsor, Paul Whelan’s sepulchral Titurel, Georg Zeppenfeld’s humane, understated Gurnemanz and the beautifully supple sextet of Flowermaidens. The silence at the end, held in the splayed fingers of Nelsons’ outstretched hand, was electric.”

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Review by Geoff Brown, The Times (££):

Click here for full review

…     “And the CBSO Chorus, as always, sang with perfect togetherness and hearts of oak.

On the podium Nelsons continually leapt from his seat to press the score’s surges of ecstasy or the sublime. Yet every phase and detail seemed part of an organic whole, driven along by a conductor and splendiferous orchestra in perfect sync, at least for a few more weeks.”

Haydn in London

Thursday 7th May, 7.30pm

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

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Programme

  • Haydn Symphony No. 103 (Drumroll), 29′
  • Mozart Violin Concerto No.4 in D Major, 24′
  • Prokofiev Violin Concerto No. 2, 26′
  • Haydn  Symphony No. 104 (London), 29′

No two great composers were ever closer than Mozart and Haydn, and there’s a smile in every bar of this delightfully entertaining concert. Two of the wittiest and warmest symphonies ever written frame lively concertos by Haydn’s best friend, and his biggest 20th century fan. Andris Nelsons’ schoolfriend Baiba Skride is the soloist. This is going to be fun: this spring, put a spring in your step!

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Support the CBSO

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Review by Sarah Probert, Birmingham Post: (for matinee of same programme)

Click here for full review

…     “The Mozart was neat and crystalline, Skride’s bow resourceful and articulate in communication, her dovetailing with the orchestra triumphant at the end of the first movement cadenza.

The Prokofiev brought piercing purity of intonation in an amazingly empathetic collaboration with the CBSO under Andris Nelsons (Skride’s old schoolmate).

The opening movement quite rightly emphasised the music’s folklore narrative, the andante was full of veiled fantasy launched by the whispering tones of the CBSO strings, and the finale was a louche dance of death, the pearly bass-drum obbligato grimly delivered by Andrew Herbert.

Skride’s performances came as the announcement was made that next season she is to be artist-in-residence with the CBSO.

Sadly there is no Andris Nelsons in that prospectus, and as his tenure as the orchestra’s music director comes to a close he seems on fire.

I have never seen him so relaxed and so balletic (even for him) on the podium.

He has developed a back-handed resource to his conducting, and has the confidence in his orchestra just to sweep across 180 degrees, knowing that they are with him every beat of the way. Will Boston ever experience such a sense of unity, I wonder?”     …

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