Elgar’s Cello Concerto

with Bergen Philharmonic and Edward Gardner

Tuesday 17th January, 2017 – 7:30pm


Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra
Edward Gardnerconductor
Truls Mørkcello


GriegPeer Gynt Suite No 1
ElgarCello Concerto
WaltonSymphony No 1


Truls Mørk’s encore – Bach –

Bergen Philharmonic’s encores – Elgar – Nimrod, and Grieg – March of the Trolls


A great Norwegian orchestra meets great British music, as Edward Gardner conducts Grieg, Walton, and Elgar’s Cello Concerto. Truls Mørk is the soloist, and his take on Elgar’s hugely popular concerto is both fresh and deeply thoughtful. Gardner, meanwhile, became Chief Conductor of the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra in 2015. Together, they’ve got a real chemistry – so whether in Walton’s explosive First Symphony or Peer Gynt (by Bergen’s hometown hero Edvard Grieg), expect some serious energy tonight.

6:15pm: Pre-concert conversation with Edward Gardner. This conversation will be signed by a British Sign Language interpreter.

Daniel Hope Celebrates…

… Yehudi Menuhin’s Centenary

Town Hall, Birmingham

Wednesday 18th May, 2016, 7:30pm

Orchestra l’arte del Mondo

Daniel Hope – violin

Mozart Divertimento KV 136
Vivaldi Concerto for 2 violins 10’
Mendelssohn Concerto for Violin and Orchestra in D minor 22’
Mozart Divertimento KV 138
Pärt Darf Ich (version without bells) 3’
El-Khoury Unfinished Journey
Bach Concerto for 2 violins 17’

Encore with orchestra – Max Richter – Vivaldi Recomposed, Summer Third Movement

Daniel Hope’s encore – Johann Paul von Westhoff – Imitazione delle Campane

Please note the Kammerorchester Basel will no longer be playing in this concert, and Orchestra l’arte del Mondo will be performing with Daniel Hope. Please also note some changes to the programme. Customers will be contacted in January. Updated 18/12/15.

British violinist Daniel Hope isn’t one to hold back. In the year that Yehudi Menuhin would have turned 100, Hope leads performances of music intimately connected with his great teacher, from Bach to Bechara El-Khoury. Keep an open mind, and you’ll hear wonders.

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



Review by Richard Bratby, Birmingham Post:

Click here for full review

…     “Daniel Hope plays the violin in a business suit and tie. But there’s nothing strait-laced about his platform manner. He bobs, he bounces, he bends almost double – turning round to face the members of the L’Arte del Mondo orchestra, nodding, and all the while spinning a rich, glittering stream of notes. He reminded me of someone and when, as an encore, he launched into a funkily re-composed version of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons it clicked: Nigel Kennedy. Since both were once protégés of Yehudi Menuhin, maybe that’s not entirely coincidental.

In fact, the whole programme was chosen as a 100th birthday tribute to the late Lord Menuhin. L’Arte del Mondo are a spirited bunch who play standing up and make a beefy, buoyant sound despite their sparing use of vibrato. No ‘historically informed’ self-denial here, despite the token harpsichord. Two of Mozart’s early Salzburg divertimentos, directed by L’Arte del Mondo’s leader Werner Ehrhardt, sang and danced as boisterously as if they’d been played by a full symphonic string section rather than just 14 players.”     …


Review by Geoff Read, SeenandHeard, MusicWeb:

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…     “However there nothing lacklustre about the Vivaldi that followed, his Concerto for two violins in A minor. A common wavelength between Hope and co-soloist Andrea Keller (sub-leader of L’arte del mondo) was instantly established, a togetherness shared by the whole group. As Ehrhardt came more into prominence in the third Allegro movement of RV 522, the interaction and buzz between the three was exhilarating. The third item, like all of them in the programme directly linked to Menuhin, was Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto in D Minor, brought to Menuhin’s attention in 1951 and recorded by him the following year. Written when Mendelssohn was only thirteen, it naturally does not have the widespread appeal of the E Minor, but is nevertheless of great academic interest. Very much about the soloist, Hope gave an assured performance, displaying the beautiful tone of his Guarneri in the andante and a sparkling gypsy-style kick to the closing allegro.

After the interval, a second Mozart divertimento KV 138, re-opened proceedings. The first (Allegro) movement reminded me of Bach’s Serenade No. 13 in G Major, K525a little anyway; the violas of Antje Sabinski and Rafael Roth in the (Presto) third movement demanded my attention. Next came the other side of Menuhin with Arvo Pärt’s Darf ich … (Can I… ). Without the bells, surely much of its tintinnabulation style is lost (despite the assurances in the programme notes). When Menuhin first received the piece, he asked the composer ‘Can I what?’ to which the reply came, ‘That’s for you say!’ Although only three minutes long, my answer was ‘… Empathise with you!’ An example of ‘East meets West’ followed: the Lebanese composer Bechara El-Khoury’s Unfinished Journey (the title of Menuhin’s autobiography) commissioned by Hope and the Gstaad Menuhin Festival in 2009 to commemorate the tenth anniversary of Menuhin’s death. I found it utterly captivating, with Hope’s beautiful phrasing frustratingly underdeveloped at times – but symbolic of the title. There was also a sensation of expectation from the chattering tremolo string accompaniment, a feeling underpinned by the haunting perceptions of the closing muted bars. There are many iconic recordings by Menuhin and his pairing with David Oistrakh for the Bach Double Concerto for two violins in D minor, BWV 1043 is one of the most popular; this work closed the scheduled programme. Once more Keller partnered Hope; there were fireworks but I thought there might have been a few more of them, their rendition being more memorable for its adroit handling of the tempo changes.”     …


Review by Rebecca Franks, The Times (££):

Click here for full review (££)

…     “He was an inspiring force throughout: dancing on tiptoe, engaging with the cellos one moment, spinning round to the leader the next. For the double concertos, Andrea Keller stepped out of the orchestra to take a solo spot. In Vivaldi’s A minor Concerto (from L’estro armonico) her sylph-like sound made an appealing contrast to Hope’s sweetness and bite. Less so, sadly, in the Bach D minor Concerto, in which poor tuning curdled the sound. Hope held steady against rocky ensemble in a gutsy Mendelssohn D minor Concerto and shone with bright purity in Pärt and El-Khoury. L’arte del mondo alone played two Mozart Divertimenti, with silvery grace in the D major K136 and heartier tone in the F major K138.”     …

Seven Last Words from the Cross

Part of Birmingham International Concert Season 2015/16 Concert Package, SoundBite

and Birmingham International Concert Season 2015/16

Sunday 20th March, 2016 – 3pm

Town Hall

Britten Sinfonia
Britten Sinfonia Voices
Eamonn Dougan conductor

1.45pm Pre Concert conversation with Eamonn Dougan.
This conversation will be signed by a British Sign Language interpreter

Byrd Miserere mei 4’
Bach Cantata O Jesu Christ,mein’s Lebens Licht BWV 118 5’
Shostakovich arr. Barshai Chamber Symphony Op 110a 23’
James MacMillan Seven Last Words From the Cross 45’


James MacMillan may well be the finest British composer since Britten, and his music – driven by passionate personal beliefs – simply burns to communicate. His Seven Last Words are already a modern classic; here they’re the climax of a powerfully-conceived Palm Sunday sequence from some of our foremost champions of contemporary music, the Britten Sinfonia and Chorus.

The Britten Sinfonia have a reputation for fascinating, captivating programmes, and for this concert have selected a powerful musical backdrop for the start of Holy Week – alongside Bach, Byrd and MacMillan at their most heart-rending, this brilliant ensemble are including Rudolf Barshai’s orchestral arrangement of Shostakovich’s breathtaking, agonising String Quartet No. 8, dedicated to the ‘to the victims of fascism and war.’

BBC Music Magazine Editor | Oliver Condy



Review by Simon Cummings, BachTrack:

Click here for full review

…     “Having ambled thus far at the edge of the abyss, our communal plunge into it now began. Conductor and singers left the stage for Rudolf Barshai’s famous transcription for string orchestra of Shostakovich’s Eighth Quartet. Reborn as a Chamber Symphony, it highlights even more emphatically the weird, troubling drama of a work written when its composer was fully intending to commit suicide. The myriad quotations from Shostakovich’s earlier works send mixed signals: a final revisiting of cherished creations, or a self-loathing act of blunt ridicule (parody, after all, being second nature to Shostakovich)? Either way, there was the profound sense of a composer in the confessional, articulated with an authentic sense of discomfort by Britten Sinfonia. In a work that offers essentially nothing resembling a respite, the players brought a lightness of delivery through the faster movements that for a time kept at bay the dread at its core. But only for a time; through a concluding pair of Largo movements, Shostakovich places his pulse into ever more quicksand, where everything – even a fugue – becomes increasingly concentrated and claustrophobic. As the music came full circle, the players managed to make returning ideas the antithesis of a recapitulation; we were back where we started, stupefied and numb, and the way they lingered upon the work’s agonized final cadence – music that almost cannot bear to end – was horribly effective and very moving indeed.

Eamonn Dougan and Britten Sinfonia Voices returned for the second half featuring a rare performance of James MacMillan’s Seven Last Words from the Cross. A 45-minute meditation on this subject needs to be punishing, and it is, for performers and audience alike. Even more than the Shostakovich, this is music in extremis, where thoughts and feelings are pushed beyond the limits of rationality, resulting in a complex blend of sweetness and agony. Dougan’s judgement and skill were genuinely brilliant here, drawing out the nuances in MacMillan’s shifting palette yet never allowing even the slightest hint of indulgence – even in the tricky third movement, which in the wrong hands takes on the saccharine viscosity of condensed milk. In this performance, that sweetness finally made sense as a kind of delirious ecstasy, but even this was dismissed as soon as it had spoken. Furthermore, Dougan often moved between movements with minimal pause, which not only strengthened the work’s continuity but provided valuable distance from being rendered as a kind of ‘concert liturgy’. MacMillan’s Seven Last Words are rooted in collisions, multi-layered textures that present a serious challenge in respect of clarity and diction. Of the former, it was the most transparent performance I have yet experienced, rendering the askew symmetry of the central movement (one of MacMillan’s best creations) into a lucid, lyrical ascent and decline, and making the aghast final sections heart-stoppingly vivid. Regarding the latter, Britten Sinfonia Voices’ diction was perfect: singing, whispering, even borderline hollering, every word they uttered was audible, the increasingly desperate message all too clear. Having stopped our hearts, the conclusion then broke them, hammer blows precipitating the already desiccated music’s disintegration into wisps and fragments, forgotten as soon as they were heard.”  …


Review by Geoff Brown, The Times (££)

Click here for full review (££)

…     “For the next step, Dougan, voices and most of the musicians’ chairs left the platform, leaving leader Jacqueline Shave and the strings to scorch our ears in the valedictory rage of Shostakovich’s Chamber Symphony, arranged from his Sixth String Quartet. Furiously precise rhythms rubbed against lyrical anguish draped in black velvet; every twist in the kaleidoscope was felt in our heart and bones.

All forces then fused in MacMillan’s Seven Last Words, originally commissioned for BBC television, though its music, piercingly direct, surely makes images redundant. Dougan and his team displayed masterly control, never letting dramatic pauses weaken fervour or momentum as the composer mused in anger and tenderness on Christ’s words from the cross.

Singing without blemish; playing that leapt straight from the heart: here was a sterling performance of a work that cries out to people of any faith or none.”     …


Baiba Skride: Szymanowski

Thursday 4th February, 7.30pm

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra



  • Mendelssohn  A Midsummer Night’s Dream – Overture, 11′
  • Szymanowski  Violin Concerto No.1, 23′
  • Shostakovich  Symphony No. 10 , 52′

Baiba Skride’s encore – Bach – Sarabande from Partita 2 in D Minor

The Soviet authorities called Shostakovich’s 10th Symphony an “optimistic tragedy”. But we can hear it as one of the mightiest symphonies of the 20th century: huge, dark, and driven by blazing emotion. It’s all a long way from the moonlit enchantment of Mendelssohn’s Shakespearean overture – or Szymanowski’s gorgeous, shimmering First Violin Concerto, played tonight by this season’s artist in residence, the wonderful Baiba Skride.

CBSO+ 6.15pm Conservatoire Showcase Birmingham Conservatoire Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Michael Seal, performs Respighi’s majestic Pines of Rome and Mattei, a World Premiere by Conservatoire Composer Ryan Probert.



Review by Richard Bratby, Birmingham Post:

Click here for full review

…    ” He went on to sculpt Shostakovich’s Tenth Symphony in big, sweeping gestures and a positively lurid palette of orchestral colours. True, it was alive with detail: Julian Roberts’s plangent bassoon solos, Rainer Gibbons’s oboe twisting palely in the gloom at the start of the finale, and pizzicato that ranged from fat and pungent to bitterly wry. But this was broad-brush Shostakovich, thrillingly physical and reeking of vodka and boot-leather. The ending drew cheers.      […]

[…]     Earlier, the Birmingham Conservatoire Symphony Orchestra gave a pre-concert performance under Michael Seal. Mattei , by Conservatoire composer Ryan Probert, created huge Technicolor sonorities (extra brass plus organ) from the slightest of musical ideas. Respighi’s Pines of Rome put the same forces to suitably roof-raising use; but it was the eloquence and sense of atmosphere in the quiet music (beautifully poised trumpet and clarinet solos, supported by ravishing string phrasing) that showed just what heights these students can attain under Seal’s direction. “





Nicola Benedetti: Szymanowski

Wednesday 27th January, 7.30pm

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra


  • Haydn  Symphony No. 92 (Oxford), 28′
  • Szymanowski Violin Concerto No. 2, 20′
  • Brahms  Symphony No. 4, 40′

Nicola Benedetti’s encore – Bach – Sarabande from Partita 2 in D Minor

Brahms said that he wanted his Fifth Symphony to sound like Haydn. He never got that far – because his magnificent Fourth Symphony said all he wanted to say! Lahav Shani brings out all its tragedy and triumph, but only after he’s shown you exactly what Brahms was talking about, in Haydn’s joyous “Oxford” Symphony. Nicola Benedetti, meanwhile, begins our mini-cycle of Szymanowski violin concertos with the ravishing, fantastical Second.Support the CBSO


Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:

Click here for full review

…     “Benedetti was here for the first episode in the orchestra’s survey of both Szymanowski Violin Concertos (perversely, here we were hearing the Second; the First comes on February 4, Baiba Skride playing).

Her bright-toned Strad weaved a sweetly melancholic thread, allied to biting bow-work which reinforced the music’s strong similarities to the two violin concertos of Prokofiev. She even managed a squinge of discreet re-tuning during the impressive central cadenza before moving towards the wonderfully exhilarating ending. After this her encore (the Sarabande from Bach’s D minor Partita) grounded us perfectly.

Shani drew sumptuous sounds from the CBSO, an orchestra well versed in Szymanowski, thanks to the long-term advocacy of Sir Simon Rattle.

We had begun with the music of another Rattle protege, Haydn, no less, and his Symphony no.92. Its nickname “the Oxford” alerts the listener to its many learned winks and nudges, but all the time it fizzes with energy, and charms with smiling melodies.”   …


Review by Peter Marks, Bachtrack:

Click here for full review

…    “The concerto is scored for a remarkably large orchestra, including five percussionists, a tuba, contrabassoon and orchestral piano. Szymanowski’s use of the latter in his violin concertos is particularly notable as few composers, even in the twentieth century, employed the orchestral piano in their concertos. Whilst the composer’s first concerto tends towards the impressionistic, the second is more assertive. It opens with a grumbling in that orchestral piano in an almost bluesy style. Benedetti adopted a suitably sultry tone in this first movement, managing to be heard even against the fullest orchestral accompaniment.

The movements in the concerto are contiguous but clearly distinct. The first two and last two movements are punctuated by a jaw-dropping cadenza almost entirely consisting of double-stopping. Benedetti traversed this with astonishing assuredness, even calmly tweaking her tuning along the way. The cadenza concludes, startlingly, with a huge crash from the orchestra, which conductor Lahav Shani timed to perfection. The third movement is rather militaristic and Benedetti was visibly enjoying the orchestral mayhem going on around her. She also noticeably engaged with her orchestral colleagues, particularly the leader. Benedetti was in total command of this concerto, as were Shani and the orchestra. ”     …


Bach and Bruckner

ThumbnailRelax and Revitalise

Wednesday 11th March 2015 at 7.30pm

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

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Ilan Volkov  conductor
Ilya Gringolts  violin

Bach: Violin Concerto No. 1 in A minor 16′
Bruckner: Symphony No. 5 79′

Soul music, Austrian style. Bruckner’s Fifth Symphony has been described as a cathedral in sound, but Bruckner also drew his inspiration from the music of J. S. Bach and the majestic scenery of the Austrian Alps. So the timeless beauty of Bach’s A minor violin concerto – played today by the superb Ilya Gringolts – will make the perfect upbeat.

Support the CBSO


Review by Andrew Clements, Guardian:

Click here for full review

…     “Some conductors open the acoustic doors in Symphony Hall as wide as possible in order for Bruckner to create a church-like resonance. Volkov opted for a less opulent sound, and hearing the Fifth launched with such a determined, clear tread in the introduction to the first movement underlined all kinds of symphonic connections, tracing its lineage right back through Schubert, and of course Beethoven, to Haydn. The CBSO’s playing was never plush, but it was always precise and intently responsive. The only one of the four massive movements that seemed a bit unfocused was the scherzo, with its strange, almost supernatural feeling, and it took a while for the sense of completion and closure to arrive in the finale too. But when it did, it was utterly convincing.

When Volkov conducted Bruckner’s Fifth Symphony with the BBC Scottish Orchestra four years ago, he prefaced it with Bach’s A minor Violin Concerto, and he did the same here. Ilya Gringolts was the soloist this time – rather luxury casting for a work that lasts barely 15 minutes, but his playing had enough panache and swagger about it to turn the concerto into a convincing showcase for his virtuosity.”

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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.

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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.”     …