London 2012 Festival Opening Concert

Thursday 21 June 2012 at 7.30pm

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

 City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Edward Gardner conductor
Samuel West narrator
CBSO Chorus
CBSO Youth Chorus
CBSO Children’s Chorus

Michael Seal associate conductor

Harvey: Weltethos (UK premiere) 90′

London FestivalThe world’s greatest music – made in Birmingham. On the opening night of the London 2012 Festival, we’re thrilled to present the latest masterpiece from Jonathan Harvey, one of the world’s greatest living composers, who was born in Sutton Coldfield. An epic choral work, Weltethos is inspired by the shared spiritual heritage of humanity and founded on texts from six of the world’s greatest religions: Confucianism, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and Christianity. Expansive, visionary and awe-inspiringly beautiful, it’s a perfect way to kick off the nationwide celebrations in the summer of 2012. Join us to welcome the world and hear sounds like you’ve never heard before.

Click here to find out more about composer Jonathan Harvey and his music.

Jonathan Harvey The British composer talks about his latest work Weltethos, which is based on texts from six of the world’s largest religions: Confucianism, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and Christianity.”

~ The Weekend StrandClick here to listen (from 14:10)


Article by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:

Click here for full article

…     “The event here in Symphony Hall is the UK premiere of ‘Weltethos’ by the world-renowned Sutton Coldfield-born composer Jonathan Harvey, and which is a vast meditation on world peace. Principal guest conductor Edward Gardner directs the CBSO and 250 massed voices of the CBSO Chorus, Children’s and Youth Choruses, assisted by associate conductor Michael Seal; the actor Samuel West provides narration.”        …

Review by Diane Parkes, BehindtheArras:

Click here for full review

…     “The work is very tightly structured with each movement highlighting a different faith, looking at a theme, some background and quotes from the faith’s Holy Scriptures before returning to the central message – that only through peace can our children have a future in this world.

Each section in turn features a spoken part, delivered with perfect timing and gravity by actor Sam West, orchestral music which aims to reflect music linked to each tradition and choral pieces. These in turn are broken down into pieces sung by the CBSO’s Chorus, Youth Chorus and Children’s Chorus.”      …

Review by Andrew Clements, Guardian:

Click here for full review

…     There are some striking moments, especially when the words become indistinguishable and Harvey allows his mastery as a composer of electronic sounds to carry over into his manipulation of orchestra and choral textures, coloured by a huge range of percussion and the unmistakable tang of a cimbalom. The performances were exemplary, with superb choral singing in writing that ranges from whispered Sprechgesang, to fiercely dissonant clusters and close-packed tonal triads. It was a shame such a magnificent effort had to be squandered on so problematic a piece.”

Review by Anthony Tommasini, New York Times:

Click here for full review

…     “There is nothing vague or sentimental about the music in this sinewy, often frenetic and complex score, structured in six parts. The first section, “Humanity,” which explores Confucian thinking, begins with an orchestral prelude. Eerie sustained tones on the organ and pungent, soft cluster chords provide a backdrop to repetitive rhythms and twittering riffs for the large battery of percussion instruments. A speaker (here the actor Samuel West) then delivers Mr. Küng’s narrative about Confucius while the orchestra responds with restless bursts, piercing harmonies and grumbling ostinatos.

The chorus, as if contemplating what has just been said, whispers phrases back. When the chorus breaks into full-throated singing of a quotation from Confucius (“A man without humanity, what use to him is music?”), the orchestra swells with skittish counterpoint and pummeling percussion. This section ends with voices of children (the orchestra’s combined youth and children’s choruses) singing, “We have a future.” ”     …

Review by John Quinn, SeenandHeard:

Click here for full review

…     “Weltethos is an ambitious work in every sense. The forces required are vast. The score calls for a speaker, large SATB choir, a children’s choir and a huge orchestra including an extravagantly large percussion section. Indeed, I can’t recall seeing so many percussion instruments assembled on stage, even for performances of some of Messiaen’s most grandiloquently-scored orchestral works. This massive ensemble, and the metrical and other complexities of the score, required two conductors working independently of each other, though the second conductor (Michael Seal) was not continuously involved. When both conductors were active it appeared that they were usually beating completely different tempi and directing separate elements of the ensemble.”     …

Review by Ivan Hewett, Telegraph:

Click here for full review

…     “At the end, everything was gathered into a radiant affirmation over a deep pedal note. Here Harvey’s music seemed wiser than Küng’s text, its gentle tentativeness implying that the unity of world religions is a Utopian vision, which can’t be realised on this earth.”    

Review by Richard Whitehouse, ClassicalSource:

Click here for full review

…       “The performance itself was a tour de force of focus and commitment. In his informative and entertaining pre-concert talk, chorus master Simon Halsey pointed out that the various chorus-ensembles had spent six months rehearsing music conceived with professional singers in mind – which explained the frequently soloistic nature of the writing (up to 80 individual parts in some instances) and the difficulties (by no means insurmountable, as this performance confirmed) in projecting this over and against an orchestra which features some 10 percussionists in a virtually continuous role extensive even by the standards of this composer. No doubt there were failings and approximations, but what came across most forcefully was the intensity of the choral response – abetted by a no-less-impressive input from the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and Edward Gardner (who, as was confirmed by his recent account of The Dream of Gerontius, is wholly at ease with large-scale choral works), along with a typically thoughtful and eloquent showing by Samuel West.”     …

Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:

Click here for full review

…     “Never mind; the performance itself was stunning, Gardner and his movingly empathetic assistant conductor Michael Seal drawing an account of huge commitment, despite the paucity of reward for most involved.

The enthusiastic and so well-coached CBSO Youth Chorus and Children’s Chorus had the best of something well to get their teeth into, mantras about children’s hopes for the future.”     …

There Was A Child

Saturday 18 June 2011 at 7.00pm

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

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Simon Halsey conductor
Joan Rodgers soprano
Toby Spence tenor
CBSO Chorus
CBSO Youth Chorus
CBSO Children’s Chorus

Britten: Simple Symphony 16′
Whitacre: little man in a hurry 5′
Butterworth: Six Songs from A Shropshire Lad 14′
Dove: There Was a Child 50′

The land of lost content… For over a century, English literature has revelled in nostalgia for childhood; and where words lead, music follows. Jonathan Dove wrote There Was a Child as a tribute to a friend’s son who died tragically young. Filled with both joyous celebration and heartfelt emotion, it’s a big, warm-hearted modern masterpiece in the spirit of Britten and Vaughan Williams. And it follows in an evergreen English tradition, from the bittersweet songs that George Butterworth wrote five years before his death at the Somme, through Benjamin Britten’s feisty teenage symphony, right through to Eric Whitacre’s cheerful little gem.

Please note that Ailish Tynan has had to withdraw from this concert and will be replaced by Joan Rodgers CBE.

Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:

…      “The choral writing is totally effective, well-contoured and vibrant, the solo writing (soprano Joan Rodgers, tenor Toby Spence) equally so. Orchestral colours are expertly marshalled: Stravinsky, Britten and Adams are contributory influences, all adding to the approachability of the piece. This one is a winner.”     …

The Birmingham Mahler Cycle: Andris Nelsons Conducts Symphony No 5

Tuesday 23 November 2010 at 7.30pm

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

 City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Andris Nelsons  conductor
Simon Halsey  conductor
CBSO Youth Chorus   
CBSO Children’s Chorus   

Weir: Storm 20′
Mahler: Symphony No. 5 72′

Every Mahler symphony tells a life-or-death story – but none does it
with more romance, more melody or more epic sweep than the Fifth.
Opening with a desolate trumpet call and ending with a joyous hymn of
triumph, it’s one of music’s great emotional odysseys, taking in
Viennese waltzes, funeral marches, and – above all – the famous
Adagietto, Mahler’s tender love song to his young wife. It’s probably
Mahler’s most popular symphony – so Andris Nelsons’s interpretation,
part of our year-long Birmingham Mahler Cycle, is sure to be a high
point of the season. But first, choose from two very different musical
palate-cleansers – Bach’s masterly double violin concerto, or Judith
Weir’s Shakespeare-inspired Storm, performed by the very choir and
conductor who premiered it back in 1997.

Review by Andrew Clements, Guardian:

… ” -but once it settled down, the performance had perfect scale and perspective, with finely judged pianissimo playing from the CBSO strings in the Adagietto, and a firm sense of where the last movement was heading, and how the brass was going to lead it to that final, affirmative chorale.” …

Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:

… “Tuesday’s account in Symphony Hall was a genuine progress from darkness (launched by Jonathan Holland’s imperiously funereal trumpet summons) to light, in a finale where all involved danced skittishly and exuberantly under Nelsons’ baton, which seems to disappear more and more, as this conductor more talented than he knows relaxes into his role as music director of one of the world’s greatest orchestras.” …

Rating * * * * *

Andris Nelsons takes the CBSO to his Latvia home…

Read More…


The Birmingham Mahler Cycle: Andris Nelsons Conducts Symphony No. 8

Thursday 16 September 2010 at 7.30pm

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

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Andris Nelsons  conductor
Marina Shaguch  soprano
Erin Wall  soprano
Carolyn Sampson  soprano
Katerina Karnéus  mezzo-soprano
Mihoko Fujimura  mezzo-soprano
Sergei Semishkur  tenor
Christopher Maltman  baritone
Stephen Gadd  bass
CBSO Chorus & Youth Chorus   
CBSO Children’s Chorus   
Hallé Choir

Mahler: Symphony No. 8 (Symphony of a Thousand) 85′

Please note Matthew Best has withdrawn from this concert. We are grateful to Stephen Gadd who has agreed to replace him at short notice.

“Try to imagine the whole universe beginning to ring and resound. These are no longer human voices, but planets and suns revolving.” With its vast orchestra, and even huger chorus, Mahler’s mighty “Symphony of a Thousand” lives up to its nickname. But it’s much more than just the most spectacular symphony ever written; it’s an exultant hymn to the joy of creation itself, and every performance is a special occasion. You’ll be thrilled, you’ll be moved – and you’ll be blown backwards, as Andris Nelsons, the CBSO, three great choruses and a star-studded team of soloists launch Birmingham’s centenary Mahler Cycle in truly epic style.

Sung in Latin & German with English surtitles.

Blog Review by Norman Lebrecht:

“Britain’s second largest city launched its first Mahler cycle last night with a heart-stopping concert of the eighth symphony, shrunk to 600 performers. That was the most the hall could sensibly accommodate but the result was a performance of rare intimacy in which the conductor Andris Nelsons seemed to reach out and almost touch the banks of singers posted at the back of the stage, both sides and the overlooking balconies. It was 100 years to the week since Gustav Mahler gave the world premiere in Munich.”  ….

Review by Andrew Clark, Financial Times:

…..”The soloists were well balanced, with notable contributions from Erin Wall, Sergei Semishkur and the divine Carolyn Sampson. Birmingham’s Mahler cycle could not have made a better start. (4 star rating)”     Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2010


Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:

…”He opened the CBSO’s 90th birthday season with no less a challenge than Mahler’s Symphony no.8, the Symphony of a Thousand (and it seemed to be very nearly that, with choristers ranging halfway round both sides of the upper gallery – what a hall this is to accommodate such grandiloquence), the introduction to a huge MahlerFest marking both the composer’s 150th birthday and the centenary of his death. The result was magnificent.” …

Blog review by Intermezzo:

“Was it worth travelling all the way to Birmingham and back for just 90 minutes of music? You bet.” …

Review by Rian Evans, Guardian:

… “Conductor Andris Nelsons’s natural command of his forces – not quite the thousand associated with the symphony, but massive nevertheless – allowed him to exploit the potential of Symphony Hall’s phenomenal acoustic to the full. It was not just the sensation of being wrapped around by voices that was spine-tingling, or the ethereal beauty of Carolyn Sampson’s Mater Gloriosa, and then blazing brass from the hall’s highest galleries that made for a remarkable aural experience, but hearing the hundreds of voices at their infinitesimal quietest and feeling the gentle vibrations of sound permeate air.” …

Review by Geoff Read, MusicWeb-International:

…”In the Scherzo, the emphasis switched between the multiple choral sections – Angels, Cherubs, Younger Angels and More Perfect Angels, each contributing to the journey of Faust’s soul to paradise – with Nelsons at his busiest. The energy he exuded for 90 min never flagged. In Mahler 8 the conductor cannot hope to cue every entry, but Nelsons seemed to give it a damn good try. One delicious moment amidst these invocations, was the break from leader Laurence Jackson that introduces the First Alto contribution from Katarina Karneus. Sergei Semishkur, a Mariinsky soloist as Doctor Marianus (another hermit and reputably based on Anselm the 11th century Archbishop of Canterbury) handled his high tessitura with ease, including a resounding top B. Interspersed during this solo, the cellos led by Ulrich Heinen added a contrast of pure cream, both in Heinen’s solo and when playing together. At Semishkur’s sublime Jungfrau, rein im schösten Sinn (Virgin of the highest purity) the first violins delicately underlined the feeling of innocence. With presumably only room for two harps on the crowded Birmingham stage, stalwart Robert Johnson introduced another glorious Mahler moment from the first violins, this time backed by the harmonium.” …