Vladimir Ashkenazy Conducts Rachmaninov’s Symphony No. 2

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

Tuesday 3rd November, 7:30pm

Symphony Hall

Philharmonia Orchestra
Vladimir Ashkenazy conductor
International Fryderyk Chopin Piano Competition winner Seong-Jin Cho piano

Sibelius Valse Triste 6’
Chopin Piano Concerto No 1
Rachmaninov Symphony No 2 60’

.Seong-Jin Cho’s encore – Chopin –

Ashkenazy and Rachmaninov – need we say more? Few conductors know how to make Rachmaninov’s melodies sing like Ashkenazy does, or have a more intimate understanding of what makes a top pianist tick.

Expect a near-definitive performance of Rachmaninov’s most romantic symphony, and the finest possible introduction to the winner of this year’s International Fryderyk Chopin Piano Competition.

About the winner:

Born on 28 May 1994, in Seoul, Seong-Jin Cho is a student of Michel Beroff at the Paris Conservatoire. He has won the International Fryderyk Chopin Competition for Young Pianists (2008) and a piano competition in Hamamatsu, Japan (2009), as well as Third Prize in the Pyotr Tchaikovsky Competition in Russia (2011) and the Arthur Rubinstein in Tel Aviv (2014). He has performed in concert with the Mariinsky Theatre Symphony Orchestra (cond. Valery Gergiev), the French Radio, Czech, Seoul (all with Myung-Whun Chung), Munich (cond. Lorin Maazel) and Ural (cond. Dmitry Liss) philharmonic orchestras, Berlin Radio Orchestra (cond. Marek Janowski), Russian National Orchestra (cond. Mikhail Pletnev) and Basel Symphony Orchestra (cond. Pletnev). He has toured Japan, Germany, France, Russia, Poland, Israel, China and the US. He has appeared at the Tokyo Opera, in Osaka, at the Moscow Conservatory and at the Mariinsky Theatre in St Petersburg, including with recitals. He has participated in numerous European festivals, including in St Petersburg, Moscow, Duszniki-Zdrój and Cracow, as well as festivals in New York and Castleton. As a chamber musician, he has been invited to work with the outstanding violinist Kyung Wha Chung. He is the winner of the 17th International Fryderyk Chopin Piano Competition (2015).

We’ll find out which Chopin piano concerto will be performed after the competition finals in October 2015.


Review by Robert Gainer, BachTrack:

Click here for full review:

…    “The Philharmonia was on top form having already performed Jean Sibelius’ Valse Triste to open the programme. Ashkenazy, wearing his trademark white polo-neck sweater, coaxed a barely audible, yet tremendously solid, pianissimo from the strings at the beginning, then danced with the dynamics in a serene sway. Translated as ‘Sad Waltz’, this is a work that is bitter-sweet and melancholic in its portrayal of the inevitability of mortal fate than simply sad. Ashkenazy conveyed this distinction brilliantly through his deft musical shaping, and the sound quality of the string and woodwind sections of the Philharmonia was both sensuous and faultless.

They continued in the same manner in opening and accompanying Cho in the Chopin. The Allegro maestoso was exact, never forced or pompous. Cho has an enviable ability to make every note sound distinct and clear, shaping and balancing each phrase perfectly. After only about a minute of his performance I stopped analysing, closed my eyes and lost myself completely in the sheer musicality of the moment. Things only got better in the Romanze: Larghetto, with lyrical reflections seemingly glistening from the black gloss of the concert grand as Cho superbly demonstrated his understanding of Chopin’s stated intent: “calm and melancholy, giving the impression of a thousand happy memories. It’s a kind of moonlight reverie on a beautiful spring evening.” Cho’s more assertive performance of the Rondo: Vivace brought fresh rigour and colour to the conclusion of the concerto, demonstrating the breadth of his interpretative abilities.     […]

[…]     Ashkenazy made me feel like I was hearing an old friend in the symphony, but learning all sorts about that friend I never knew before, and his direction of tempi and dynamics was inspirational. He returns to Birmingham Symphony Hall with the Philharmonia to play Rachmaninov’s Third Symphony in March next year, and based on this performance, it should be well worth booking in advance.”

Sibelius’ Fifth

Thursday 1st October, 7.30pm



  • Mendelssohn  Overture, The Hebrides, 10′
  • Mozart  Piano Concerto No. 9, K.271 , 32′
  • Sibelius Symphony No. 5, 32′
Lars Vogt’s encore – Chopin – Nocturne in C Sharp Minor
Sibelius’ Fifth Symphony begins with a glowing sunrise and ends with a vision of a flight of swans – and one of the simplest but noblest melodies ever written. A real CBSO speciality, there’s no finer way to salute Sibelius in his anniversary year; first, though, Edward Gardner takes us to sea with Felix Mendelssohn, and joins the masterly Lars Vogt in Mozart’s little jewel of a piano concerto.
Available on BBC Radio 3 Live in Concert for 28 days here
Review by Hedy Mühleck, BachTrack (for matinee of same programme)
Click here for full review
…     “With the concerto, the programme had quickly sailed all the way east to the land of a thousand lakes and anniversary composer Jean Sibelius, whom we picture standing on one of them, looking out onto the calm waters, until a noise draws his gaze upwards. He later records in his diary: “…I saw 16 swans. One of my greatest experiences! Lord God, what beauty! […] A low refrain reminiscent of a small child crying. Nature, mysticism and life’s Angst!” Reading about his excitement on seeing a formation of swans pass overhead, one can but wonder how this could have made such an impression on the man, but hearing its reverberation in his Fifth Symphony, one cannot help being drawn into this time-stopping, slightly mystical moment as the birds “disappeared into the solar haze like a gleaming solar ribbon.”Eerily rustling strings grew the figurative reeds surrounding the lake and a creepy, oppressive atmosphere, before brilliant, shining brass took over, combining forces for one of Sibelius’ grand crescendos that crested and washed over the listener with elemental force, and that smashed up against one entire body rather than only entering one’s ears. The second movement pizzicato cues, precise to perfection, displayed the orchestra’s enormous dramatic tension that discharged into the final movements opening, racing tremolos. Never did the musicians show any sign of tiring despite the high speed and played with a solemn but taut energy.

In Gardner’s take, always natural and controlled, Sibelius’ “swan hymn” was more pacing than swinging and, perhaps necessarily so, at a slightly swifter clip, but no less memorable for it, evoking mental images of the majestic birds beating their wings above the awed composer. The high woodwinds delivered their gorgeous chant-like theme with moving emoition, which eventually gave way for yet another elemental, incredibly powerful crescendo that was crowned by the closing orchestral stabs, gripping, mesmerising, awe-inspiring chords, thrown out with absolute precision. This. Was. Big.”

Nelsons Conducts Bruckner’s Seventh

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Thursday 27th November 2014 at 2.15pm

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

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Andris Nelsons  conductor
Stephen Hough  piano

Schumann: Piano Concerto 31′ Watch on YouTube

Bruckner: Symphony No. 7 (Haas) 68′
Listen on Spotify

Stephen Hough’s encore  – Chopin: E-Flat Nocturne

Imagine a symphony played by an angel. That’s how Anton Bruckner first dreamed of the blissful opening melody of his Seventh Symphony – and when you hear it, you’ll understand why: this is music that scales sublime heights and heartrending depths. For Andris Nelsons, it’s a labour of love; so he begins by teaming up with the incomparable Stephen Hough in Schumann’s ever-fresh love-poem of a Piano Concerto.

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Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:

Click here for full review

…     “There was a wonderful sense of release as the opening movement eased into its recapitulation as Nelsons so patiently delineated the music’s architecture, and the extended coda’s dynamics were so well-managed over the tension-building timpani roll.

And out of all the orchestral contributions special mention must be made of Marie-Christine Zupancic’s flute, now fluttering like a dove, now radiant as a halo.

Around her and oboist Rainer Gibbons the woodwind section is rebuilding itself into the strength it once possessed, and it was good to welcome Oliver Janes, the 23-year-old grandson of John Fuest, one-time principal clarinet of the CBSO, into his grandfather’s chair.

The Schumann Piano Concerto could not have been a better choice for his debut in the position, full of poignant dialogue between clarinet and piano, and Janes certainly had a formidable collaborator in Stephen Hough, whose pianism combined authority with spontaneous generosity of phrasing.

Naturally Nelsons and the CBSO accompanied totally in sympathy, and it’s good to know that Hyperion recorded this performance, renewing their award-winning partnership of Hough with the orchestra.”     …




Review by Andrew Clements, Guardian:

Click here for full review

…     “The doors to the reverberation chamber behind the orchestra had been opened as wide as possible for the performance, and though that didn’t create the kind of cathedral acoustic that permeates so much of Bruckner’s symphonic thinking, it was enough to give a delicate colour to the work’s silences and to extend the effect of its cadences. Generally, though, Nelsons kept things airy and transparent; it was clear from the veiled lightness of the strings at the start that this was not going to be heavyweight, minatory Bruckner, but something much more athletic, direct and texturally interesting. If anything, the rhetoric was underplayed: the close of the first movement was not the brassy triumph some conductors make of it, but more measured and provisional, and even the shattering climax of the slow movement and the reconciliation of the finale kept something in reserve.

In some ways, too, the symphony had been upstaged by Schumann’s Piano Concerto, with Stephen Hough as soloist before it. That had been a performance of such startling freshness and clarity that one of the most familiar of all 19th-century piano concertos seemed totally reimagined, with the sweep and vigour supplied by Nelsons and the orchestra as the perfect foil to Hough’s cool brilliance.”

Russian Classics

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Thursday 9th January 2014 at 7.30pm

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

City of Birmingham Symphony Hall

Andris Nelsons  conductor

Lars Vogt  piano

Prokofiev: Symphony No. 1 (Classical) 14′

Mozart: Piano Concerto No. 27, K.595 32′

Stravinsky: Petrushka 34′ Listen on Spotify Watch on YouTube

Lars Vogt’s encore – Chopin Nocturne ..

It’s springtime in old Russia, and as crowds throng the Shrovetide Fair, passions are  rising. But how serious can it get? After all, a puppet doesn’t have feelings…  does it? 100 years on, Stravinsky’s brilliantly original ballet continues to startle  and delight; while Prokofiev’s firecracker of a first symphony proves that a real  popular classic can still spring a few surprises. Mind you, Mozart’s last piano  concerto gives them both a run for their money – especially in the supremely skilled  hands of Lars Vogt.

If you like this concert, you might also like:

Mozart and Elgar, Wednesday   19th  February

Mozart’s Gran Partita, Wednesday   26th  February

Rachmaninov’s Second Piano Concerto, Thursday   6th  March




Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:

Click here for full review

…     “Nelsons’ footwork was indeed balletic (for a big man he is very light on his feet), and he drew a reading which was now buzzing, now subtle, wonderfully shaded and rhythmically vibrant.

The sequence of dances in the final tableau emerged as noble as those in Wagner’s Meistersinger (the dour Stravinsky would surely hate that comparison), and instrumental solos throughout added characterful contributions: Marie-Christine Zupancic’s fey flute, Rachael Pankhurst’s lugubrious cor anglais, Jonathan Holland’s incisive trumpet, and Ben Dawson’s vivid piano.

And that piano had just beforehand delivered Lars Vogt’s no-nonsense, pellucid and elegant account of Mozart’s last piano concerto, no.27 K595.

Vogt brought both crystalline clarity and well-weighted chording to his performance, confident enough in his accompanists to be able to add a discreet element of rubato where appropriate.

Less is more. No affectation here, just a pure love of this otherwordly music, communicated by all concerned.”     …



Review by Andrew Clements, Guardian:

Click here for full review

…    “Since he took over the City of Birmingham Symphony five years ago, hearing Andris Nelsons reveal more of the works in his repertoire has been one of the most compelling experiences British musical life can offer. Last autumn’s announcement that he is leaving Birmingham at the end of the 2014-15 season has made each of those revelations seem even more precious. I missed his performance of Stravinsky‘s Petrushka with the orchestra in 2011, but thankfully Nelson has now returned to the work, and it’s one of the best demonstrations of just what an exceptional conductor he can be.

Performances of the second full-scale ballet Stravinsky composed for Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes tend to emphasise the music’s modernism, and those aspects of it that anticipate the watershed of The Rite of Spring, which came two years later. Nelsons’s intensely vivid performance, fabulously realised by the CBSO, certainly did that, but it also showed how much of 19th-century Russian music, as channelled through Stravinsky’s teacher Rimsky-Korsakov, remains in the score, too. The way in which all the teeming detail emerged in high definition, characterised with such pictorial immediacy, was a thrilling reminder that Stravinsky’s debt to his St Petersburg training hadn’t been totally discharged with The Firebird.”     …

Mahler’s First Symphony


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  • Raise the Roof

Thursday 3 October 2013 at 7.30pm

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

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra 

Nikolaj Znaider   conductor

Ingrid Fliter  piano

Mendelssohn: Ruy Blas – Overture 7′

Chopin: Piano Concerto No. 2 33′

Mahler: Symphony No. 1 56′

Ingrid Fliter’s encore – Beethoven –  Op.31 no.2 sonata -finale

“The   symphony must be like the world,” declared Gustav Mahler. “It should embrace   everything.” And from its breathtaking opening vision of the dawn of time itself,   to a truly heaven-storming finish, Mahler’s First does exactly that. No recording   does it justice – just as pianist Ingrid Fliter’s deeply personal way with Chopin   is something you simply have to experience for yourself. Nikolaj Znaider opens   with Mendelssohn’s gloriously gothic overture. He’s already worldfamous as a   violinist; we think you’ll be astonished by what he can do with a baton.

“I’ve loved Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 2 since I was  a kid – just beautiful, beautiful music. This one will be sure to give you goose  pimples…” (Catherine Ardagh-Walter, Cello)



Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:

Click here for full review

…     “Overture, concerto, symphony: good old-fashioned programme-fodder, but in this case there was nothing staple about any of the offerings, beginning with a lively account of Mendelssohn’s uncharacteristically storm and stress Ruy Blas Overture.

OK, orchestral placings were bizarre (violas on the edge stage-left where the cellos normally go), but the sound was full and rich, strings well-turned brass chording sonorous, and Znaider’s beat reassuringly fluent.

And Znaider, also a world-class violinist, brought a lively response to the orchestral tutti in Chopin’s Second Piano Concerto (it’s about time we cast the hoary old chestnut about Chopin not being able to orchestrate into the compost-bin – just ask the bassoonist).

Ingrid Fliter was the committed soloist, with an instinctive feel for Chopin’s textures, filigree never interfering with melodic line, hands well-balanced (though my spies tell me the piano was playing up), her empathy with Znaider’s CBSO joyous.”     …


Nelsons Conducts Tchaikovsky


Thursday 24 January 2013 at 7.30pm

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

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra 

Andris Nelsons conductor
Simon Trpceski piano

Strauss: Till Eulenspiegel 16′ Listen on Spotify
Chopin: Piano Concerto No.1 39′ Listen on Spotify
Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 3 (Polish) 44′

Simon Trpčeski’s encore – Chopin – Waltz

Save 25% in our January Sale. Book tickets for this concert between 19 – 27 January inclusive, and save 25% off full-price tickets. Terms & Conditions apply – click here for full details of the concerts included in the sale and the T&Cs.

Are you sitting comfortably? Because three composers want to tell you a story. Tchaikovsky surrenders to a Polish dance-rhythm, and ends up writing the happiest of all his symphonies. The teenage Chopin writes a delirious love-letter in the form of a piano concerto. And a raspberry-blowing Richard Strauss simply refuses to be serious in this portrait of a famous prankster. The sensational Macedonian pianist Simon Trpceski joins Andris Nelsons and the CBSO for a night of love, laughter, and melody without limits. www.cbso.co.uk



Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:

Click here for full review

…     “This was in Chopin’s First Piano Concerto, and coming new to this shamefully under-rated work, Trcepski [sic] found a chamber music-style relationship with the orchestra, confident in Nelsons’ empathetic acuity. It was wonderful to see how the conductor’s beat scooped up the well-attuned rubato of the pianist’s arabesques.

There was an almost improvisatory fluency in Trcepski’s [sic] playing, natural and unforced, and the effect was of communing not just with himself but also with the sharing audience. And the sight of his body-language responding to the dance-like finale, arms swaying on hips when he was not playing, was infectious and heartwarming.

Particularly outstanding in the orchestral contribution were the bassoon solos of Gretha Tuls, and the beefy basses in the finale.”     …

Chopin 200

Thursday 25 February 2010 at 2.15pm

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

Andrew Litton  conductor
William Wolfram  piano

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

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

Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:


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

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

Celebrity Piano Recital: Lang Lang

Thursday 4th February 7:30pm at Symphony Hall

Lang Lang piano

Beethoven Piano Sonata in C, Op 2, No 3 26’
Beethoven Piano Sonata in F minor, Op 57, Appassionata 24’
Albéniz Iberia Book 1 21’
Prokofiev Piano Sonata No 7 18’

Encore – Chopin

Lang Lang is a superstar of the piano, hailed as “the hottest artist on the classical music planet” by the New York Times. For this return visit to Symphony Hall, his programme ranges from the Appassionata’s stormy turbulence and the sultry Spanish landscapes of Albéniz to the pyrotechnics of Prokofiev’s Seventh Sonata. Book your seat now!

Classic FM’s Anne-Marie Minhall, says of tonight’s recommended concert:

“The Chinese pianist Lang Lang is feted as a national hero and inspiration to millions of children in his homeland. He performed live at the Beijing Olympics opening ceremony to an estimated worldwide audience of four billion and sells out every venue he’s booked for.” www.thsh.co.uk

Review by Rian Evans, Guardian:


Lang Lang concerts have the ­hallmarks of celebrity: a capacity crowd, a later-than-­advertised start, camera flashes, ­applause in the wrong places, and a young man who lollops and glides like a pop idol. For the Chinese pianist’s only British date of his ­current tour, Lang’s ­performing ­technique was as ­glittering as the ­sequins on his shirt, but his ­programme suggested that ­showmanship may no longer be his highest ­priority. One can only hope. ” …

Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:


…”There was a sold-out audience at Symphony Hall on Thursday vociferously applauding the young Chinese super-pianist Lang Lang, even between movements of Beethoven piano sonatas, but I was left totally cold and in fact indignant at this display of spectacle before substance (and at the discourtesy of a 15-minute late start – any extenuating circumstances, please let me know).”  …

Barenboim plays Beethoven

Staatskapelle Berlin
Daniel Barenboim conductor/piano

Schoenberg Verklärte Nacht 20’
Beethoven Piano Concerto No 5, Emperor 38’

Encore Chopin Nocturne

Few names are more prestigious in music today than that of Daniel Barenboim. A musical colossus and legend in his own lifetime, he is one of the world’s leading pianists and conductors, with barely a corner of musical life that he has not touched in some way. Steeped in Beethoven’s music – arguably its greatest living exponent -Barenboim’s performance of the Emperor Concerto with the Berlin Staatskapelle is eagerly anticipated. www.thsh.co.uk

Review by David Hart, Birmingham Post:


…”More than that it was a triumph, both for Barenboim himself and the remarkable Staatskapelle Berlin he has directed since 1992.

Few string works are more emotionally draining than Schoenberg’s Verklärte Nacht, and as the electrifying opener it seethed wonderfully with transparent multipart textures and solo lines that erupted from the musical cauldron of expressionistic brooding.”  …

Review by Geoff Read, MusicWeb:


…”The first half featured Verklärte Nacht, an early string sextet from Schoenberg, heard here in the later full string version. We saw a mature and relaxed Barenboim, in complete control of the massed forces of the Staatskapelle; there were few histrionics from their Chief Conductor for Life. He’s long had the Tee shirt. Barenboim, prising out some amazing effects I had not experienced before in this piece, vividly recreated the Richard Dehmel text on which the composition is based. The stark opening phrases portrayed Dehmel’s ‘walk through a bare, cold grove’, and reminded me of my own chilly January promenade from train station to auditorium foyer.  …

… Much as the Schoenberg piece was appreciated, it was the second half that the Midlands had come to see and hear – the well-loved Piano Concerto No 5 in Eb Major by Beethoven. All high expectations were fulfilled. No doubt Barenboim has played the Emperor countless times, and many with the Staatskapelle Berlin (catch them together on a DVD live performance) but he made it sound as fresh and vibrant as perhaps he has ever done. The nobility and power of Beethoven were immediately conveyed in the opening Allegro.” …

Review by James Cartledge, Birmingham Mail:


…”The highlight of the evening was, though, without doubt Barenboim at the keyboard for Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No 5, better known as The Emperor.

It was incredible to watch the energetic Barenboim as he combined playing with conducting. ” …