The Year 1913: Ballets Russes

Saturday 16 February 2013 at 7.00pm

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

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Simone Young conductor
James Ehnes violin

Mussorgsky: Khovanshchina – Prelude 6′
Sibelius: Violin Concerto 33′ Listen on Spotify
Debussy: Jeux 19′ Listen on Spotify
Stravinsky: The Firebird – Suite (1911) 26′

 James Ehnes’ encore – Bach – Sonata 3 – Largo

Paris, 1913: and a radical team of composers, artists and dancers ignites a revolution. Welcome to the fabulous world of the Ballets Russes, where Stravinsky paints Russian fairytales in rainbow colours, and Debussy sets a game of tennis to the music of seduction. The inspirational Australian conductor Simone Young makes her Birmingham debut in this gorgeous programme, which begins with Mussorgsky’s serene Moscow dawn and features Birmingham favourite James Ehnes in the fire and ice of Sibelius’s popular Violin Concerto.



Review by John Quinn, MusicWeb, SeenandHeard:

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…     “The Mussorgsky, with its rarified, delicate ambience, proved a shrewd choice as a prelude to the Sibelius Violin Concerto. The Canadian virtuoso, James Ehnes impressed from the start. He has a very natural platform presence, completely devoid of showiness, and his seemingly effortless technique put him in full command of this demanding concerto. So, for example, he was able to bring both dazzle and poetry to the first movement cadenza. His singing tone, especially rich on the G string, was a delight in the wonderful slow movement. Ehnes plays on a 1715 Stradivarius, the so-called ‘Marsick’ violin, and it’s clearly a glorious instrument, especially in his hands. He projected his sound wonderfully, even in the quietest of passages. This account of the slow movement was enthralling from start to finish. Soloist and conductor were at one throughout the concerto but nowhere more so than in the finale, which was given an urgent and exciting reading. As in the first movement, Simone Young made one realise how close to the sound world of the composer’s first two symphonies many of the tutti passages are. Ehnes was superb once again and the contribution of the CBSO was memorable. As an encore Mr Ehnes gave us the Largo from Bach’s Third Violin Sonata. Here sovereign purity of tone was allied to simplicity of style in a marvellous performance that was an ideal foil to the preceding concerto.”     …




Review by David Hart, Birmingham Post:

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…     “With the Sibelius Violin Concerto she was no less considerate, providing a coolly refined opening to the Adagio that contrasted perfectly with the richly enunciated discourse of soloist James Ehnes. For his part Ehnes brought to this much-loved work a finely contoured combination of sweetness and steel, presenting the opening theme as a fully formed entity rather than exploratory quest, and adopting a measured approach to the finale that avoided histrionics and focused on musical integrity – a commendably thoughtful approach.”       *****

Andris Nelsons and Jonas Kaufmann

Wednesday 7 March 2012 at 7.30pm

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

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Andris Nelsons conductor
Jonas Kaufmann tenor

Britten: Four Sea Interludes and Passacaglia (Peter Grimes) 23′ Listen on Spotify
Mahler: Kindertotenlieder 23′
Strauss: Songs (Heimliche Aufforderung, Ruhe, meine Seele, Ich trage meine Minne, Morgen, Caecilie) 17′
Debussy: La mer 23′

Jonas Kaufmann’s encore – Strauss: Zueignung

Once in a generation comes a tenor who goes beyond a glorious voice and superstar charisma, and takes everything he performs to another level. When Jonas Kaufmann sang with Andris Nelsons at the 2010 Bayreuth Festival, one critic described his performance as“sublime”. So we’re thrilled to welcome Kaufmann to Birmingham, to perform the music that he sings better than anyone alive: the songs of Mahler and Strauss. It’s sure to be one of the high points of the season.

Find out what our musicians love about this music – watch music director Andris Nelsons and CBSO violinist David Gregory discussing Debussy’s La mer.

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

Review by Igor Toronyi-Lalic, Arts Desk:

Click here for full review

“There was a lovely narrative to tonight’s CBSO concert. The muggy oppressiveness of Britten’s Four Sea Pictures (and Passacaglia) appeared somehow explained by Mahler’s Kindertotenlieder, then dissolved by the love letters that were the Strauss songs and then finally set free – psychologically and orchestrally – in Debussy’s La Mer. Parallel to this, the great German tenor Jonas Kaufmann was being washed out to sea; his Mahler and Strauss songs were being lapped at from both directions by Debussy and Britten’s portraits of the salty waters. ”     …

Review by Andrew Clements, Guardian:

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…     “Framed by orchestral seascapes – Nelsons began with the Four Sea Interludes and Passacaglia from Britten’s Peter Grimes and ended with a slightly overmoulded account of Debussy’s La Mer – Kaufmann sang Richard Strauss and Mahler. If the group of Strauss’s orchestral songs was straightforward enough – the four from his Op 27, together with Ich Trage meine Minne from Op 32, sung with almost casual ease, unfailingly lustrous tone and effortless beauty of line – the Mahler was much less predictable.”     …

Blog review by Intermezzo:

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…       “As Andris Nelsons plumped the CBSO into a plush cushion of sound behind him, the hall came alive. Kaufmann is a singer at the very top of his game right now, matching outstanding technical gifts with unbound passion for the music. How could anyone sing these songs better? The audience, predictably, erupted at the end – though some couldn’t wait that long and burst into spontaneous applause after a breathtaking Morgen. ”     …

Review by Rian Evans, ClassicalSource:

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…     “While in Morgen! the vision of the sea-shore is couched in terms of idyllic bliss, the works which framed the Mahler and Strauss offered portrayals of the deep full of metaphor and altogether more challenging. This was not the first time that Nelsons has programmed Britten’s Sea Interludes with Debussy’s La mer. The ‘Passacaglia’ was inserted between ‘Moonlight’ and ‘Storm’, which worked remarkably well and not simply because of creating a five-movement sequence to balance the five Rückert settings in the Mahler. The dark and quietly threatening opening to the ‘Passacaglia’, presaging the fatal cliff-fall of the boy John, Grimes’s apprentice, connected it to Kindertotenlieder. Similarly, the clarity with which Nelsons handled the instrumentation – flutes, celesta and the return of Christopher Yates’s haunting viola – at the end set up parallels which would then emerge tellingly in the Mahler. In La mer, the way Nelsons painted the ever-changing seascape had infinite sensitivity as well as stirring drama. The CBSO musicians responded with passionate dedication.”

Blog review by Andrew, Devil’sTrill:

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…     “Britten’s Four Sea Interludes from Peter Grimes (plus the Passacaglia, cleverly inserted before the final interlude) were perhaps a little tentative at times, but Debussy’s La Mer at the other end of the concert was the real standout. Conductor Andris Nelsons imparts a flexibility on the music only attainable by a conductor with the total attention of their orchestra: Nelsons certainly has that. ”     …

Review by Fiona Maddocks, The Observer:

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…     “This particular song, “Ruhe, meine Seele!” (Rest my soul!), opens on a discord and swells into a tempestuous dark night of the soul before finding uneasy calm. The German tenor Jonas Kaufmann, who attracted a capacity audience from far and wide for his Birmingham debut with the CBSO and conductor Andris Nelsons, poured his energies into this tiny psychodrama and delivered liquid gold – the only way, if hyperbolic, to describe the glistening, superlatively controlled, dark-hued tone which has made him an international superstar.”     …

Review by Geoff Read, MusicWeb -SeenandHeard:

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…     “On this occasion the balanced programme gave equal prominence to both orchestra and soloist and it was the CBSO that opened proceedings with Britten’s Four Sea Interludes & Passacaglia from Peter Grimes. Nelsons conducting Britten was a new experience for me (it will be interesting to see what he makes of the impending performance of the War Requiem at Coventry as part of the Cathedral’s Golden Jubilee celebrations on May 30th). Britten was an outstanding creator of musical images and Nelsons and the CBSO painted many vivid pictures of a bleak East Anglian coast in my mind. In addition to an impression of the first light of day rippling over the North Sea waves, my overriding sensation of Dawn was of the Borough community – fishermen, cold and wet, at the start of yet another day’s hard graft. Sunday Morning contrasted those who were dutifully off to save their souls and others for whom there could be no day of rest. The shafts of light darting through the clouds were graphically portrayed in Moonlight, a heaviness and building of tension that reflected the mood of protagonist Grimes. The Passacaglia further concentrated my focus on this troubled character as the solo viola of Christopher Yates gave sensitive voice to the apprentice. The violent and unexpected turns of Britten’s Storm were galvanised by Nelsons using the full forces of the CBSO; I recalled Grimes’ line What harbour shelters peace?”     …


Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:

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…        “Mahler’s Kindertotenlieder, a rarity for tenors, drew disembodied, baritonal timbres from Kaufman [sic], only rarely flowering into tenorial fulsomeness at phrases of the deepest exaltation in these ‘Songs on the Death of Children’; the remarkable acoustic permits such withdrawn tones even when accompanied by a large orchestra (though scoring often has the sparsity of chamber music).

Under Andris Nelsons, with whom Kaufman made his Bayreuth debut in Lohengrin in 2010, the CBSO played with a brittle refinement, burgeoning into consolation where necessary.”       … ***** 

Duruflé’s Requiem

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Wednesday 22 February 2012 at 7.30pm

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

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Simon Halsey conductor
Karen Cargill mezzo-soprano
Benedict Nelson baritone
Robert Johnston harp
CBSO Youth Chorus

Ravel: Introduction and Allegro 11′
Fauré: Cantique de Jean Racine 5′
Satie (orch. Debussy): Gymnopédie No. 1 3′
Franck: Panis Angelicus 4′ Listen on Spotify
Satie (orch. Debussy): Gymnopédie No. 3 3′
Fauré: Pavane Op.50 6′
Debussy: Danse Sacrée et Danse Profane 9′
Duruflé: Requiem 41′ Listen on Spotify

Maurice Duruflé’s Requiem – written to console the living – is drenched in pastel colours and haunting melodies. If you like Fauré’s Requiem, we think you’ll fall in love with Duruflé’s exquisite homage. It’s the loveliest blossom in a perfumed bouquet of French miniatures: from the delicate grace of Fauré and Satie, to the sensuous beauty of Debussy and Ravel, this is an evening to savour.

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


Review by David Hart, Birmingham Post:

Click here for full review

…     “Duruflé’s ‘Requiem’ was a challenging choice for these young singers, but one they rose to and accomplished with considerable aplomb. In fact, hearing this lovely work sung with such tonal openness and clarity of utterance made it sound almost newly minted.

It was certainly not a typical ‘youth choir’ performance, but an often beautiful one – the Agnus Dei, Domine Jesu Christe (Benedict Nelson the fine baritone soloist) and ascending-to-heaven In Paradisum were particularly memorable – with, in the Sanctus and ‘Dies illa, dies irae,’ moments of thrilling drama. And mezzo Karen Cargill (with cellist Ulrich Heinen) gave us a Pie Jesu as gorgeous and sensual as a love duet.”     …

Images of 1912

Thursday 9 February 2012 at 7.30pm

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

 City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Edward Gardner conductor
Ingrid Fliter piano

Bartók: Four Orchestral Pieces 22′
Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 3 34′
Debussy: Images 35′

Ingrid Fliter’s encore –

It’s all about colour. In 1912, Debussy swapped the piano for the orchestra, and created a whole new universe of sound. Dreams of Spain, the sensual awakening of spring and even an English folk song- they all found their way into the glowing impressionist landscape of Images. CBSO principal guest conductor Edward Gardner creates Debussy’s world anew, and shows how, over in Hungary, Béla Bartók was just as much in love with ravishing orchestral colours. Rising Argentinean star Ingrid Fliter takes the spotlight in Beethoven’s darkest piano concerto.

Duke Bluebeard’s Castle


Fri 21 Oct 7:30pm at Symphony Hall

Philharmonia Orchestra
Esa-Pekka Salonen conductor
Sir John Tomlinson Bluebeard
Michelle DeYoung Judith
Juliet Stevenson narrator
Nick Hillel director

Debussy Prélude à L’Après-midi d’un faune 10’
Janáček Sinfonietta 23’
Bartók Duke Bluebeard’s Castle (semi-staged) 60’

Please note Measha Brueggergosman will be replaced by Michelle DeYoung.

Fresh from last year’s breathtaking Tristan und Isolde, Esa-Pekka Salonen and the Philharmonia celebrate their return to Symphony Hall with the blazing fanfares of Janácek’s sunny Sinfonietta. But then we step into the darkness of Bluebeard’s castle for a world premiere production: a groundbreaking video installation transforms the Hall into the lair of one of classical music’s greatest villains. Sir John Tomlinson plays the formidable duke whose new bride discovers shocking secrets hidden behind seven doors, each evoked by Bartók’s spine-tingling score.

BBC Music magazine’s Editor, Oliver Condy, recommends tonight’s concert: “Bartók’s great psychological thriller is high up on my list of works that I’d encourage first-time opera-goers to give a try. A gripping evening awaits…” 

Article on Sir John Tomlinson, by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:
“It was growing up in the heart of industrial Britain which steered one of the great Wagnerians of our time to a career in music.” …

Read More:


Article about the production by Jessica Duchen, Independent:


Philharmonia players blog about Duke Bluebeard’s Castle:

The Making of Bartok’s Duke Bluebeard’s Castle: 


Review by Andrew Clements, Guardian:


…     “The parade of images – weeping walls, bloodstained jewels, luxuriant blooms and a final sad parade of the silhouettes of Bluebeard’s former wives – is fine as far as it goes, but entirely superfluous when the performance is as good as it was here. Salonen conjured every orchestral colour from the Philharmonia with tremendous panache – the huge C major climax at the opening of the fifth door was sumptuous – while DeYoung and Tomlinson focused the drama superbly, she a wonderful mix of naivety and obsession, he remarkable in his portrait of cruel implacability and sheer, despairing loneliness.”


Review by Elmley de la Cour, Birmingham Post:


…     “But musically it was excellent. Michelle DeYoung dealt nimbly with Judith’s declamatory lines.

John Tomlinson’s Hungarian sounded wonderful, and, shrouded in his cloak, was every inch the mysterious, tortured duke.

Esa-Pekka Salonen navigated clearly through the work’s abounding details, and the orchestra played well for him, particularly the phalanx of strings.”     …


Review by Christopher Thomas, SeenandHeard MusicWeb:


…     “Nick Hiller’s production and dramatic visuals proved to be nothing short of a triumph, enthralling totally from the very start, whilst it is well nigh impossible to imagine a more chilling, atmospheric and powerful performance than that given by Sir John Tomlinson, Michelle DeYoung and the forces of the Philharmonia. With the production now set to go on tour, this is a Bluebeard not to be missed.”

The Organ Symphony

Thursday 5 May 2011 at 7.30pm

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

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Jun Märkl conductor
Sergio Tiempo piano
Thomas Trotter organ

Debussy: Le martyre de Saint Sébastien – Symphonic fragments 21′
Ravel: Piano Concerto in G Major 21′
Saint-Saëns: Symphony No. 3 (Organ) 34′

Sergio Tiempo’s Encore – Ginastera

You might have heard it in the film Babe, but trust us – when the mighty Symphony Hall organ crashes in at the end of Saint-Saëns’s Organ Symphony, and the CBSO’s trumpets raise the roof, you won’t be thinking about talking pigs! Few symphonies finish in such thrilling style, and with the full CBSO joined by Birmingham City Organist Thomas Trotter, one thing’s for sure: this concert is going to end with a bang. To whet the appetite, French music expert Jun Märkl dishes up a pair of very different French delights: Ravel’s deliciously jazzy Piano Concerto, with rising star Sergio Tiempo, and the latest landmark in the CBSO’s 10-year 2020 project – Debussy’s ultra-sensuous Symphonic Fragments.

Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:

…     “Acoustic chamber-doors wide open, and Thomas Trotter’s experienced rasping at the fabulous Symphony Hall organ added to the impact of this memorable performance.

Not, though, to eclipse the scintillating account of Ravel’s G major Piano Concerto, with Sergio Tiempo the deft soloist.”     …

Sir James Galway 70th Birthday Recital

Sir James Galway flute
Lady Jeanne Galway flute
Michael McHale piano

Hamilton Harty In Ireland
Debussy La fille aux cheveux de lin
Debussy En Bateau
P Taffanel Fantasie Sur Mignon
Bazzini La Ronde des Lutins
Briccialdi Carnival of Venice
Pietro Morlacchi Il Pastore Svizzero
K & F Doppler Rigoletto Fantasie for two flutes & piano
F Borne Carmen Fantasie

Plus Teddy Bear’s Picnic, Three Irish Folk Songs, Danny Boy, Flight of the Bumble Bee….

James Galway exudes a leprechaun-like energy and youthful sense of fun, with an unstoppable passion for communicating with audiences. His concert with his wife, Lady Jeanne Galway, ranges from the simple Irish lyricism of Hamilton Harty through to the virtuosic fireworks of the Carmen Fantasie.

Classic FM’s Anne-Marie Minhall, says of tonight’s recommended concert: “The man with the golden flute remains one of the best-known names in classical music. His solo career spans thirty-five years and more than thirty million album sales worldwide.”

Sir James & Lady Jeanne Galway appear by arrangement with Galway Management

Review by  Maggie Cotton, Birmingham Post:

“Irrepressible as always, the ever-youthful Sir James Galway pulled in a full crowd to help along his 70th birthday celebrations this year. Of all artistes he is one who immediately engages with his audience, presenting a wide-ranging programme with quick wit and Irish charm.” …..