Shostakovich’s Fifteenth

Wednesday 9th March, 7.30pm

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra


  • Borodin  Prince Igor – Polovtsian Dances , 14′
  • Osvaldo Golijov  Azul (UK premiere) , 25′
  • Shostakovich  Symphony No. 15, 42′

An opera that launched a pop song, a symphony out of time, and a new rhapsody in blue… The young Birmingham conductor Alpesh Chauhan has a flair for fantasy, and this concert is drenched in it, from Borodin’s Polovtsian Dances (think Stranger in Paradise) to the mysterious clocks that tick through the dying bars of Shostakovich’s last symphony. The CBSO’s own Eduardo Vassallo gives the UK premiere of Osvaldo Golijov’s lush, baroque-inspired Azul..

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Review by Richard Bratby, TheArtsDesk:

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…     “As for Azul itself, it’s a 30-minute, single-movement arc for solo cello and an orchestra augmented by accordion, exotic percussion and occasional eerie touches of electronics. Golijov’s notion, apparently, is to “evoke the majesty of certain Baroque adagios”, with the cello less a virtuoso soloist than a leading voice, and the extra instruments serving as a kind of continuo section. In practice, this meant stretches of lush, harmonically static music broken by jagged, gradually building rhythmic ostinatos, fading at length to a horn-coloured sunset and a long, sliding final sigh.

Eduardo Vassallo - photo by Upstream PhotographyVassallo played with a sweet, glowing tone and evident commitment in music that didn’t sound particularly grateful for the cello (Golijov cites Berlioz’s Harold in Italy as a model). The lyrical opening section seemed to work best, making an effect somewhere between Tavener’s The Protecting Veil and one of those “Rainforest Moods” relaxation CDs they sell at garden centres. The audience gave it a standing ovation – almost unheard of at a CBSO concert.

But then, that was the spirit of the evening. Chauhan had set the mood with a flying, joyously balletic account of the Polovtsian Dances: springy, vividly colourful and delivered without a trace of self-indulgence. And laughter ran through the audience as he stepped down to adjust Vassallo’s music stand before Azul. “I was his student – some things never change,” he explained. As a product of Birmingham’s schools music service and a former cellist in the CBSO Youth Orchestra, this was something of a homecoming gig for Chauhan, and the warmth in the hall was genuine.

But that can’t account for the impression that Chauhan has made in recent seasons with orchestras as far apart as Scotland, Finland and Italy; nor is it enough to explain the sense of atmosphere and quiet power that he generated in Shostakovich’s Fifteenth Symphony.”     …



Review by John Quinn, SeenandHeard, MusicWeb:

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…     “For this UK premiere the solo part was played by the CBSO’s long-serving (since 1989) Argentinian principal cellist, Eduardo Vassallo. By a pleasing piece of symmetry Alpesh Chauhan, himself a cellist, is a sometime pupil of Mr. Vassallo, as he amusingly reminded the audience while helping his soloist to adjust his music stand before the performance began. (“I was his student: some things never change.”)

The work, which played for about 27 minutes in this performance, is in one continuous movement but divided into two sections. In the opening paragraphs the music was slow-moving and included long, high, soulful melodic lines for the soloist. The percussionists and the accordion supported the soloist with ear-tickling sounds; certainly Golijov’s sound palette is ingenious. I may be wrong but it seemed to me that for long stretches of the work Chauhan’s beat was largely a moderate 4/4, suggesting that Golijov does not here rely on frequent changes of metre, as is so often the case in contemporary music. But even if the pulse was fairly regular there was still considerable interest in the writing. At times, when the orchestral accompaniment had swelled to quite a significant level there seemed to me to be a Latin American feel to the music which I couldn’t quite identify. After the performance the penny dropped when my guest said he had detected a (benign) infludence of Villa Lobos. I agree, though the influence may not have been deliberate.

The second section began quietly with more sustained and intense lyrical writing for the soloist, this time against a rhythmically irregular accompaniment among the orchestral strings. Gradually the music grew in power and suggested to me a threnody. After a short cadenza-like passage for the soloist a remarkable passage of fast, vigorous music began. This was played by the soloist and the obbligato group. The soloist’s music was energetic in the extreme but it was the percussionists who really caught the eye –and the ear. They impelled the music forward with tremendously vital rhythms, deploying the full range of their assembly of instruments. At several points one of the percussionists was required to contribute wordless vocalizations. It was both fascinating and exciting to witness – I’m not entirely sure the section would have quite the same impact if experienced just through an audio recording. Eventually the orchestra joined in the frenetic dance. Then the music slowed and the accompaniment became quiet and warm though the cellist’s lines seemed plaintive. During the remaining minutes of the piece the music glowed though eventually Golijov introduced more dissonance, albeit not in an aggressive fashion. The piece reached its conclusion amid a welter of glissandi from the soloist and orchestra which gradually faded into silence.”     …


Review by Clive Peacock, BachTrack:

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…     “Responsibility for compiling this vast array of instruments, including cajon, dumbek, darabuka, djembe and waterphone falls to Aidy Spillett, percussion section leader, who shot to prominence in 1998 as winner of the BBC Young Musician prize, later to become director of the vibrant, exciting percussion quartet 4-MALITY.

Golijov’s five part composition opened with flautist Marie-Christine Zupancic accompanying a strong cello lead before the introduction of the high-powered percussion unit positioned close to the conductor, whilst the double basses provided an ethereal contribution from a concentric arc positioned close to the choir stalls and behind the wind section. Vassalo demonstrated exceptional concentration in the blissfully played Silencia, the longest part, supported by extraordinarily sensitive interpretations of moods by the percussionists, accompanied by accordion player, Mark Bousie. During this part, conductor Chauhan was happy to put his baton down to allow the sublime cello sound to float above the clever innovative percussion before regaining control with a full orchestral flourish. Strings played ricochet with bows in the left hand and downward glissandi with the right, serving to produce high energy waves calling to alien life occurring beyond the Symphony Hall’s entranced audience. Chauhan, Vassallo and the Spillett team received the well-deserved standing ovation from many moved by the remarkable earthling performance.

Quotations from Rossini and Wagner litter Shostakovich’s Fifteenth Symphony. Extracts from the William Tell overture and fate leitmotivs from Die Walküre and Siegfried signal a premonition to listeners, written just four years before the composer’s death. Chauhan has a wonderful feel for the music, dispensing with his baton to rely on hand movements to do his bidding. This he achieves most spectacularly in the third movement as first the violins and, later, the brass sections combine with the percussion unit to produce a sharp scherzo. With Wagner leitmotivs again evident in the last movement, Chauhan contrived to bring this puzzling symphony to a delicate, yet very competently delivered conclusion.”


Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:

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…     “Borodin’s evocative Polovtsian Dances conjured all their accustomed magic under Alpesh Chauhan’s balletic (not for nothing has he worked closely with Andris Nelsons) conducting, sculpting vibrant colours from the CBSO, and knowing when not to over-conduct. If the opening was paced a little hectically, the players coped well.

Then came the much-awaited UK premiere of Osvaldo Golijov’s Azul for cello and orchestra, ten years after it came into the world in Tanglewood, Massachusetts — a long delay. And it’s understandable why, with the work’s extravagant percussion contingent and its detailed demands concerning orchestral layout.

None of which were observed here, despite the many paragraphs devoted to it in Boosey and Hawkes’ unhelpful programme-note, which also failed to explain the meaning of the title.

Eduardo Vassallo was the committed, hard-working soloist, crossing a million miles across his strings, his cello singing a song which found its deliverance in a wonderful extended cadenza with a group of continuo percussionists placed close by (the only concession to the layout stipulations).”     …


Review by Andrew Clements, Guardian:

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…     “The performance, though, was a fine one. The cello soloist was the CBSO’s principal Eduardo Vassallo, and the orchestra’s assistant conductor Alpesh Chauhan, who began his musical career in the CBSO Youth Orchestra, took charge. Russian music provided the frame: Borodin’s Polovtsian Dances, from the opera Prince Igor, and Shostakovich’s final, death-haunted symphony, the 15th, in which Chauhan caught the edge of sardonic humour and bleakness perfectly – even if he made the finale’s puttering close a bit more prosaic than it ought to be.”

Weller Conducts Strauss and Brahms

Thursday 30th October 2014 at 7.30pm

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

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Walter Weller  conductor
Eduardo Vassallo  cello
Christopher Yates  viola

Strauss: Don Quixote 40′
Brahms: Symphony No. 1 45′
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We are very sorry to announce that Andris Nelsons has had to withdraw at very short notice from this week’s concerts, Nelsons conducts Strauss and Brahms, due to unforeseen personal circumstances. We are very grateful to Walter Weller who has agreed to take his place.

Battling windmills, flying horses and a very angry herd of sheep… Richard Strauss’s warm-hearted take on the tale of Don Quixote is one of music’s all-time comic masterpieces. Brahms’s First Symphony is made of sterner stuff – but it still tells an epic story of tragedy and hope, crowned by one of the noblest tunes ever written.

The annual Patrons’ Reception takes place afetr this concert. For information, contact Claire Watts on 0121 616 6533.

If you like this concert, you might also like:
Spirit of 1945, Wednesday 19th November
Brahms and Beethoven, Wednesday 25th March & Saturday 28th March
Schubert, Strauss and Dvorak, Thursday 11th June



Review by Peter Marks, Bachtrack:

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…     “The orchestra played handsomely for him and the opening of Strauss’ tone poem showed off many of their fine qualities: creamy, deft woodwind playing and sumptuous-toned strings. This was a measured opening, building slowly to the introduction’s dissonant climax at the moment when Don Quixote “loses his sanity after reading novels about knights, and decides to become a kinght-errant”. From this point in the music, Cervantes’ metamorphosed protagonist is represented by a solo cello.

Soloist, Eduardo Vassallo’s portrayal of Don Quixote was everything it should be: noble and earnest in character. Vassallo was soon joined on his journey by solo violist, Christopher Yates, taking on the character of Sancho Panza, Don Quixote’s witless neighbour who agrees to be his squire along the way. Yates’ playing was very fine indeed and it seems a shame to me that the solo violist tends to remain tucked away in the tutti viola section while the cello soloist occupies the chair of a concerto soloist. There is no doubting, however, that the cellist has much the greater part to play in this piece. There was always a strong sense of collaboration between the two players, despite their geographical separation.

There were fine solos from leader Laurence Jackson and Rainer Gibbons, principal oboist, too.”     …



Review by John Quinn, MusicWeb, SeenandHeard:

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…     “The CBSO helpfully print in their programmes their performing history of some of the works they play and it was evident from the information about Don Quixote that they’ve quite often performed the work using their principals in the solo roles rather than importing a star cellist. Bravo for that: it’s what Strauss intended. So this evening we had the CBSO’s principal cellist and violist centre stage; indeed, I noted that the last time the orchestra played the work – in 2008 – Eduardo Vassallo and Christopher Yates were the soloists, as they were tonight. Both impressed me. Yates was the principal, though not sole, voice of Sancho Panza. His is not as prominent a role as that of the Don but his contributions were characterful, not least in Variation III, the ‘Conversation between the knight and his squire’.

 The cellist is much more to the fore, though often Strauss’s writing requires him to be more of a primus inter pares within the opulent orchestral textures.  Vassallo played very well indeed. I especially admired his eloquent ruminations in the fifth variation, ‘The knight’s vigil’, where he displayed lovely tone and fine feeling. In the finale Strauss portrays the final regretful musings of his hero, followed by his death. Here Vassalo played the quintessential Straussian melody at the start most expressively and as the work drew to its close he managed the Don’s demise excellently.

 If Vassallo and Yates garnered the main plaudits it should be said also that a good number of their CBSO colleagues grasped most effectively the opportunity for characterful solos and none more so than leader, Laurence Jackson.”     …

El Ultimo Tango

Saturday 26 June 2010 at 7.30pm

CBSO Centre, Birmingham +44 (0)121 767 4050

Eduardo Vassallo  cello
Mark O’Brien  saxophone
Nicolas Bricht  flute  – on this occasion José Zalba
Mark Goodchild  double bass
Fred Lezama Thomas  piano – on this occasion John Turville

Including traditional Argentinean tangos, the world premiere of Fiesta de Marionetas by Sonia Possetti, and of course, the music of Astor Piazzolla.

The CBSO’s acclaimed nuevo tango group hasn’t been resting on its laurels. Tonight we welcome them back to CBSO Centre with an all-new programme spanning the whole history of the Tango, and inspired by the music of Buenos Aires legend – and personal friend of CBSO cellist Eduardo Vassallo – Astor Piazzolla. Aficionados of this remarkable group will know what to expect, but it’s never too soon to discover their high-voltage blend of passion, sophistication and dazzling virtuoso playing.

“Bell arte del Tango”

Libertango – A. Piazzolla

La Cumparsita – G. Matos Rodriguez

Los Mareados – J.C. Cobian

Preludio – A. Piazzolla

Primavera – A. Piazzolla

Verano – A. Piazzolla

Histoire du Tango – Café 1930 – A. Piazzolla

Adios Nonino – A. Piazzolla


Mundo de Marionetas (World Premiere) – Sonia Possetti

Fiesta de Marionetas (World Premiere) – Sonia Possetti

Sur – A. Troilo

Taconeando – P. Maffia

Histoire du Tango – Night Club 1960 – A. Piazzolla

Milonga del Angel – A. Piazzolla

Muerte del Angel – A. Piazzolla

Resureccion del Angel – A. Piazzolla

Symphonic Dances II

Thursday 10 December 2009 at 7.30pm

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

Kristjan Järvi  conductor
Tim Garland  saxophone
Eduardo Vassallo  cello

Ginastera: Estancia 14′
Garland: Double Concerto (world premiere) 25′
Bernstein: West Side Story: Symphonic Dances 24′
Ravel: Daphnis and Chloé – Suite No. 2 18′

Dynamic conductor Kristjan Järvi brings his love of jazz and classical music together in a highly charged programme that’s intoxicated by dance rhythms. Ravel’s sensual ballet and Bernstein’s New York teen take on Romeo and Juliet are both classics of the repertoire. Ginastera’s earthy ballet is also a riot of Argentine colour, and provides an appropriate prelude to Acoustic Triangle member and leading jazz composer Tim Garland’s new concerto, composed for him and the CBSO’s cello section leader, and paying tribute to the dance rhythms of the latter’s native Argentina.

Encore – Ginastra

Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:

“…But those who stayed away from Thursday’s CBSO concert missed a wonderful display of exuberance and orchestral virtuosity under the kinetic baton of Kristjan Jarvi,  …   Riches came with the Symphonic Dances from Bernstein’s West Side Story, awash with colour, zestful in delivery, and oozing with every kind of emotion.   …”

Review by Geoff Brown, Times:

“…Järvi’s jiggling baton spurred fire and precision. Fingers clicked; the players shouted “Mambo!” Best of the best was Ravel’s second Daphnis et Chloé suite, which proceeded from daybreak to paroxysm with the atmospheric lustre and bloom of an orchestra happy on its home turf.”