Elgar’s Cello Concerto

with Bergen Philharmonic and Edward Gardner

Tuesday 17th January, 2017 – 7:30pm

Artists

Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra
 
Edward Gardnerconductor
Truls Mørkcello

Programme

GriegPeer Gynt Suite No 1
ElgarCello Concerto
WaltonSymphony No 1

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Truls Mørk’s encore – Bach –

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

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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.

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Steven Osborne: Beethoven

Symphony Hall, Birmingham
Thursday 22nd September, 2016, 7.30pm

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Programme

  • Beethoven Egmont: Overture, 8′
  • Beethoven  Piano Concerto No. 1, 37′
  • Butterworth  A Shropshire Lad , 11′
  • Walton Symphony No. 2, 27′

Steven Osborne’s encore – Beethoven Bagatelle op.
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No-one conducts British music with more eloquence and flair than Edward Gardner, who tonight rediscovers two very different twentieth century masterpieces: Walton’s sparkling, neglected Second Symphony and – 100 years since Butterworth’s death on the Somme – the heartbreaking A Shropshire Lad. First though, another treasure of British music, pianist and CBSO Artist in Residence Steven Osborne, brings all his poetry and power to Beethoven’s exuberant First Concerto.

 

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Review by Richard Ely, Bachtrack:

Click here for full review

…    Even in as fine a performance as this one under Edward Gardner, it was easy to hear why this relatively brief (under half an hour) but richly textured work has struggled to be heard. Although displaying all Walton’s acknowledged gifts for orchestration, the absence of instantly memorable themes (‘pop’ music, if you like) and a passacaglia finale that seems merely repetitious on first hearing can make the symphony seem more a virtuoso exercise in style than a work of depth and feeling. But for anyone familiar with the piece, there was no doubting that Gardner had the measure of it. This was a performance that galvanised all sections of the CBSO, reaching a peak of expressiveness in the central Lento assai movement – considered by Michael Kennedy to be a character study of Cressida, the mercenary courtesan from Walton’s contemporaneous opera Troilus and Cressida – where the violins and the woodwind created an inspired body of sound that was both seductive and sinister. Anyone with more than a glancing acquaintance with this score would have been delighted by such an exciting performance. Judging from their faces at the end, both conductor and orchestra felt they’d pulled off quite a coup!

Dating from immediately before the First World War, Butterworth’s ‘rhapsody for orchestra’ A Shropshire Lad is an altogether more approachable work, an evocation of the English countryside of the kind we are perhaps over-familiar with from the contemporaneous likes of Moeran and Delius. But this was a fine, sensitive performance of a difficult to programme piece, an evocation of the Housman cycle of poems which Butterworth had earlier set to music. Most of the burden of the work falls on the strings and woodwinds, whose reiteration of the rhapsody’s defining Dorian motif was powerfully expressive.”     …

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Review by Ivan Hewitt, Telegraph:

Click here for full review (scroll down)

…     “The conductor was Ed Gardner, a longtime favourite guest conductor of the orchestra, who has a way of bringing out the best in the players. The opening chords of Egmont were brusque as well as stern, and the answering plaintive phrases in the woodwind were beautifully shaped. One had the sense of the music labouring under a massive weight, eventually thrown off in the joyous final minutes, where it seems as though tyranny has been banished for ever.

Steven Osborne, pianist in Beethoven’s first piano concerto, gave a similar sense of throwing caution to the wind. He can be the most fastidious and careful of pianists, and what made this performance so thrilling was that these qualities lived side-by-side with reckless daring-do. The cadenza of the first movement (that’s the moment where the soloist gets a chance to spin some virtuoso solo fantasies on the melodies) was especially telling. With ostentatious cleverness, it combined things we’d already heard, then seemed to invite the orchestra to join back in, and then unexpectedly went back to the first melody but in the wrong key. It was gruffly humorous in a properly Beethovenian way, but who composed it? I suspect it was Osborne himself.

After all that blazing Enlightenment optimism and Olympian laughter, the gentle nostalgia of George Butterworth’s Rhapsody on his own A Shropshire Lad might have seemed a terrible come-down. In fact the performance was so beautifully shaped, the lovely opening phrase from clarinetists Oliver Janes and Joanna Paton so tenderly evocative of a long-lost summer afternoon, that one didn’t mind the lowering of the emotional temperature.”     …

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Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:

Click here for full review

…     “Steven Osborne, this season’s CBSO artist-in-residence, was soloist, bringing a Mozartean clarity of articulation combined with well-coloured pedalling, and there was a wonderful fluidity of phrasing from all concerned. Particularly memorable were the magical soundworld of the Largo, with the pearly elaboration of Osborne’s filigree, and the twilit conclusion of the finale, spoilt only by Beethoven’s own noisy shooting himself in the foot.

George Butterworth’s Rhapsody: A Shropshire Lad was a poignant reminder that a century ago the Battle of the Somme was raging, and that indeed the composer himself had been killed during its course. During his tragically short life Butterworth made quite a mark on the English musical scene, and this account revealed how much parts of Holst’s Planets owe to the composer, with Oliver Janes’s solo clarinet singing regretfully over the shimmering nostalgia of the strings, aching and yearning.

The zippy urgency with which Walton’s Second Symphony opens provided quite a contrast under Gardner’s energising conducting, sympathetic as well to the dappled, sunlit timbres which link the work to the contemporaneous Cello Concerto.

In the Lento Assai Walton gives us one of the greatest slow movements ever penned by an Englishman in any format, its gorgeous outpouring of melody caressed so fervently by a willing, alert CBSO responding to this remarkable conductor.”

 

 

Welcoming Mirga

Welcoming Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla

Friday 26th August, 2016, 7.30pm

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Programme

  • Mozart The Magic Flute: Overture, 7′
  • Abrahamsen let me tell you, 30′
  • Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 4, 44′
A new era in Birmingham music – and Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla opens her first concert as Osborn Music Director with the overture to Mozart’s joyous fable of hope and renewal. Tchaikovsky’s passionate autobiography of a Fourth Symphony and a set of magical, Shakespeare-inspired songs performed by one of the world’s most adventurous living sopranos complete Birmingham’s most eagerly anticipated concert of 2016.
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Encore – Tchaikovsky – Sleeping Beauty, final variation and coda. 

Sponsored by

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Review by David Hart, Birmingham Post:

Click here for full review

…     “The sense of occasion was almost palpable. Even Mozart’s Magic Flute overture fizzed and sparkled with a clarity and subtlety we rarely hear in such a well-worn opener. And at the end of the programme Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4 transcended its fanfare opening to develop into something of a musical quest, lovingly and elegantly sculptured by this remarkable young conductor (strings wonderfully effulgent, woodwind singing with nostalgia), which, after characterful middle movements, concluded in a glorious peroration of life-affirming joy. 

An even more impressive vehicle for Gražinytė-Tyla’s musicianship and technique was Hans Abrahamsen’s Shakespeare-inspired 30-minute vocal monologue ‘let me tell you’ for soprano (the stunningly brilliant Barbara Hannigan, who has made the work her own). […]

[…]     So – has the CBSO at last found a worthy successor to Andris Nelsons? You bet they have. In just one evening we witnessed exactly what the Mirga magic can do. And this is just the start. “

*****

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Review by Andrew Clements, Guardian:

Click here for full review

…     “The drama that had been latent in the performance of the overture erupted in Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony in the second half of the concert. Technically, it was impeccable – it may be a standard repertory piece, which the CBSO has played under Nelsons and his predecessor Sakari Oramo, but this was just that bit more vivid than usual, more generously characterised in every detail. Gražinytė-Tyla seems to have that precious conductor’s knack of allowing players all the expressive freedom they want, while still being able to shape every aspect of a performance in exactly the way she wants.

The bewitching centrepiece of the evening was a repeat performance of one of the most remarkable works the CBSO has introduced in many years. In 2014, Nelsons conducted the UK premiere of Let Me Tell You, Hans Abrahamsen’s spellbinding song cycle, with a text by Paul Griffiths, taken from his novel of the same name, itself woven around the character and words of Ophelia in Shakespeare’s Hamlet.”     …

*****

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Review by John Quinn, SeenandHeard, MusicWeb:

Click here for full review

…     “As for Barbara Hannigan’s singing, it was quite astonishing. Abrahamsen makes demands on his soloist that are almost unreasonable at times – though Miss Hannigan was closely involved in the composition process, I understand. Every challenge, not least those which involved the extreme registers of her voice, was met with compete assurance. There are many things that I admire about this work but one of them is the nature of the writing for the voice. Abrahamsen requires his soloist to deploy quite a number of vocal effects during the piece. However, unlike many contemporary composers, at no time does he expect his soloist to do anything other than sing. In other words, there’s nothing outlandish or ugly in the vocal writing.

Barbara Hannigan displayed extraordinary control and technical accomplishment during this performance. Furthermore, this was a performance that engaged totally both with the music and with the audience. Part II is the section of the work that uses the largest orchestral forces and there were a number of times when the accompaniment rather drowned the soloist – that’s not a criticism of the orchestra, by the way. Part III is simply spellbinding, the music slow-moving and rapt. This is music of the utmost refinement and eloquence and it received here a performance that was completely worthy of Hans Abrahamsen’s extraordinary musical imagination. The whole of let me tell you is a wonderfully imaginative creation but the invention and inspiration reaches a peak in Part III. It was a tribute to the quality of both the music and the performance that the audience was clearly absorbed in the performance. Both Hans Abrahamsen and Paul Griffiths were present and they, as well as the performers, were most warmly applauded. let me tell you is an extraordinary score and I was thrilled to experience it live. My only hope is that now that Barbara Hannigan has so successfully launched the work other sopranos will take it up so that it establishes the secure pace in the repertoire that it deserves.    […]

[…]    

The finale, taken attacca, was as fast and brilliant as I’d expected. But to describe the performance simply in those terms would be grossly unfair for amid the festivities there was further evidence of this conductor’s attention to detail. One example occurred within the first couple of minutes where the woodwind have a succession of chords, each marked with a crescendo. Each and every one of these crescendi was individually cared for by Miss Gražinytė-Tyla. It sounds like a small point but it isn’t; these chords can go for nothing – or very little – in the excitement of performance but here they made their mark yet without any feeling of exaggeration. The performance as a whole was thrilling and when the ‘Fate’ motif returned the theme blazed out from the CBSO’s brass section – which was on collectively fine form throughout the evening. The ending was exhilarating as Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla whipped the orchestra to an electrifying conclusion.

Predictably this superb performance was greeted by a huge ovation and after several minutes of highly enthusiastic applause Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla emerged once more onto the stage but instead of coming back to the podium she climbed the risers at the back of the stage, picked up the music stand in front of one of the CBSO’s percussionists and led him, triangle in hand, to a much more prominent position on the platform from where he proceeded to play a key role in the short, witty encore which I couldn’t initially identify but now understand – thanks to the comment sent in below – was from Tchaikovsky’s Sleeping Beauty.

I have to report that Miss Gražinytė-Tyla then faced a first-night mutiny. The orchestra resolutely refused her requests to stand, insisting instead that she should take a bow by herself. This gesture suggested that the orchestra has already formed a strong relationship with their new music director but, frankly, that was evident throughout the evening in performances of commitment, skill and freshness. The orchestra repeats this programme at the Proms on Saturday 27 August. It will be broadcast live on Radio 3 and recorded for television transmission in early September so a much wider audience will get an early chance to experience this new musical partnership in action.

So, the Mirga Era has been well and truly launched in Birmingham. Buckle up: I think we’re in for an exciting ride.”

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Reviews for BBC Prom 55 27th August, 2016- same programme as at Symphony Hall:-

Review by Mark Pullinger, BachTrack:

Click here for full review

…     “And what a landscape Abrahamsen paints, clusters of microtones over the soft tread of xylophone ostinatos, silvery piccolo shards of glass and spectral high violins. Glockenspiel, celesta and harp daub their icy tintinnabulations, while paper is grazed over the skin of the bass drum. Even if Hannigan’s words did not always carry across the Royal Albert Hall’s difficult acoustic, under Gražinytė-Tyla’s hypnotic beat, the music entranced.

The interpretation of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony no. 4 in F minor was full of thought and incident. The fateful opening fanfares were crisply delivered – with meticulous care over dynamics – and the development section was lovingly caressed, although momentum sagged once or twice. Gražinytė-Tyla’s energetic conducting clearly signals what she wants, from the flick of the wrist to a left-hand ‘claw’, a hip wiggle to a slowly raised hand giving the lower brass free rein. She wields a baton with dramatic flair, but in the pizzicato Scherzo she led with an inviting hand and a graceful smile. A couple of pregnant pauses displayed bags of personality and only the symphony’s coda, the percussion leading off a tad too fast, threatened to derail her, but a quick recovery led to a triumphant finale.

Clambering to the back of the platform to retrieve a percussionist’s music stand, Gražinytė-Tyla brought it – and him – to just behind the second violins, his triangle launching the Diamond Fairy’s sparkling variation and coda from the final act of The Sleeping Beauty. “See you in Birmingham!” she piped while its final note still resounded. No doubt about that.”

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Review by Doundou Tchil, ClassicalIconoclast:

Click here for full review

“Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla and the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra  in a truly sensational Prom 55 at the Royal Albert Hall, an occasion which those of us lucky enough to have been there will not forget. The CBSO is unique. Its members have an uncanny knack for picking relatively unknown conductors and growing with them.  They picked Simon Rattle as Music Director when he was 25, Sakari Oramo at 31, Andris Nelsons at age 30, and now Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla, also 30.  This symbiotic relationship between orchestra and conductors makes the CBSO what it is: a very different dynamic from the usual way orchestras are run.  In each case the orchestra shaped the conductor as much as the conductor shaped the orchestra.  This close relationship – like family, some say – is fundamental to understanding the orchestra and, indeed, its conductors, who carry the CBSO imprint with them just as much as the orchestra developed duringn their stewardship. The CBSO is easily one of the Big Five in British music, and absolutely world class.  Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla has a lot to live up to, but from this Prom, it’s clear that she has what it takes.     […]

[…]     The Overture to Mozart’s The Magic Flute sparkled: clean, shining brass, vivacious winds, strings whizzing along with manic brio. So expressive that the spirit of the opera – and its composer – seemed to materialize. Magical, yes, but also with diabolic fervour.  In the opera, Tamino is tested. Sarastro  is no cuddly father figure.  Thus the discipline in the CBSO’s playing underlined the moral resolve that lies at the heart of the Singspiele, which is by no means a pretty bit of fluff.  Being a Freemason in Mozart’s time was secretive and rather sinister. Gražinytė-Tyla’s background lies in vocal music. Like Nelsons, she could achieve great things if she did opera.  To my delight, she announced plans on the radio rebroadcast for a concert performance of Mozart Idomeneo in a future CBSO season.”      …

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Review by Robert Matthew-Walker, ClassicalSource:

Click here for full review

…      “The singing of Barbara Hannigan (mostly from memory) was exceptionally compelling, and the playing maintained the high standards of the Mozart – but Hannigan, for some extraordinary reason, performed at times to one side of the auditorium rather than centre-stage and tended to project to her left, which obliged half of those in the Hall (on her right, where I sat) to try to catch what she was singing and having to make do by seeing her almost constantly turning away.

(L-R) Paul Griffiths, Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla, Hans Abrahamsen, Barbara Hannigan and the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra at the BBC Proms 2016. Photograph: BBC/Chris ChristodoulouBut overall, the influence of Stockhausen came across as being the foundation of Abrahamsen’s score, certainly in the first of its three movements wherein a monotony of tonality (pace Griffiths) is subjected to a few textural variations over too great a length of time (half the work’s 35-minute duration), so that one’s interest is in serious danger of being lost; in addition, the composer’s word-setting tends to inhabit too narrow an expressive range in depicting a teenager contemplating – and achieving – suicide. The performance though was magnificent, and must have thrilled the composer, taking his bow along with Griffiths.”     …

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Review by Richard Morrison, The Times (££)

Click here for full review (££)

“It’s too early to say what personality lies behind the incredibly graceful conducting technique of Mirga Grazinyte-Tyla, the new music director at the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra (CBSO). Thirty this year, the Lithuanian clearly has bags of musicality. That was evident within 30 seconds of her starting her Proms (and indeed London) debut, with Mozart’s Magic Flute overture.

The chording was pungently accented; the string phrases lushly nuanced. Like many of today’s young conductors she seems to be (in Boris Johnson’s phrase) “pro cake and pro eating it” when it comes to 18th-century music: timbres and textures that mimic period instruments, but dynamics that would have had Wilhelm Furtwängler nodding approval.”     …

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Review by Amanda Holloway, Critics’ Circle:

Click here for full review

“After a bouncy little encore from The Sleeping Beauty, conductor Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla stepped forward and shouted to the audience: “See you in Birmingham!”

Symphony Hall should be full this season on the strength of this, her second concert as music director of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, and first Proms appearance. The buzz that surrounded the London debut of the slight, determined 30-year-old Lithuanian conductor was fully justified: her effect on the orchestra is electrifying, very differently from that of her predecessor, the more laid-back Andris Nelsons. She has firm ideas of what she wants – pace and definition – and the orchestra eagerly complies. From the opening bars of the overture to The Magic Flute the energy flew from her baton like a rapier and the orchestra replied with punchy chords fresh from the page. She leaned in to the cellos, urged on the trumpets and, having whipped the orchestra into a frenzy, stopped them dead in their tracks to produce shocking silences.”     …

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Review by Alan Sanders, SeenandHeard, MusicWeb:

Click here for full review

…     “Hannigan is an extraordinary artist. She is rightly described as a “singing actress”, since her repertoire, much of it contemporary, often calls for more than just singing, and she certainly has a most compelling stage presence. Not only does she have a most beautiful voice, but that voice is a most outstandingly agile instrument, for it has a huge range of notes from very high low, and is capable, with great varieties of tone colour, of making sure footed leaps across the most demanding and awkward intervals. Hannigan feels that her Ophelia “role” should be committed to memory, and that she has done. To have absorbed such a rhythmically anchorless and tonally fractured vocal part lasting half an hour, with little respite, is an amazing feat in itself.

To complement this display the orchestra contributes an accompaniment that is for the most part curiously pretty – a strange word to use, maybe, but one that seems appropriate. There’s nothing in the piquant scoring that would seem very foreign to, say, the later Frank Bridge or John Foulds, except that the bounds of tonality are broken more that they would break it. The work’s main drawback, maybe, is that most the music is slow moving, and greater variations of tempo would have enhanced the drama of the text. Both Paul Griffiths and Hans Abrahamsen were in attendance to acknowledge generous audience applause.

The appointment of Mirga Gražinyté-Tyla as the CBSO’s new Music Director has generated a good deal of advance publicity, for here is a 29-year-old young woman, previously unknown to the British public, filling the role previously occupied over the last three decades by Simon Rattle, Sakari Oramo and Andris Nelsons. She had made her debut in her new appointment the previous evening in Birmingham (review), and now she presented the same concert for her London debut.”     …

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Review by John Allison, Telegraph:

Click here for full review (scroll down “Prom 55”)

…     “The toughest test here was Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4, a well-known warhorse full of pitfalls when it comes to pacing. It was no mean achievement that Gražinytė-Tyla, conducting from memory, shaped such a fresh-sounding performance. The opening fanfares poured out generously and the full orchestral punches were sharply etched before this conductor got down to the business of a naturally flowing performance. The symphonic argument in her unhurried first movement was keenly detailed, and the succeeding movements had lyrical warmth and crisp articulation. A compelling force on the podium, Gražinytė-Tyla clearly signals exciting times ahead for the CBSO.”

*****

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Review by Alexandra Coghlan, TheArtsDesk:

Click here for full review

…     “The Tchaikovsky, similarly, had a zest and invention to it that demanded attention even from this most fidgety of Proms audiences. The Fate theme burnt through the hall in cruel fortissimo, musical shock and awe, before the clarinet led us to the ballroom floor for the waltz – a dance whose ghostly strings, wispy and fragile, suggested that the floor might dissolve at any minute leaving us waltzing into the abyss. Atmospheric but always mindful of structural clarity, with a beautifully organic evolving set of tempi, this was the prelude to a big, generous Andantino, the CBSO singing out with Russian heart, a witty pizzicato Scherzo and a Finale that returned us to the fire of the opening. Woodwind soloists shone, while strings found the rhetorical clarity encoded in Tchaikovsky’s phrases.”     […]

[…]     In a curious sleight of hand, the composer’s slow-moving harmonies, often circling around a clear tonic, seem to react when set against shards of musical light from tuned and untuned percussion and high woodwind, lost in woozy clouds of microtones, creating time at once static and swift-moving. If it seems far-fetched to think of these in terms of Henri Bergson’s temps and durée – the absolute clock-time of temps and the psychological flexi-time of durée – it’s an interpretation grounded in Paul Griffiths’s gloriously allusive text (shaped only from the limited words Shakespeare’s Ophelia speaks during Hamlet), which meditates persistently on precisely this: “time of now and then tumbled into one another,/ time turned and loosed,/ time bended”.

At the centre of this still sonic world is Barbara Hannigan (pictured above with Gražinytė-Tyla), the soprano whose extraordinary range and expressive capacity inspired and helped shape the work. To watch Hannigan is to see Griffiths’s Ophelia (a more emancipated, articulate creature than Shakespeare’s) come alive. The tone-colours available to her – from the white light of her denatured purity at the top of her register, to the guttural directness of the bottom – are myriad, and deployed with deft musicality and care. Together with Gražinytė-Tyla and the CBSO she wove a musical tale here all the potent because this Scheherazade, we know from the start, is already condemned to death.

London had better get used to feeling jealous, because Gražinytė-Tyla has just given us one more reason to envy Birmingham her wonderful CBSO.”

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Review by Fiona Maddocks, Observer:

Click here for full review

…     “Graceful, with an almost gymnastic energy on the podium, arms wide-stretched to embrace the full orchestra, Gražinytė-Tyla is never showy, a team player but with natural authority. Sometimes the sound balance was slightly awry, but the Albert Hall, especially compared with Birmingham’s Symphony Hall, plays acoustical tricks and from another area of the auditorium it may not have been noticeable.

Gražinytė-Tyla elicited an incendiary quality from her players, whether in the transparency and precision of Mozart and Hans Abrahamsen – his song cycle Let Me Tell You was given its London premiere by the soprano Barbara Hannigan – or in the dark grandeur of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No 4. Prom 55 was a “were you there?” kind of event. If you weren’t, you can watch it this evening on BBC4, then on iPlayer. It was as if yet another awkward fence in the long steeplechase of female conductors has been cleared: Gražinytė-Tyla’s CBSO predecessors include Simon Rattle, Sakari Oramo and Andris Nelsons, which needs no further comment.”

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Become Ocean

Symphony Hall, Birmingham

Thursday 19th May, 2016, 7:30pm

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Programme

  • Sibelius  The Tempest – Prelude , 7′
  • Ravel  Piano Concerto in G major , 21′
  • Sibelius  The Oceanides, Op. 73 , 9′
  • Ravel  Piano Concerto for the left hand , 19′
  • John Luther Adams  Become Ocean (UK premiere), 42′

Steven Osborne’s encore – Ravel – Oiseaux Tristes from MiroirsIt’s been called “the loveliest apocalypse in musical history” and John Luther Adams’ haunting, Pulitzer Prize-winning Become Ocean is fast becoming one of this decade’s most talked-about pieces of new classical music. We’re thrilled to be giving the first UK performance, with the conductor who gave its world premiere. Be there as we make history, in a concert that also features master-pianist Steven Osborne in both of Ravel’s magical concertos.

CBSO+ 6.15pm Hear CBSO Chief Executive Stephen Maddock talk about tonight’s programme.

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Review by Andrew Clements, Guardian:

Click here for full review

…     “For 40 years now, Adams’ work as a composer has been inextricably linked with his involvement in environmental issues, but Become Ocean is the biggest, most overwhelming expression of those concerns so far. The score bears his stark epigraph: “Life on this earth first emerged from the sea. As the polar ice melts and sea level rises, we humans find ourselves facing the prospect that once again we may quite literally become ocean.”

Yet the music itself is anything but stark or bleak. It’s rich, deeply textured and all-encompassing, and the three massive climaxes that articulate the huge span – moments when the pulsing sequences that Adams assigns to his groups of strings, woodwind and brass come exactly into phase – seem more celebratory than apocalyptic. The presence of the musical processes underpinning this glorious, constantly changing stasis is impossible to ignore – there are precisely planned symmetries everywhere, and the work itself is one gigantic palindrome – but the orchestral beauties and the tonal harmonies never seem contrived.”     …

*****

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Review by Richard Whitehouse, ClassicalSource:

Click here for full review

…     “All credit to the CBSO for enabling Ludovic Morlot (who gave the premiere in Seattle almost two years ago) to schedule a piece that justifiably won the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Music, and deserves its place within the (not too crowded) orchestral repertoire of the early-21st century. The performance left little to be desired, not least because this is music ideally suited to the acoustic of Symphony Hall – filling the auditorium to a degree that even a ‘surround sound’ recording would be hard-pressed to emulate. Rarely have 42 minutes proved so immersive.

 The hour-long first half was almost a concert in itself. Continuing his exploration of Ravel, Steven Osborne played both Piano Concertos – (rightly) tackling the G-major first and getting to the heart of the opening movement as it alternates between brittle humour and bluesy longing. The Adagio was hardly less impressive, Osborne setting off with a discreet purposefulness that Morlot picked up on to ideal accord, and if the Presto felt at all calculated, its interplay of ingenuity and nonchalance held good through to the brusque closing gesture.

Even finer overall was the Left-Hand Piano Concerto, its three-movements-in-one format seamlessly and cumulatively negotiated so that intensity never flagged. Nor was Osborne fazed by its conception, playing with a clarity and definition as did not preclude a searching eloquence in the limpid theme whose heightened return in the coda crystallizes the expressive depth of this work overall. Morlot secured orchestral playing of real impact, while Osborne returned for an ‘Oiseaux tristes’ (second piece from Miroirs) interpreted with ineffable poise.

Each Concerto was prefaced with music by Sibelius. It is surprising the ‘Prelude’ from his music for The Tempest does not regularly open proceedings, given its surging impetus and sense of imminent catastrophe – both vividly conveyed here – make for a curtain-raiser like no other. If The Oceanides felt a little impassive near the outset, its swirling textures merged effortlessly towards the climax – a double helix of giddying immensity prior to the pensive close. Such evocations of immutable forces added cohesion to an already impressive concert.”    

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Review by Richard Ely, BachTrack:

Click here for full review

…     “The concertos apart, these works are not often programmed, so it was good to have a such a convenient ‘hook’ to hang them on. The Tempest, composed by Sibelius for a production of Shakespeare’s play, takes the form of a series of orchestral crescendos, replicating the rages of a storm at sea which finally subsides, exhausted. All sections of the orchestra enjoyed themselves in creating what could, in less assured hands, have been a shapeless cacaphony. Daringly, that first production substituted Sibelius’ work for Shakespeare’s introductory scene, which describes a shipwreck. On balance, and in a convincing performance like this one, I think Sibelius makes the point more eloquently than the Bard, even if this is one of the Finnish master’s minor works.

The same composer’s The Oceanides is a major work, though one seldom heard in the concert hall, so it was a pleasure to encounter a performance as auspicious as this. Beginning with a vivid impression of clearing mists, superbly played by violins and timpani, the piece progressed through other lifelike impressions of birdsong and the push of the sea to the central section, leading to the orchestral climax and the ‘appearance’ of the Oceanides – daughters of the sea god, Neptune. This was a wonderfully spotlit moment, before the piece settled back into the troubled stillness of the sea after a very different storm to the one that blew through The Tempest.

Since the programme placed the Sibelius works adjacent to the Ravel concertos, we were better able to appreciate the contrasting sound worlds of these two contemporaries, with the weighty orchestrations of the Finn meeting the pellucid textures of the Frenchman. They may not be the most searching works for piano and orchestra but they have an elusive charm, stopping just the right side of whimsy, that quickly gains and holds the attention if you’re in the mood. Perhaps the shift in mood required was too extreme, but in these performances by the increasingly impressive Steven Osborne, it was impossible not to surrender to Ravel’s introverted milieu, where even the ‘jolly little tune’ that kicks off the G major concerto has an air of abstraction hinting that tears are never far away. Although real depth of feeling threatens to intrude in the Adagio assai, the jazz-derived rhythms of the outer movements preclude too much introspection and the work finishes leaving the listener agreeably puzzled. As so often with Ravel, ambiguity is the key and Osborne had the measure of the solo part, which he despatched with unshowy virtuosity. Here and in the left-hand concerto, he showed himself to be a master of Ravel’s diffident art, as he did in a penetrating encore of Oiseaux tristes.”     …

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

Click here for full review (££)

…      “Steven Osborne was the truly superlative soloist: refined, direct, intelligent and instinctive. Every note was exactly in its place; the music sparkled and flowed. Glossy strings brought Hollywood glamour to the Left Hand Concerto, while the G major Concerto was a sunny riot of colourful detail.

And then it was the UK premiere of Become Ocean, Adams’s 42-minute, Pulitzer prize-winning orchestral soundscape. It is, explained Morlot, a meditation to be experienced rather than heard. I put away my notebook and let the music take over. Imagine staring at the ocean, noticing the surface ripples, then the short chop of waves, the roll of the swell, and – if you sit there long enough – the powerful pull of the tides. That’s what Adams translates into music; despite its meticulous construction there’s a complete lack of artifice. This isn’t music that “goes” anywhere, yet it is profoundly transformative. The ocean rises and falls. We sit and observe. My neighbour walked out, visibly riled. But I loved it.”

 

(fab) Blog Post by Dave Fawbert, ShortList:

Click here for full post

…     “Imagine this popping up on your Facebook page.

Become Ocean

 

Just look at it. It’s absolutely ridiculous. It looks like a sea of worker ants hauling miniature bridges across a page. And then you read the accompanying comment – it goes on for 42 minutes? There’s nearly 18,000 notes? What the hell is this piece? How would you go about composing such a thing? How on earth would you play it?

I had to hear it.     […]

[…]    

It was utterly glorious.

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

The City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, shortly before beginning the piece

The orchestra was split into three sections: full-sized strings, woodwind and brass with each given slowly-moving passages of sound which rise and fall at different paces, while Ben’s piano, a celesta and several percussionists maintained the constant, underlying rippling effect, without pause. At three points in the performance, the peaks coincided. As a bonus trick, the entire piece was palindromic – so 21 minutes in, the whole thing was played in reverse.

It was staggeringly beautiful. As someone who has only dabbled in the ambient genre, this, to my limited knowledge, seemed to evoke the feelings of the very best: the gentle waves of sound of Jonsi & Alex’s Riceboy Sleeps, the patience of Brian Eno’s Ambient 1: Music For Airports and – I realise this is slightly specific – a constant reminder of the feel of the beautiful horn section toward the end of DJ Shadow’s Stem/Long Stem (the section around six minutes in).

It was surprisingly consonant: notes moved around but never clashed. Suspensions were left hanging gorgeously as other notes slowly moved to join them, never rushing. The passages unwound at a slow pace, yet Ben’s piano and his xylophone friends either side maintained a constant feeling of movement.

Fascinatingly, you would never have guessed the palindromic nature of the piece; the second half felt new and different. Moreover, for a piece 42 minutes long, it was over in what seemed a flash. Truly, this was transcendental stuff.

Afterwards, I asked Ben – fresh from playing 18,000 notes in 2,500 seconds (that’s a constant 7.2 notes per second, maths fans) – if it would be performed again soon. Sadly, due to the rather niche nature of the piece, he replied that it was unlikely.

What a shame. For I’m telling you now: they should put this stuff on the NHS. Forget Prozac, this is the only high you need in your life.”     …

The Firebird

Thursday 3rd March, 2016, 2.15pm

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Programme

  • Tchaikovsky  Hamlet , 20′
  • Saint-Saëns  Cello Concerto No. 1 , 19′
  • Berlioz  Romeo and Juliet – Love Scene , 14′
  • Stravinsky  The Firebird – Suite (1945), 29′

Leonard Elschenbroich’s encore – Lutoslawski – Sacher Variation
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A dark kingdom, a troubled prince, and a spine chilling mystery… OK, so Hamlet and The Firebird don’t exactly tell the same story! But they both unleash music of sweeping passion and dazzling colour, just as Romeo and Juliet gave Berlioz a chance to pour out his romantic soul. Nicholas Collon leads a colourful toast to Shakespeare, and partners the award-winning Leonard Elschenbroich in Saint-Saëns’ warm and witty First Cello Concerto.
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Review by John Quinn, SeenandHeard, MusicWeb:

Click here for full review

…     “Tchaikovsky’s Hamlet is not heard as often as it should be. It lacks a big, sweeping tune such as one finds in Romeo and Juliet and it’s not as wild and passionate as Francesca da Rimini but it’s still a fine piece. Collon led a very successful performance, establishing a sense of foreboding in the opening pages and then bringing out all the dramatic elements as the music unfolded. There was a lovely oboe solo (Rainer Gibbons) portraying Ophelia and, indeed, in that section the rest of the woodwind were just as fine. I was impressed with Collon’s handling of the score though perhaps just a little more ‘give’ in the piece’s lyrical passages would have been welcome. He obtained excellent, keenly responsive playing from the CBSO. In the brief coda Tchaikovsky’s tragic ending was successfully done, not least because Collon didn’t overdo the emotion; an element of patrician restraint was most appropriate.

The young German cellist, Leonard Elschenbroich joined the orchestra for the Saint-Saëns concerto. It was written in 1872 for the Belgian cellist, Auguste Tolbecque who must have liked the work for I learned from Richard Bratby’s programme note that he was still playing the concerto in public in 1910 at the age of 80. And why would he not have liked the piece? It’s relatively short – about 20 minutes in this performance – but it gives the soloist plenty of opportunities to shine both in virtuoso writing and in lyrical stretches. The three movements play without a break.

It seemed to me that Elschenbroich was very well suited to the concerto. Needless to say, he had the necessary technique to despatch the virtuoso passages with seeming ease. Moreover, the consistently burnished and lovely tone that he obtained from his 1693 Goffriller instrument meant that the many lyrical passages were a delight. Indeed, his tone compelled attention throughout the performance. I especially liked the central Menuet movement. Here the orchestral strings displayed sensitive courtliness in playing the minuet material at the start – and later their woodwind colleagues were equally felicitous. In the meantime Elschenbroich made his countermelodies sing in a most attractive way. The vivacious finale was despatched with high spirits by soloist and orchestra. This was a most enjoyable account of a thoroughly engaging work.”     …

Vladimir Ashkenazy conducts Rachmaninov’s Symphony No 3

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

SoundBite, Birmingham International Concert Season 2015/16

and Competitions highlights

Tuesday 1st March, 2016

Symphony Hall

Philharmonia Orchestra
Vladimir Ashkenazy conductor
Vikingur Ólafsson piano

Rachmaninov The Rock 18’
Liszt Piano Concerto No 2 21’
Rachmaninov Symphony No 3 39’

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Víkingur Ólafsson’s encore – Rameau – Le Rappel des Oiseaux

A song of exile; bittersweet, jazzy and heartbreakingly lyrical. Vladimir Ashkenazy adores it, and few living conductors match his understanding and empathy for this music.If you don’t already know Rachmaninov’s Third,this performance with the Philharmonia might just make you fall in love.

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Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:

Click here for full review

…     “But there was nothing comical about their partnership in Liszt’s Second Piano Concerto, Ashkenazy collaborating with experienced insight, Olafsson ruminative and fiercely attacking by turns (and his thumbs must be among the most elastic in the business), taking self-possessed ownership of a work which remains bitty, for all its thematic unity.

At the top of its musicianly form, the Philharmonia responded thrillingly to the score’s proto-Wagnerian orchestral writing, with full marks to the cello soloist.

Olafsson gave us a delightful encore in the shape of a miniature by Jean-Philippe Rameau. When’s the last time we heard anything of that baroque master in Symphony Hall?

Both pianist and conductor had the courtesy to turn and acknowledge the audience in the choir-stalls; not all performers do that. And Ashkenazy, brimming with enthusiasm, gave virtual embraces to the entire audience and his orchestra after the two Rachmaninov works which framed this memorable evening.

The Rock, a Tchaikovskyian rarity (indeed, much admired by that composer) was warmly, engagingly delivered, with frolicsome flute and clarinet solos, and a genuine sense of ongoing narrative.”     …

Benjamin Grosvenor: Grieg

  • Thursday 25th February, 7.30pm

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Programme

  • Elgar  Falstaff , 35′
  • Grieg  Piano Concerto , 30′
  • Brahms  Symphony No. 3, 37′

Benjamin Grosvenor’s encore – Dohnányi – Capriccio Op.28 No.6
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Benjamin Grosvenor’s playing has been called “a kind of miracle”, and last time he performed with the CBSO, this 23-year old British pianist held Symphony Hall spellbound. You’ve probably heard Grieg’s Piano Concerto before – but never quite like this! It’s the glowing heart of a concert that begins with Elgar’s colourful portrait of Shakespeare’s fat knight and ends in the romantic sunset of Brahms’s ardent Third Symphony..

 

Review by John Quinn, SeenandHeard, MusicWeb:

Click here for full review

…     “The young British pianist Benjamin Grosvenor joined the orchestra for Grieg’s Piano Concerto. It’s easy to understand the work’s enduring popularity, not least because the thematic material is so memorable. I realised that it had been some time since I heard the work and I was glad of that because the work came up very freshly here. That said, I think it would have sounded fresh anyway; such was the nature of this performance. I’ve seem Jac van Steen conduct on several occasions in the past and one of many things that has impressed me is the clarity of his direction. Prior to this evening, however, I don’t recall that I’ve seen him conduct a concerto but that clarity was much in evidence and I’m sure it helped tremendously in shaping a keen and responsive account of the orchestral accompaniment.

Grosvenor himself was very impressive. In the first movement he proved himself well equipped for the bravura passages but I was even more taken with the poetry in his playing. The cadenza offered an excellent illustration of both facets. He began it with reflective musing and then gradually increased the power of his playing so that there was a sense of the heroic as the cadenza reached its climax. The lovely slow movement began with gorgeous string playing; the sound was velvety and deep. Grosvenor was delicate and pensive in the early pages of the movement and then later invested the music with plenty of romantic expression. There was fine energy in the dancing music with which the finale opens. Later that tune was gorgeously introduced by principal flute, Marie-Christine Zupancic, her tone making the music sound like a draught of clear spring water. When his turn with the tune arrived Grosvenor relished it, yet there was no self-indulgence to his playing. After a return to the energetic material the apotheosis of the Big Tune had suitable grandeur but was not overblown either by Grosvenor or his conductor.

Following this excellent performance I noticed that it was not just the audience who showed their appreciation: Jac van Steen and the CBSO applauded Grosvenor with genuine enthusiasm. He gave us short, dexterous encore”     …

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Review by Peter Marks, BachTrack:

Click here for full review

…     “Especially welcome was the inclusion of Elgar’s symphonic study, Falstaff. Elgar was an admirer of Richard Strauss’ works, his tone poems in particular. When I hear Falstaff I can’t help but think of the similarities between the antics of Falstaff and Don Quixote from Strauss’ eponymous tone poem. In both works the protagonist is mostly represented on the cello and this is surely no coincidence. Elgar’s Falstaff is the more serious portly knight from Shakespeare’s Henry IV rather than the comical character featured in the The Merry Wives of Windsor. Though the composer denied overt programmatic content, the music is structured around various episodes featuring Sir John Falstaff and his companion, Prince Hal – heir to the throne.

Jac van Steen wasted no time in establishing Falstaff’s character in musical terms with a confident, swaggering start. It was a joy to see a conductor so very much at home with this orchestra and an orchestra so much at home in this repertoire. Various members of the orchestra excelled in bringing the cowardly knight to life, from a particularly throaty contrabassoon to rude-sounding horns. Later, in the Boar’s Head episode it wasn’t hard to imagine drunken goings on with cantankerous solos from the principal cellist and bassoonist. Van Steen paced the piece excitingly throughout, yet he still found time to appreciate these delicious details in the score.

Grieg’s Piano Concerto is so well known as a concert hall favourite and showpiece that it helps to be reminded what a rich and substantial piece of music it is. Benjamin Grosvenor dispatched those famous opening chords in a serious yet unpretentious manner that was to characterise his interpretation of the piece. After a buoyant orchestral introduction, Grosvenor was off like a rocket. This first movement was always mobile, never rhetorical in his hands. He is an especially attentive musician, always taking care to listen to players accompanying him in the orchestra.”     …