Elgar’s Cello Concerto

with Bergen Philharmonic and Edward Gardner

Tuesday 17th January, 2017 – 7:30pm


Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra
Edward Gardnerconductor
Truls Mørkcello


GriegPeer Gynt Suite No 1
ElgarCello Concerto
WaltonSymphony No 1


Truls Mørk’s encore – Bach –

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


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.

Moscow State Symphony Orchestra

Perform Shostakovich’s Symphony No 5

Symphony Hall, Birmingham

Saturday 14th May, 2016, 7:30pm

Moscow State Symphony Orchestra

Pavel Kogan – conductor

John Lill – piano

Stephen Johnson Behemoth Dances 7’
Rachmaninov Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini 22’
Shostakovich Symphony No 5 44’

MSSO encores:

Rachmaninov – Vocalise

Vincent Youmans (orch. Shostakovich) – Tea for Two – Tahiti Trot

Mariano Mores – El Firulete

Rachmaninov’sPaganini Rhapsody is more than just that rapturous 18th variation; and Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony is more than just one of the great symphonic blockbusters. And Pavel Kogan, John Lill and the Moscow State Symphony Orchestra will show you why. Nothing compares to Russian music played by Russian performers, and for Kogan and his orchestra, it’s in the blood.

6.15pm Pre-concert conversation with Stephen Johnson and Jonathan James.
This conversation will be signed by a British Sign Language interpreter



Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:

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“Stephen Johnson is a much respected presenter and writer about music. As we discovered in Saturday’s concert from the remarkable Moscow State Symphony Orchestra he is also an accomplished composer.

Possibly the Russians took an interest in his Behemoth Dances because of Johnson’s passionate interest in the culture of their country. The scenario of this vibrant piece is based on a satirical Russian novel, but we don’t actually need to know that, as this well-imagined score speaks for itself.

Its gripping, urgent opening has something of William Walton’s brio about it, with bold, firmly-etched rhythms riding under confident orchestral sonorities. Darker interludes intervene, and there is particularly atmospheric use of the vibraphone.

Behemoth Dances’ bristling energy was generously conveyed by the MSSO under Pavel Kogan’s empowering baton, with the Hereford-based composer present to acknowledge the immense, well-deserved applause.”     …


Review by Richard Ely, BachTrack:

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…     “A Russian orchestra will have a particular emotional investment to make in this symphony. Kogan’s forceful intent was demonstrated from the beginning, with strings plunging into the first movement’s exposition with the force of someone being thrown bodily into a vat of cold water. The developmental section was judged perfectly, so that when the martial theme emerged, propelled by the side-drum, it had exactly the jolting effect the composer intended; the movement’s conclusion provided another magical moment, where time became stationary, as concertmaster Alexandra Zhavoronkova’s violin and Elena Kazna’s celesta trailed off into silence.

The same thrust and concern for dynamics was evident in the scherzo, which had never sounded more like a death waltz, for all its sprightliness. But even in a work as veiled as this, there has to be a heart-on-the-sleeve moment and the Largo is the closest Shostakovich comes to unburdening his soul. Kogan and his orchestra played it for all its worth, finding intense feeling in the movement’s expressivo climax that held the audience so rapt that the beginning of the Allegro final movement had the effect of a slap across the face. The note of sour triumphalism on which the symphony ends was precisely caught in a performance of astonishing alacrity: the whole piece clocked in at just forty minutes!

The reception fairly took the roof off and we were treated to a generous three encores: Rachmaninov’s Vocalise was sensuously melancholic, Shostakovich’s Tea for Two gave us some necessary light relief (you need to see this piece performed to understand just how funny it is!) and the tango El Firulate by the recently deceased Argentinian composer Mariano Mores. A triumphant evening. “


Review by Richard Bratby, TheArtsDesk:

Click here for full review

Behemoth Dances. Who dances? You know, Behemoth, the huge demonic black cat who cakewalks through Stalin’s Moscow in Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita spreading mayhem and magic; the spirit – as quoted by Bulgakov, and taken by Stephen Johnson as a sort of motto for his new orchestral work – “that always wills evil, but always does good”. A sardonic fanfare announces his appearance, before the orchestra whizzes away on a bustling, bristling spree. Woodwinds squeal and skirl, the surface glitters, and a piano throws in a few deadpan comments.

But this isn’t just a deliciously orchestrated successor to one of Walton’s comedy overtures. There’s something going on beneath the surface here: solemn chants, dark undercurrents, and a spreading, quietly insistent sense that we’re actually hearing something profoundly sad. And with Pavel Kogan conducting the Moscow State Symphony Orchestra – and if you didn’t know the composer lives in Herefordshire – you could be convinced that Behemoth Dances is showing you something remarkably like the Russian soul.

Stephen Johnson

And yes, this is the same Stephen Johnson (pictured) we know from Radio Three’s sorely missed Discovering Music – the authority on Bruckner, Shostakovich and Sibelius, the award-winning documentary-maker, and the writer of music criticism so lucid, so readable and so generous that it makes the rest of us feel like giving up. I can’t deny that part of the pleasure of this almost-premiere (it was first heard in Moscow last month) was seeing a fellow gamekeeper make such a terrific job of turning poacher. Johnson has been reticent about his composing, though he trained under Alexander Goehr. Hopefully no longer: Behemoth Dances shows that he has a voice, he has technique, and he can connect with an audience. The Birmingham audience cheered.”     …




Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra

Performs Mahler Symphony No. 5

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

Saturday 12th March, 2016

Symphony Hall

Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra
Vasily Petrenko conductor
Simon Trpčeski piano

6:15pm Pre-concert conversation with Vasily Petrenko.
This conversation will be signed by a British Sign Language interpreter

Grieg Lyric Suite Op 54 17’
Rachmaninov Piano Concerto No 2 33’
Mahler Symphony No 5 72’

Simon Trpceski’s encore  with cellist Louisa Tuck – Rachmaninov – Vocalise

Oslo Philharmonic’s encore – Schubert – Moment Musical no. 3 in F Minor (for strings)


Long acclaimed as Scandinavia’s finest orchestra, the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra has found a fresh energy under its dynamic new music director Vasily Petrenko. In Mahler’s Fifth Symphony, Petrenko and the Oslo Phil will make a compelling pairing; in Rachmaninov, meanwhile, Petrenko and pianist Simon Trpc˘ eski have already been hailed by critics as a ‘dream team’!


Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:

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…    The concerto was Rachmaninov Two, the soloist the much-loved Simon Trpceski (…)playing with a confident rubato and empathy with his collaborators. This was a joint triumph for pianist and orchestra (full-throated strings, eloquent woodwind), Trpceski bringing warmth as well as glitter to rippling passage-work, and always a freshly-minted response to this well-worn work.

Applause from a packed auditorium came in huge waves, rewarded with a lovely encore, Trpceski modestly accompanying cello principal Louisa Tuck in Rachmaninov’s poignant little Vocalise.

Petrenko drew a tight, compact sound from the OPO for Mahler’s mighty Fifth Symphony. Strings dug deep, and the brass soloists (horn, trumpet, trombone), so important throughout this work laden with symbolic imagery, were a constantly commanding presence.”     …




Stephen Hough in Recital

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

Monday 26th October, 2015

Symphony Hall

Stephen Hough piano

Schubert Sonata in A minor D784 22’
Franck Prelude, Chorale and Fugue 22’
Debussy Estampes 13’
Liszt Valse Oubliées Nos 1 and 2 3’ & 6’
Transcendental Etude No 11 (harmonies du soir) 10’
Transcendental Etude No 10 5’


Stephen Hough is a phenomenon: a pianist of astonishing technical skill with the ability to find profundity in even the flashiest of keyboard fireworks. Tonight he traces the darkness-to-light journeys of three great pianist-composers, and gives a recital that explores every side of his artistic personality: thinker, creator and consummate virtuoso.

Hong Kong Philharmonic play Beethoven and Dvořák

Part of Birmingham International Concert Season 2014/15 Concert Package, SoundBite, Birmingham International Concert Season 2014/15 and Orchestral Music

Tuesday 3rd March 2015

Symphony Hall

Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra Jaap van Zweden conductor Ning Feng violin

Fung Lam Quintessence 11’
Beethoven Violin Concerto 42’
Dvořák Symphony No 9, From the New World 40’

Ning Feng’s encore – Paganini – Caprice No. 7

Hong Kong Philharmonic’s encores – Wagner – Ride of the Valkyries, Dvořák – Slavonic Dance No.8


The Hong Kong Philharmonic is one of China’s most established orchestras, and under music director Jaap van Zweden it’s been called ‘the Berlin Philharmonic of Asia’. Dvořák’s much loved New World Symphony and Beethoven’s Violin Concerto (with the award-winning Ning Feng) provide a wonderfully enjoyable showcase. Plus, there’s the chance to hear Quintessence, the new piece by orchestra’s 35-year-old resident composer Fung Lam, which received its World Premiere in London in June 2014 (read a Financial Times review of the concert here). Classic FM’s John Suchet says:

Now celebrating their 41st professional season, this is a fantastic opportunity to hear the esteemed Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra play one of the most popular symphonies of all time, Dvořák’s New World Symphony, along with the only concerto ever written for violin by one of the defining figures in the history of Western music: Ludwig van Beethoven.



Review by Sam Chipman, ThePublicReviews:

Click here for full review

…     “The great Leonard Bernstein himself encouraged Dutch born Jaap van Zweden to conduct, and he does so with such vigour. He tactfully directs his orchestra as they play a rousing rendition of the famous symphony. Where the concerto lacks in drama, this piece does not. It is a very brash and dark interpretation of the famous symphony played with great attack. The woodwind section are excellent throughout the Largo, with the Cor Anglais solo really adding to the dark undertone of the playing. When the strings swell it is almost euphoric, so delightful is the tone and harmony, particularly at the opening of the Adagio. The Allegro con fuoco sees the return of the memorable themes to end the evening with a flourish. Rousing work from the Hong Kong Philharmonic and Jaap van Zweden.

Breath-taking in parts, with a slight stumble in others. The Dvořák is played magnificently, but the Beethoven a little lacking – but the tuneful 9th Symphony will leave you feeling energised as you exit the auditorium.”


Review by Richard Bratby, Birmingham Post:

Click here for full review

…     “And yet, Lam doesn’t really draw on this orchestra’s greatest strengths. The opening bars of Dvorak’s 9th Symphony laid those out unmistakably: a rich, focussed and gloriously warm-sounding string section, phrasing and moving together, plus as characterful and expressive a woodwind and horn team as you could hope to find anywhere in Bohemia.

Conductor Jaap van Zweden shaped a brisk but intensely lyrical performance – with long, singing lines that gave a really epic sense of sweep, notwithstanding van Zweden’s tendency to micromanage phrase endings and tempo changes. The whispered string phrases that underscored Kwan Sheung-fung’s plangent cor anglais solo in the Largo were wonderfully expressive and tender.

The sheer beauty of the orchestral sound was also the most enjoyable aspect of Beethoven’s Violin Concerto, with Ning Feng as soloist.”     …


Tchaikovsky from the Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra

Part of Birmingham International Concert Season 2013/14 Concert Package, SoundBite and Birmingham International Concert Season 2013/14

Tuesday 6th May 2014

Symphony Hall

Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra
Yuri Simonov conductor
Natalie Clein cello

Tchaikovsky Symphonic Poem, Francesca da Rimini 22’
Shostakovich Cello Concerto No 1 28’
Tchaikovsky Symphony No 4 44’

Natalie Clein’s encore – Britten – Cello Suite No 3  – Introduzione: Lento

Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra’s encores! –

Tchaikovsky  – Alla Tedesca from Symphony No 3

Shostakovich – Polka from the Golden Age Ballet

Elgar – Nimrod

Dvořák – Slavonic Dance 10

Dvořák – Slavonic Dance 8

It’s hard to define, but when a Russian orchestra plays Russian music, something very special happens. The Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra is drenched in that tradition, and under veteran Music Director Yuri Simonov, we can expect intensely committed readings of two of Tchaikovsky’s most personal works.

Natalie Clein, meanwhile, is always popular at Symphony Hall: tonight she has near-perfect partners for Shostakovich’s taut political thriller of a cello concerto. http://www.thsh.co.uk



Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:

Click here for full review

…     “Tchaikovsky had been the main element in the programme, beginning with Francesca da Rimini, timbres dark and sombre at the opening, strings leaping and searing under Simonov’s understated beat, and with a sorrowingly searching clarinet narrative. Also remarkable were the splendid cellos, lamenting under fluttering flutes in this wonderful piece.

Even more wonderful is Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony, tortured yet determined, and there was much to admire here, with stirring brass, sweeping phrasing and often organ-like chording. Woodwind nuances were delicate, but sometimes overwhelmed by the surging strings, and Simonov’s tempo for the famous pizzicato scherzo was decidedly staid; I think he was trying to make some kind of point, but its relevance escaped me.

Never mind; as a concept this interpretation was shattering.

Interspersed was Shostakovich’s First Cello Concerto, a work laden with coded messages I am sure, and delivered with unremitting energy and impassioned line-unfolding by soloist Natalie Clein.”     …



Review by Peter Marks, BachTrack:

Click here for full review

…     “Like a good many Russian orchestras, it retains a distinctively Soviet sound albeit with some of the harder edges smoothed out slightly. The portentous opening to Tchaikovsky’s Francesca da Rimini featured an upbeat from a particularly full-throated double bass section, highly responsive to Simonov’s gestures. The conductor adopted a statuesque posture throughout Tchaikovsky’s symphonic poem, somehow managing to summon terrifying blasts of sound in climactic moments with only discreet, staccato movements. In this respect, Dante’s Inferno was spectacularly and vividly conjured by Simonov and the orchestra.

Francesca herself was well-represented by a lovely clarinet cadenza, with the ensuing central section providing some much needed relief from the swirling vortices of sound, though hers is a melody laced with melancholy, as might be expected from this composer. The wind soloists of this orchestra were particularly fine, if not always possessing infallible intonation in some of the tutti sections. The brassy peroration featured a notably ‘narrow-bore’ sound and led to a terrifying climax.”     …




Handel from Il Giardino Armonico

Birmingham International Concert Season 2010/11

Thu 19 May 7:30pm at Town Hall

Il Giardino Armonico
Giovanni Antonini director

Handel Concerto Grosso Op 6, No 1 12’
Vivaldi Concerto in F for Strings and Recorder, La Tempesta Di Mare 7’
Handel Concerto Grosso Op 6, No 12 11’
Handel Concerto Grosso Op 6, No 6 15’
Geminiani Concerto Grosso Op 5, No 12, La Follia 11’
Handel Concerto Grosso Op 6, No 7 11’

‘As Italian as the music itself’, wrote Gramophone of Il Giardino Armonico, ‘brightly coloured, individualistic, confident, stylish, arrestingly decorated, bubbling with enthusiasm.’ They are one of Europe’s leading Baroque ensembles, at the top of their game, their revelatory performances packed with freshness and pizzazz. Their Town Hall concert includes the sparkling Concerti Grossi of Handel and music by his Italian contemporaries. www.thsh.co.uk

Click here to see a promotional video of Il Giardino Armonico and Handel 12 Concerti grossi, op.6