Andris Nelsons Conducts Bruckner

Thursday 12th January, 7.30pm

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra


  • Maxwell Davies Trumpet Concerto, 28′
  • Bruckner Symphony No. 4 (Romantic), 64′

The air seems to shimmer, and a horn calls softly in the mist. The loveliest opening to any symphony ever? Decide for yourself as Andris Nelsons unfolds the glowing peaks and sweeping vistas of Bruckner’s Romantic symphony – and sets it against the windswept seascapes of Peter Maxwell Davies’ Trumpet Concerto, played by one of the world’s greatest living trumpeters. Nelsons’s first concert in Birmingham since 2015 is certain to be a highlight of our season.

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Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:

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…     “Hardenberger’s contribution scuttered with tripping articulation and sang with generous phrasing, and Nelsons (let’s not forget he began as a trumpeter) breathed as one with his soloist.

If this offering was a revelation, the performance of Bruckner’s Fourth Symphony which followed was a glorious affirmation of Nelsons’ stature as a conductor of this Wagner-revering composer.

We were made subconsciously aware of the huge arc of the work’s architecture, from the shimmering opening (and Elspeth Dutch’s evocative and immaculate horn solo) right to the very ending, almost rainbow-bridge in its grandeur, and with Nelsons achieving a cut-off which left us stunned in midair.

Along the way there was so much to admire: the empathetic interweaving of Dutch and Marie-Christine Zupancic’s flute; the magisterial timpanism of another returnee, Peter Hill; Nelsons’ firm grip over the score’s characteristic two+three rhythms; the sturdy brass chorales (trumpeter Alan Thomas yet another welcome returnee).

There was a huge emotional release at the end, from audience, players, and from Andris Nelsons himself, whose gestures and body-language signified so much joy at being back in what had once been his “home”.”



Review by Richard Bratby, TheArtsDesk:

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…     “But he can still charge a melody with meaning, whether powering through a rainshower of bells, grinding against the altogether more menacing sheen of the CBSO’s trumpet section, or chanting a muted prayer amidst keening violins in Maxwell Davies’s central vision of St Francis preaching to a wheeling flock of Orcadian gulls and skuas.

If that was something of a surprise success, there was every reason to expect a lot from Bruckner’s Fourth Symphony, the “Romantic”. Nelsons’s credentials in Wagner might be presumed to give him a headstart in Bruckner, and in the Alpine clarity of Symphony Hall’s acoustic (sorry, London) it’s possible to create a truly colossal range of dynamics. No fear: Nelsons’s grasp of Bruckner’s symphonic architecture is too sophisticated for such cheap wins. With a modest, precise-looking beat he let the music stride forward in eloquent, articulate paragraphs, allowing incidental motifs and twists of harmony to find their own space, and pointedly declining to overemphasise the first movement’s more spectacular geographical features. It felt almost classical.

this performance of a Bruckner symphony was still, remarkably, a kind of chamber music The Andante evoked Schumann in its inwardness and warmth: Nelsons has the ability to create forward momentum amid a feeling that there’s all the time in the world. He tied the tempi of the scherzo’s slower passages back to the earlier movements, and only with the first climax of the finale did he finally unleash the full power and scale of sound that this orchestra can create in this hall – an overwhelming moment of arrival. From that point on, not even Nelsons could bring absolute coherence to Bruckner’s stop-start ramble of a finale, but the journey towards those mighty final chords was certainly beautiful. Rich string textures built from the basses up, luminous woodwinds and cellos and violas that can sing – really sing – the heart out of Bruckner’s yearning second groups: we’ve come to expect all this when Nelsons conducts the CBSO. The honeymoon never really ended between this band and this conductor. On this showing they’re still rather more than just good friends.”     …

Nelsons Conducts Bruckner

Håkan Hardenberger & Andris Nelsons

Sunday 6th Dec 2015, 7.30pm
Royal Festival Hall, London

Philharmonia Orchestra

Andris Nelsons conductor

Håkan Hardenberger trumpet

Zimmermann, Trumpet Concerto Nobody Knows De Trouble I See


Bruckner, Symphony No. 8 biography | programme note

Bruckner’s awe-inspiring Eighth Symphony, a veritable cathedral of sound, is conducted here by Andris Nelsons, the recently appointed Principal Conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. In the first half of the concert, soloist Håkan Hardenberger opens his series The Trumpet Shall Sound with a performance of Bern Alois Zimmermann’s jazz-inspired trumpet concerto.

This concert is part of the The Trumpet Shall Sound series

Håkan Hardenberger & Andris Nelsons in Conversation and Rehearsal


Review by Chris Garlick, BachTrack:

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…     “He was particularly effective in the first movement, which must rank very highly in the pantheon of great first movements, where the inevitability of the progression towards the final apocalyptic climax was breathtaking. The orchestral sound here and throughout the performance, had just the right mix of weight, lushness and transparency. Only occasionally was the balance slightly awry, not allowing some of the telling woodwind solos their room to breathe. The tempo of the Scherzo was spot on, enabling the main sections to have a unique rhythmic heft. The trios weren’t allowed to linger, with a constant sense of the inevitable return of the Scherzo.

It was in the Adagio that Nelsons’ passionate approach to the writing bore most fruit. The three glorious main themes of the movement were beautifully presented, with the strings supported by a lustrous carpet of brass. As these themes are developed over the rest of the movement and Bruckner is at his most remarkable when he is developing his material, the impetus created was spectacular, culminating in the glorious E flat major climax.

The finale set off at a fastish pace, with the fanfares of the main theme sounding as they should – heroic, but still on the edge of the abyss. As in many Bruckner finales, the constraints of sonata form can seem to hold the composer back from achieving the character of the music he wants to create. To an almost irrelevant degree this is the case in the Eighth Symphony and finding a way through this poses particular interpretative problems for all conductors. Nelsons again navigated with an immediacy that was impressive, but his grading of the climaxes was not as sure-footed as in the Adagio. The development of the main material is so overwhelming here, with climax after climax trying to find a way out of the labyrinth, that only in the coda is the destination point of C major reached and the final joyous conflagration is allowed to wash away all the doubts and fears. Achieving the full impact of these final bars has proved to be a massive challenge to the most experienced conductors and to his credit, Nelsons was nearly there.”


Review by Barry Millington, Evening Standard:

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“Some of the finest interpreters of Bruckner — Bernard Haitink and Günter Wand come most readily to mind — have been those who take an Olympian view, towering above the fray. That’s not the way of Andris Nelsons, who likes to dig deep into the entrails of the work, revealing its nerves and sinews. In his account of the Symphony No. 8 in C minor, Nelsons came closest to this Mahlerian aspect of the music in the deeply felt Adagio.

He has a way of highlighting detail within the texture yet also succeeds in marshalling individual paragraphs into the broader structure. Nor was there any shortage of firepower: the heavy artillery of trumpets, trombones and tuba (not to mention horns and Wagner tubas) was unleashed to crushing effect. By the time the apocalyptic final bars were reached, the Philharmonia players, who drove themselves to the limits demanded by Nelsons, looked as shell-shocked as we felt. Quite overwhelming: not simply in the volume of sound but in the nervous energy expended.”     …


Review by Martin Kettle, Guardian:

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…     “Nelsons is a classic podium fidget, visibly and audibly attentive to phrasing and dynamics. In the abstract, this detailed way of doing things might seem too exhausting for Bruckner’s 70-minute span. Yet Nelsons has a sense of architecture, too. His changes of pace felt idiomatic, always part of the larger picture, and he gets the obsessive, uncertain and unresolved nature of Bruckner’s writing.

The opening movement never lost momentum in spite of some breathtakingly effective quiet playing by the Philharmonia in moments of stillness. The scherzo was admirably lithe rather than bombastic, the trio particularly eloquent. The adagio pushed forward where others always hold back, but the control was unfailing, the playing eloquent and the falling away at the close mesmerising as ever. The finale, quicker than you often hear it, felt rather generalised, the argument sacrificed in favour of effect.

Although Bruckner was the centrepiece, the evening began with a performance by Håkan Hardenberger of Bernd Alois Zimmermann’s scintillating 1954 Trumpet Concerto.”     …


Review by Antony Hodgson, ClassicalSource:

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…     “It was gratifying in this Philharmonia performance to hear carefully-calculated balancing since in Bruckner brass can be over-powerful and often the strings get swamped. Nelsons avoided this and with something left in reserve for the bigger climaxes. Given this grand, carefully integrated sound, Nelsons’s expressive way with Bruckner’s invention was given a firm basis.

The first movement was taken broadly, there was space for eloquent phrasing and the music moved forward in an unhurried manner. Bruckner’s imaginative revision whereby he turned a conventionally triumphant ending to the movement to a quiet one was a stroke of genius and Nelsons allowed the music to flow gently to its poignant close. As the work progressed Nelsons’s personality began to impose itself: the Scherzo started firmly enough but after the announcement of the main themes the lovely countersubject with its close-harmony woodwind lingered unexpectedly. The careful shaping of the section was some compensation but freedom of tempo was also evident in the Trio. The Adagio was even more expressive, it was also very beautiful, full of beguiling phrasing, ample recompense for the lingering. By the Finale Nelsons had ceased to use his baton and after the initial onslaught this assisted him in caressing shaping that was more expressive still.

The last movement is somewhat episodic and from the moment the slower second subject arrived and was taken very broadly it seemed that attention to sections was overcoming forward motion – full marks for great sensitivity but here, even more than in the Adagio, there was a sense of indulgence. By giving loving and detailed attention to every phrase the music sometimes came across as languorous; however the vividness of the climaxes and in particular the radiance of the final pages ensured that a sense of triumph was achieved.”


Review by Alan Sanders, MusicWeb, SeenandHeard:

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…     “There isn’t a dull moment in its single movement. It teems with solo brilliance of all kinds, pungent orchestral timbres and tremendous rhythmic vitality. And it has just the right length. Zimmermann understood the value of brevity in a composition of this kind.

Andris Nelsons’ approach to the Bruckner symphony’s first movement had initially almost a feeling of exploration. The opening statements were presented calmly and straightforwardly at an easy-going tempo. But as the movement progressed so did the conductor’s use of phrase and inflection become more pronounced, very effectively so, since he did not allow any pulse variations to disturb a strong onward momentum or his overall control of the large-scale structure. The contemplative ending was beautifully managed and rounded off a most satisfying account of the movement as a whole.

Nelsons adopted a middle-of-the road tempo for the Scherzo. Some conductors feel the need to jolly things up in this movement to form a contrast with the slower moving structures that flank it. Here the rhythm was pointed clearly yet there was no feeling of haste. And the contrasts implicit in the trio sections were tellingly brought out with some lovely turns of phrase.

The enormous span of the Symphony’s third movement – usually over 25 minutes in length – and its Adagio tempo present a conductor with a great interpretative challenge. This was met by Nelsons with great skill, yet with great sensitivity. Each episode was strongly characterised with heart-easing warmth of expression, but as in the first movement one always had the feeling that inexorable and logical progress throughout the mighty structure was taking place.

At the outset of the finale Nelsons brought out very clearly Bruckner’s curious but masterly effect of the music having two tempi: a throbbing rhythmic ostinato underpinning a slow brass chorale. Again he showed great skill in pacing the movement’s strongly contrasting elements, and the final climax was overwhelming. One truly had the feeling of having been through a profound symphonic experience.”


Review by Gavin Dixon, TheArtsDesk:

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“Bernd Alois Zimmermann’s Nobody knows de trouble I see is a popular concerto, but it’s an unlikely hit. Zimmermann maintains a distanced relationship with the spiritual on which the work is based, and, while there are jazz elements too, this is a long way from crossover. Zimmermann maintains his modernist/serialist perspective throughout, and all the jazz ideas – the trombone glissandos, the sax section replacing the French horns, the vaguely improvisatory trumpet writing – are configured within a strict and austere single-movement structure.

Fortunately, both trumpeter Håkan Hardenberger and conductor Andris Nelsons have the measure of this music, giving a performance that fully acknowledges both the composer’s desire to connect with the radical jazz of the 1950s, and the loyalty to modernist conventions that prevent him from doing so. Hardenberger seemed more constrained than usual, effortlessly virtuosic, but without any flamboyant displays. The work has a pervasively dark mood that Hardenberger conveyed well, especially in the flat, broad tone that he applied. The orchestra is occasionally required to play the big band, with brass outbursts, and even a Hammond organ break at one point. But nothing here ever sounded laidback or casual. This was a performance fully in keeping with the spirit of the music, but what dark and unyielding spirit that is.” …

Pictures at an Exhibition

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Thursday 29th May 2014 at 7.30pm

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

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

 Andris Nelsons  conductor
Håkan Hardenberger  trumpet

Ravel: Le Tombeau de Couperin 17′
Listen on Spotify
Watch on YouTube

Dean: Dramatis Personae (CBSO co-commission: UK premiere) 20′
Mussorgsky (orch. Ravel): Pictures at an Exhibition 34′
Listen on Spotify

When Maurice Ravel arranged Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, he created one of the few adaptations that’s better than the original! From its opening Promenade to the majestic Great Gate of Kiev, it’s one of the alltime great orchestral showpieces. Andris Nelsons unlocks a real jewel-box of a concert as Håkan Hardenberger, probably the world’s greatest trumpeter, gives the first UK performance of an imaginative new concerto by Brett Dean. History in the making…

If you like this concert, you might also like:
Summer Serenade, Thursday 5th June
Thomas Adès: New Horizons, Wednesday 11th June
Strauss and Shakespeare, Wednesday 18th June



Review by Diane Parkes, BehindTheArras:

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…     “It is a challenging work – and not just for the orchestra. I had to smile when I heard someone saying in the interval ‘well I doubt we’ll be hearing that on Classic FM’. But CBSO certainly gave it plenty of energy and Hardenberger showed why he is one of the most in-demand trumpet soloists today.

While Dean may not be easy listening, it has to be said that Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, is a sure-fire crowd-pleaser.

A series of short pieces all strung together by a recurring Promenade, the piece was inspired by an exhibition of pictures by architect Victor Hartmann, a friend of Mussorgsky.

It is very much a musical journey with the composer walking round the pictures and responding to each one. There is plenty of variety, a touch of humour and lots of grandeur from the busyness of the Limoges market to the impressive Great Gate of Kiev.

And if the audience wasn’t sure which picture we were looking at, we were given a helping hand with surtitles informing us throughout the work.

Under the baton of CBSO musical director Andris Nelsons, the orchestra seemed just a little hesitant to really give full throttle to this work. But by the closing pieces, the somewhat crazed Baba Yaga and the dramatic Gate of Kiev, they had it more in their stride.

The orchestra revelled in Ravel’s Le Tombeau of Couperin – dancing back and forth between strings and woodwind. Although this piece is a memorial to French composer Francois Couperin, it is anything but funereal and gives little hint of the angst being experienced by Ravel at the time.”



Review by DPM (same?), WeekendNotes:

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…     “The UK premiere of Brett Dean’s Dramatis Personae was a well-chosen companion piece to the Mussorgsky as thematically it shared some common ground – the idea of a physical and personal journey encapsulated in music.

But while Pictures at an Exhibition is an illustrative stroll round a gallery, Dramatis Personae is a much more elemental search into the psyche. Dean’s central character is no longer the composer but a superhero, a single warrior, an individual.

Musically the two have less shared experience. Gone are Mussorgksy’s hummable tunes, replaced with a rush of instrumentation.

The piece depends very largely on the trumpet soloist and Brett could not have asked for a more able performer than Hakan Hardenberger whose adaptability has also seen him performing classical Haydn and contemporary Joni Mitchell with the CBSO this week.

Hardenberger, who also performed at the world premiere of Dramatis Personae, took to the piece with relish, clearly enjoying its challenges and the balance of interplay with the rest of the orchestra. At its conclusion, he left centre stage and took his place within the orchestra, a visual sign that the Superman’s battle is done.

Beginning the evening was Ravel’s Le Tombeau de Couperin. Although this piece is a memorial to French composer Francois Couperin, it is quite a light-hearted and quixotic work which eased us into the rest of the programme. ”    



Review by Rian Evans, Guardian:

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…    “The last movement, The Accidental Revolutionary, is inspired by Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times and exploits a jokey element already present in Dean’s witty percussion writing. Now it was the turn of the virtuoso trumpet to lead, with Nelsons jacking up a filmic tension and emphasising its Ives-like marching-band episodes. Solidarity is all: two trumpets first gently echoed the soloist on either side, but, by way of climax, Hardenberger joined the orchestra to blast from within the trumpet rank. It was positively operatic and fun.

No greater compliment could be paid to Dean, who knows his orchestra inside out, than that of framing his Concerto with Ravel’s finely orchestrated Le Tombeau de Couperin and Pictures at an Exhibition. As ever, Nelsons found new detail, inspiring fine playing.”



Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:

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…     “The other Ravel transcription was that of Mussorgsky’s pianistically rugged Pictures at an Exhibition; this is such a magnificent orchestration that it beats me why so many others have bothered to try it themselves.

Nelsons’ freely-flowing beat (having learned the technique, now he can modify it as he will) drew grittiness, sonority, desolation, brilliance, devoutness and total dedication from his players – among whom the whimpering trumpet of Catherine Moore was outstanding.

And trumpets were to the fore in the work sandwiched between these two transcriptions, the Trumpet Concerto of Brett Dean, a CBSO co-commission here receiving its UK premiere – and what an enthusiastic reception it was given by the thrilled audience.

Hakan Hardenberger was the soloist, totally immersed in the music even when not playing, his colourings via an array of mutes vivid and atmospheric, his agility in all Dean’s demands consummate, and his relationship with the orchestra as collaborative as chamber-music – indeed so, when he is the centre of a stereophonically-staged trio with two of the orchestral trumpeters, and later when he goes back onto the risers to join them.”     …



Saturday 26 September 2009 at 7.00PM

Andris Nelsons  conductor
Håkan Hardenberger  trumpet

Britten: Four Sea Interludes and Passacaglia (Peter Grimes) 23′
Turnage: From the Wreckage 15′
Haydn: Trumpet Concerto in E Flat 13′
Debussy: La mer 23′

Few composers have captured the power and everchanging mystery of the oceans better than Debussy and Britten: the former in his swirling orchestral masterpiece, the latter in the interludes from his best-loved opera. Former CBSO Composer in Association Mark-Anthony Turnage wrote his dramatic 2005 trumpet concerto for the brilliant Swedish virtuoso Håkan Hardenberger, and we’re delighted to welcome him back to Birmingham for this outstanding recent work and for his only UK performance of Haydn’s popular concerto in the composer’s bicentenary year.

Hakan Hardenberger encore – Oblivion by Astor Piazzolla

Orchestra encore – a Latvian piece…?


Review from Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:

“The chemistry between Andris Nelsons and the CBSO is nothing less than sublime.”


Review from Andrew Clements, Guardian:

“Once or twice it dwelt a bit too lovingly on the music’s beauties, but the glitter of the central Jeux des Vagues was seductive, and the stormy finale became a really threatening prospect.”