Space Discovery

Symphony Hall, Birmingham

Friday 5th August, 2016, 7:30pm

National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain

Edward Gardner conductor
CBSO Youth Chorus

Iris ter Schiphorst     Gravitational Waves (new work)
R. Strauss                      Also sprach Zarathustra
Holst                                The Planets
Colin Matthews        
Pluto, the Renewer

£5 under 25s offer in association with Classic FM (only available at Symphony Hall, Birmingham)

Open your ears to the music of the universe as the world’s greatest orchestra of teenagers embarks on a voyage back through a century of space discovery.

The journey begins with Gravitational Waves by German composer Iris ter Schiphorst. This is music for the here and now, for the beginning of a new era in astronomy. Fasten your seat belts and prepare for a thrilling ride to new musical frontiers as the original sound of the gravitational wave echoes through the orchestra and individual players gradually become one united force.

Next are two of classical music’s must-hear pieces: Strauss’s Also sprach Zarathustra, with its glorious, spine-tingling opening fanfare made famous by Stanley Kubrick’s film 2001: A Space Odyssey, and Holst’s The Planets completed by Colin Matthews’ Pluto:The Renewer. This music never fails to stir the emotions with its huge melodies and luscious harmonies and in the hands of these young musicians, it will fizz with an explosive, barely containable energy.

The countdown is on – join us for a fearless, totally teenage cosmic adventure.


Review by Rian Evans, Guardian: (for same programme at Snape Maltings 4th August)

Click here for full review

…      “Growing out of mystic Neptune’s dying notes – sung by the girls of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra youth choir – the feeling here was of an implicit and organic connection with the original suite. Moreover, the shimmering solar winds of Pluto took the ear back, orbit completed, to the work specially commissioned to launch the evening.

Iris ter Schiphorst’s Gravitational Waves was inspired by new scientific research validating Einstein, and it summoned a novel and symbolic mix of visual, aural and vocal gestures. The synchrony, whereby the players first wore white or black masks, then embodied the waves of the title in perfectly choreographed movements rippling through the serried ranks, created an arresting counterpoint to the imaginative, otherwordly soundscape realised by Ter Schiphorst and co-composer Uros Rojko. Evanescent and evocative, embracing known and unknown, it captured something of the awesome history and infinity of time.”


Review by Penny Homer, BachTrack: (for same programme, BBC Prom 29, 6th August)

Click here for full review

…     “More impressive, however, was their handling of the outer planets, whose mature themes might have been beyond such young players. Not so; Saturn, the bringer of Old Age proved the best of all the movements. From its haunting start, the slow march towards death felt visceral and personal – I felt the weight of each passing second. Jupiter was also excellent; driving forward to what we now know as I Vow To Thee My Country, full of warmth and power. Uranus is the movement that I have in the past struggled to recall its identity – no more after the freshness brought to it here, its rousing climax quickly contrasted with a taut subito p to end. Neptune showed that the delicacy lacking in Venus was not beyond the orchestra, and was utterly transfixing. This delicacy extended to the balance with the off-stage voices of the CBSO Youth Chorus, giving them enough space to emerge. For such a seemingly small involvement, Neptune is a surprisingly tough ask for the voices, coming in high and quiet after a long period of silence. These difficulties weren’t quite surmounted and at times the tuning was a little unsettled, but the fade out was perfectly judged.

In his programme note for Pluto, the Renewer, Colin Matthews remarks that its dedicatee, Holst’s daughter Imogen, “would have been both amused and dismayed by this venture”. It was probably a sentiment that continues to be shared by many – after the beautiful fade out of Neptune, what could possibly come next? And yet if such a venture had to be undertaken, thankfully it was done in great style, breaking out before Neptune had fully died way. For the most part Matthews provided a thorough re-working of all the ideas in each movement while never veering into pastiche. The only awkward moments were the Mars motives, which jarred, although the orchestra attacked it all gamely, and the CBSO Youth Chorus voices were more confident with their involvement here. An interesting exercise, and fortunately not one detracting from Holst’s vision, or the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain’s brilliance. I expect bright futures for many of them.”


Review by Brian Barford, ClassicalSource: (for same programme, BBC Prom 29, 6th August)

Click here for full review

…     “Iris ter Schiphorst’s Gravitational Waves is prompted by the recent detection of emissions set in motion over a billion years ago by the collision of two black holes. Schiphorst uses sounds from the scientific project heard through a sampler and reflected in the orchestra as well as a broadcast narrative. The soaring brass, scurrying strings and metallic percussion offer a sense of infinity. There is also a strong sense of visual performance, for the musicians don masks, sway in unison, make vocal interjections, and at the end raise their arms in a gesture of hope for the future. It proved an arresting piece to see and one imagines it was enjoyable to present.

Richard Strauss’s Also sprach Zarathustra is a problematic work to bring off convincingly. The Nietzsche element can be unattractive although one should remember that Strauss subverts the text at the conclusion where nature not metaphysical inspiration has the last word and the piece ends with a question mark. Also, following the now-famous ‘2001’ opening Zarathustra is a free-form fantasia that can seem meandering.

Gardner and the NYO welded all of the sections into a convincing whole. The horizon-searching opening was delivered in ringing style, underpinned by the Royal Albert Hall organ at its most sonorous. The music for solo strings was played with feeling and the players made up for what they may have lacked in opulence with real ardour and intensity. There were thrusting horns in the “expression of joys and passions”. The Viennese waltz was elegant with a fine violin solo from Millie Ashton and the Midnight Bell episode was given a tremendous dark intensity and the eerily ambiguous close beautifully rendered. Overall, this was a well-paced account delivered with thrilling virtuosity.”     …





The Planets: CBSO Youth Orchestra

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Sunday 2nd November 2014 at 7.00pm

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

CBSO Youth Orchestra

Ben Gernon  conductor
John Mark Ainsley  tenor
CBSO Youth Chorus

Turnage: Passchendaele CBSO co-commission – UK premiere) 10′
Vaughan Williams: On Wenlock Edge 23′
Holst: The Planets (including Matthews Pluto) 54′
Listen on Spotify

Since 2004, the CBSO’s world-class Youth Orchestra has been pushing back the frontiers of what young musicians can achieve. Tonight, in a special 10th anniversary celebration, CBSO Youth Orchestra alumnus Ben Gernon conducts our superb young players in Holst’s spectacular The Planets, and unwraps a unique birthday present: a powerful new work, inspired by the year 1914, from one of Britain’s greatest living composers.

If you like this concert, you might also like:
MacMillan’s St Luke Passion, Thursday 4th December, 2014
Elgar’sEngima Variations, Wednesday 10th December & Saturday 13th December, 2014
Mahler’s First Symphony: CBSO Youth Orchestra, Sunday 22nd February, 2015

Support the CBSO



Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:

Click here for full review

…     “The premiere was Mark-Anthony Turnage’s Passchendaele, co-commissioned with help from long term CBSO supporters John Cole and Jennie Howe, and written in commemoration of the horrific events of the First World War.

Beginning with awe-inspiring trombone intonations, progressing through magical woodwind intimations and persuasive strings, it continues through a brass summons to a percussion-led outcry, all the while with a seamlessly arching line of anger and grief.

It was so moving to hear this Youth Orchestra paying homage to the doomed youth of a century ago, and moving, too, to witness the authoritative conducting of young Ben Gernon, himself a CBSOYO alumnus.

Fittingly, the programme’s other two composers had in fact served in the Great War. Vaughan Williams was represented by his Housman song-cycle On Wenlock Edge, its clattery orchestration sometimes blessedly subsiding into hushed tones which the musicians conveyed with the utmost sensitivity.

John Mark Ainsley was soloist, his particular kind of tenor timbre, questing and ruminative, well-suited to this period piece, ” …



Review by Roderic Dunnett, MusicWeb, SeenandHeard:

Click here for full review

…     “And what did one hear? Magnificent ensemble and dazzling precision, all units pulling together. Some enchanting, atmospheric violin solos from young leader Charlotte Moseley in the second movement, and then another whiff that sounded as beautifully wan as Rimsky-Korsakov (Scheherazade is a work one might indeed compare The Planets to, in dimension and concept). The two solo oboe passages wrapped round solo clarinet in the same (second) movement sounded like pure Delius – i.e. not just mightily well played, but acutely scrumptious and characterful..The whole thing, like so much Debussy or Roussel, is a masterclass in orchestration: who would have noticed that just one trumpet (Matthew Frost, I think) plays at the start of ‘Jupiter’: so utterly assured, the effect, even amid quite thick textures, is extraordinary.

 Gernon’s success was keeping what might have been a rather bawdy, rumbustious romp so elegantly under control. As a result, detail spoke loud. There was no mush. The violin sound was precise, lucid, focused – the seconds as well as the top line, some expressive moments in the violas, and particularly some hugely rewarding, sonorous sounds from double basses and cellos, playing separately or as one. Pure magic and growing mystery from harps, singly or paired (as in ‘Saturn’), and Jing Yi Goh’s immensely attentive celesta (by the time we reached ‘Neptune’, it was starting to sound like Schreker’s Der Ferne Klang, which dates from time that Holst first conceived the war-coincident work).”     …


Review by Katherine Dixson, BachTrack:

Click here for full review

…     “It is in fact one of the trademarks of this orchestra that they’re up for the challenge of new commissions, and they tackled Passchendaele with a maturity beyond their years. There was as much assurance in the full, multi-textured, angry orchestral sound as there was in the solo and ensemble fanfares and more reflective moments. Within the space of ten minutes, plaintive melodies on trombones were answered by orchestra; clashing percussion gave way to more melodic strings; a sinking, labouring feeling was punctuated with horns and gongs, shifts in the time signature creating a sense of tension and unease; outbursts gradually subsided and led back through the wind section to a poignant trumpet solo. A sense of calm rather than peace, to which the audience responded with thoughtful rather than ecstatic applause.     […]

[…]    After the interval Gernon and the orchestra seemed much more at home with The Planets, enjoying the build-up from a menacing opening into an explosive frenzy in their depiction of Mars, the Bringer of War. Hard to believe that Holst had already started writing this movement before hostilities started in 1914.

The contrasts between the more energetic and slower movements were skilfully handled, as were the expressive dynamics and contributions from solo violin, cello, woodwind and lively percussion team. The CBSO Youth Chorus, with a 20-year history, shone as ethereal voices offstage, breathing an extra dimension into the already captivating atmosphere of Neptune, the Mystic, like wind. With the inclusion of Colin Matthews’ additional movement Pluto, the Renewer, the voices were employed again to bring the music back to Holst’s own final chord.  An effective end to a highly entertaining birthday party.”

Belshazzar’s Feast

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Saturday 26 April 2014 at 7.00pm

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

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra 

John Storgårds  conductor
Mark Stone  bass
William Gardner  treble
CBSO Chorus
CBSO Youth Chorus  

Holst: The Hymn of Jesus 23′
Bernstein: Chichester Psalms 19′
Walton: Belshazzar’s Feast 34′

1931: William Walton takes a huge choir and a massive symphony orchestra, adds a couple of brass bands – and blows English music sky-high. Big, brassy and shamelessly savage, Belshazzar’s Feast caused outrage back then, and it still knocks you backwards today! It’s a stunning showcase for the CBSO’s famous choruses; and John Storgårds gets things buzzing with two joyous choral classics by the composers behind West Side Story and The Planets. We think you’ll love them.

If you like this concert, you might also like:
Der Rosenkavalier, Saturday 24th May
Mozart’s C Minor Mass, Thursday 26th June
Bluebeard’s Castle, Wednesday 2nd July




Review by Diane Parkes, BehindTheArras:

Click here for full review

…     “Mark Stone sang the baritone role here, perfectly complementing the chorus and occasionally slowing down the action for a moment of reflection.

By its rousing Alleluias at the finale, there was no doubt that the chorus was thoroughly enjoying tackling the piece, which is not the easiest to carry off well.

There was also plenty of life in Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms. Ever the showman, Bernstein may have taken the words from the Biblical Psalms but at times the pieces sound more akin to a music hall show than a church.

The Lord is My Shepherd has plenty of moments of calm and was beautifully sung by Trinity Boys Choir member William Gardner. But Bernstein quickly introduces a riot of percussion so we can almost imagine the chorus taking to the stage to dance in a West Side Story like showstopper. It was also a great opportunity for the CBSO to get to grips with lots of fun and exuberant music.”     …



Review by Roderic Dunnett, MusicWeb, SeenandHeard:

Click here for full review

…     “When we get to Sitwell’s hymnic bit (‘God of Gold…God of Wood…God of Brass) – slightly improbable, but huge fun – we are saturated by a kind of corrupt Benedicite. Alto saxophone, bass clarinet, and contrabassoon get their look in; James Burke’s clarinet positively screeched with impropriety. Percussion snaps and blips, and clops from wood blocks, abound. A riot of (as the notes put it) ‘onomatopoeic’ colour. No wonder the Lord (Jahweh – on our side) took a dim view of it all.

The resplendent additional brass (Beecham’s idea: here two septets, I believe, arrayed along both sides, high up) that toasts Belshazzar’s bluffing celebrates God’s inevitable triumph. Weighed in the balance, the oriental despot meets his  sticky end (double basses, low woodwind, flibbertigibbet flutes and piccolo see him off with an almost Bartókian atonal savagery – shades of Bluebeard.)The full-blooded chorus remained splendid thereafter, though Walton doesn’t: the penultimate (or middle of ultimate) section sounds like the thinnest of note-spinning. Yet at ‘Then trumpeters and pipers are silent, and the harpers have ceased to harp…’ he redeems himself, writing for them an alluring sequence like some succulent church anthem by Leighton or Hewitt-Jones – or Walton himself (The Twelve).

The most relishable, perhaps thrilling achievement of Storgårds’ conducting of the Walton came at the culmination, where in the final build up or recap he has to maintain a firm four in a bar while the bravado chorus sings effectively in three. The result produces excitement of almost fugal intensity, without being remotely banal. As the composer pops in a few whole tone scales to underline their whooping, he must have been feeling pleased with himself; for we are treated to a distinct burst – a sneak preview – of his First Symphony (which he was poised to embark on). Either he thought it a jolly good idea, and reused it, or his symphonic notepad jottings were already getting crammed.”



Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:

Click here for full review

“It’s many, many years since it has been my privilege to hear a concert as joyous as this one: three works, all with a religious impulse, and each approached from a different direction.

Full marks all round, but primarily to Simon Halsey’s remarkable CBSO Chorus celebrating 40 years of existence, and delivering Gnostic mysticism, Old Testament blood and guts, and Hebrew fervour (in the original language).     […]

[…] Storgards drew a thrilling reading from all these forces, chorus projecting with their customary clarity of diction, orchestra taut and rhythmic, and baritone soloist Mark Stone the most authoritative I have ever heard him. For technical nerds such as me, his maintenance of pitch in the lengthy unaccompanied passages was exemplary. This was an exhilarating performance.”


Holst’s The Planets

Part of Birmingham International Concert Season 2012/13… more events…

Part of Universe of Sound… more events…

Part of Entertaining Erdington… more events…

Saturday 15th June

Symphony Hall

Philharmonia Orchestra

Vladimir Ashkenazy  conductor

James Ehnes  violin

Ladies of the City of Birmingham Choir

Elgar   Violin Concerto 54’
Holst   The Planets 49’

Vladimir Ashkenazy conducts two of the greatest classics of English music. Holst’s The Planets is a marvellously evocative depiction of astrological influences, whilst Elgar’s Violin Concerto contains some of the composer’s most intimate and personal music, shot through with nostalgia for a passing Edwardian age.

Classic FM’s Anne-Marie Minhall, says of tonight’s recommended concert:

Nearly 100 years since its composition, Holst’s The Planets remains the most recorded piece of British music. The menace of Mars is its most famous movement, but the joyous vigour of Jupiter made the cleaners put down their brooms and dance in the aisles during its first rehearsals!



Review by Diane Parkes, BehindtheArras:

Click here for full review

…    “There is something quite magical about watching Ashkenazy. Not only is he incredibly enthusiastic but he also has a fluidity of conducting.

He coaxes the music out of every performer and then seems to feel it in his own movement – it is as though his very muscles reverberate music.

The Philharmonia Orchestra certainly responded to his energy with a Planets Suite which was packed with nuance, action and life. When a piece as well-known as this can still find new colour, the conductor and orchestra must be doing something right.”     …



Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:

Click here for full review

…     “Beneath the rhetoric, beneath the intricate solo writing, beneath the imposing proportions there beats a heart pierced with insecurity and regret, an inferiority complex which can only be hidden by swagger. And together James Ehnes and Vladimir Ashkenazy found it all.

Ehnes, a gentle giant, brought a rich, elegiac tone and unobtrusive virtuosity to his performance. Ashkenazy, diminutive and jerkily hyperactive (his conducting technique, quite the reverse of the austere Pierre Boulez, will never be a role-model), drew from what appears to be a rejuvenated Philharmonia both a remarkable depth of sonority and well-pointed athleticism. Rapport between soloist and orchestra in the finale’s extended, retrospective cadenza was extraordinarily gripping.”     …



Review by Verity Quaite, BachTrack:

Click here for full review

…     “The Planets was preceded by Canadian violinst James Ehnes performing Elgar’s Violin Concerto in B minor, Op. 61. This is the second time I have seen Ehnes perform at Birmingham Symphony Hall and, although impressed with his playing on the first occasion, he surpassed himself this evening. Ehnes is a passionate and earnest performer, not given to excessive flamboyance or extravagance and this clean style is perfectly suited to the repertoire. In this mentally and physically exerting piece, Ehnes appeared to give himself over entirely to the music and was able to fully exploit the emotional pull of the concerto, whilst successfully demonstrating his technical virtuosity with a stunning cadenza. A captivating performance by a musician of the highest calibre, Ehnes’ performance, like that of the Philharmonia Orchestra, cannot be praised enough.”     …

The Planets: An HD Odyssey

(European Premiere)

Birmingham International Concert Season 2010/11

Friday 8 October 7:30pm at Symphony Hall, Birmingham

Houston Symphony
Hans Graf conductor
Ladies of the City of Birmingham Choir

Stravinsky Fireworks 5’
Adams Dr Atomic Symphony 25’
Holst The Planets 65’

Sponsored by University of Birmingham.

Encores –  Liadov? –  “Baba Yaga” and Mozart – ?

“The images . . . were often astonishing. Photographs from rovers and satellites, radar images and computer-generated graphics were combined to give the audience the impression of circling individual planets and sometimes flying over their awesomely barren landscapes.”  New York Times Holst’s The Planets was inspired by his interest in astrology. Nearly one hundred years later he would have been astounded by the state-of-the-art, high definition images from NASA’s exploration of the solar system. For tonight’s European Premiere, Producer Duncan Copp has brought these images together with a commentary by the world’s leading planetary scientists, all projected on a large screen above the orchestra.

Classic FM’s Anne-Marie Minhall, says of tonight’s recommended concert:
“Classical music reaches for the stars in this unique project between the Houston Symphony and NASA no less. Premiered in the Space Agency and Orchestra’s home city in January 2010, this will be your chance to watch some extraordinary images of our solar system alongside Holst’s astrological masterpiece”.

Part of the Sounds of Space weekend at Town hall and Symphony Hall.

Houston Symphony UK Tour blog:

Review by Elmley de la Cour, Birmingham Post:

…”Conductor Hans Graf, undoubtedly an instrumentalist’s dream, directed with pin-point clarity. His beat was one of the aspects of the concert that certainly was in high-definition. His tempos were also refreshingly brisk, ensuring that no automaticity crept into the Holst classic.” …

Review by Simon Thompson, MusicWeb International: (for same concert, different location!)

…Their “HD Odyssey” brought not just the music but stunning photography care of NASA, giving us a virtual tour of each planet as we hear Holst’s music. Producer/Director Duncan Copp’s images are truly breathtaking […]

…Jupiter works best – it’s so well done that it’s like watching choreography – with Mars and Neptune particularly striking too. Venus works less well and the serene images of Uranus are positively anachronistic viewed alongside Holst’s music until, that is, a virtual eclipse seems to fit the final bars beautifully.” …



Friday Night Classics: You Call the Tunes

Friday 21 May 2010 at 7.30pm

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

Michael Seal  conductor
Simon Bates  presenter
Michael Wade Lee   tenor
Mark Holland   baritone

Tonight the CBSO plays the peoples’ favourites in a concert packed with Midlanders’ most-loved classical and operatic music.

Voting for the concert programme closed on 31 March, programme includes:
Holst: The Planets – Mars and Jupiter
Grieg: Peer Gynt – Morning and In the Hall of the Mountain King
Verdi: Rigoletto – La Donna è mobile
Bizet: Carmen – Les Toréadors
Pachelbel: Canon in D
Vaughan Williams: Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis
Rossini: The Barber of Seville – Largo al Factotum
Puccini: Turandot – Nessun Dorma
Bizet: The Pearlfishers – Au fond du temple saint
Ravel: Boléro

It’s a tantalising programme of opera house favourites, luminously indulgent works to relax to and revel in, and rousing pieces using the immense sound of the full Orchestra to mammoth effect.

* We’re very sorry to announce that Sue Perkins has become unable to appear in this concert due to filming commitments which could not be moved. We’re delighted that Simon Bates, popular Classic FM presenter, will now present this concert.

Alfie Boe with the CBSO

Tuesday 30 March 2010 at 7.30pm

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

Simon Halsey  conductor
Natasha Marsh  soprano
Alfie Boe  tenor
William Berger  baritone
CBSO Youth Chorus  

Holst: Choral Hymns from the Rig Veda 12′
Finzi: Dies Natalis 25′
Howard Goodall: Eternal Light (Requiem) 45′

Whether as the composer of theme tunes from Blackadder to The Vicar of Dibley, or as a wonderfully accessible TV champion of classical music in all its forms, Howard Goodall is one of Britain’s best-loved composers. And his new tuneful and deeply moving Requiem, Eternal Light, has already become a bestseller. This performance, with star soloists Alfie Boe and Natasha Marsh, will show you why. Alfie Boe also sings Finzi’s radiant masterpiece.

Review by Norman Stinchcombe, Birmingham Post:

…”The CBSO Youth Chorus sang splendidly obviously relishing the lively Carl Orff-inspired Revelation movement. Natasha Marsh sang sweetly and baritone William Berger was firm and dignified in Do not stand at my grave and weep, which sounds like a first rate West End musical number.”…

The Planets

Tuesday 10 November 2009 at 7.30pm

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

 John Wilson  conductor
Leon McCawley  piano
CBSO Youth Chorus  

Elgar: Cockaigne 15′
Grieg: Piano Concerto 30′
Holst: The Planets 48′ Listen
requires Real Player

Midland composers have always aimed high. Worcestershire lad Edward Elgar dreamed of making it big in the capital, and it shows: his Cockaigne overture positively glitters with the pageantry and bustle of Edwardian London. Gustav Holst, meanwhile, headed for the stars! His Planets suite isn’t just famous for great tunes like Jupiter and Mars; it’s a tremendous musical odyssey towards the infinite, written for a super-size orchestra and filled with sounds of jaw-dropping strangeness and beauty. Amidst all this grandeur, Grieg’s ever-popular Piano Concerto offers gentler charms – but with Leon McCawley at the keyboard, it will be every bit as spectacular.