Benjamin Grosvenor: Grieg

  • Thursday 25th February, 7.30pm

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra


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

Benjamin Grosvenor’s encore – Dohnányi – Capriccio Op.28 No.6
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:

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…     “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”     …


Review by Peter Marks, BachTrack:

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…     “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.”     …



CBSO Youth Orchestra

Rachmaninov’s Second

Sunday 21st February, 7.00pm

CBSO Youth Orchestra


  • Prokofiev  Scythian Suite , 20′
  • Rachmaninov  Symphony No. 2, 55′

Conductor Jac van Steen has a special rapport with the CBSO Youth Orchestra – and if you’ve heard them play Rachmaninov before, you’ll know to expect absolute commitment, glorious playing and pure, unbuttoned emotion when our fabulous young players tackle the ultimate Russian romantic symphony. Though after van Steen has unleashed them on the pagan frenzy of Prokofiev’s electrifying Scythian Suite, pulses should already be racing!

The Year 1912: Brave New Worlds

Wednesday 14 November 2012 at 7.30pm

Symphony Hall, Birmingham +44 (0)121 345 0603

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra 

Jac van Steen conductor

Schoenberg: Five Pieces for Orchestra (1909 original version) 16′ Listen on Spotify
Mahler: Symphony No. 7 84′

Mahler called it his “song of the night”, and it’s true: the Seventh is a Mahler symphony like no other. It begins in a boat on an Alpine lake and ends with trumpets aloft in blazing, roof-raising celebration – but along the way there are distant bugles, moonlit serenades and spinechilling horror. It’s fantastic, and it’ll sound like a dream under the baton of renowned guest conductor Jac van Steen – who opens the concert with a revolutionary masterpiece premiered in 1912 by Mahler’s most devoted fan. With an oversize orchestra and a kaleidoscope of colours and textures, Schoenberg looks decisively towards a brave new musical world – and sheds fresh light on Mahler’s own futuristic vision.

Review by John Quinn, MusicWeb, SeenandHeard:

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…     “The mood of the symphony changes decisively and positively in Nachtmusik II, a warm and affectionate piece. Here Mahler reinforces his vast orchestra with mandolin and guitar. These instruments were carefully positioned on the platform so that their contributions were audible. There was great refinement in the CBSO’s playing, not least from leader, Laurence Jackson. Fired by this new mood of positivity the finale erupts in bright C major. This movement has often been criticised and there’s no doubt that it can seem weak and/or ramshackle. Jac van Steen’s solution was a simple but effective one: he really went for it, galvanising the orchestra into playing that had huge energy and high spirits. The movement is, by turns, delicate and tumultuous and both sides of the music were superbly delivered in a vibrant sharply etched performance.

With the CBSO on top form and an expert conductor at the helm I enjoyed this performance of Mahler’s Seventh greatly and got more from it than has been the case on most occasions that I’ve heard the work. The CBSO seemed to relish Mr van Steen’s work on their podium: I hope it won’t be long before he’s invited back to Birmingham.”     …


Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:

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“The CBSO have a wonderful ritual whenever their beloved music director Andris Nelsons conducts them. At the end of a concert they refuse to stand at his exhortation, remaining instead firmly in their seats as they applaud him with warmth, gratitude and affection.

Last Wednesday Dutch conductor Jac van Steen was granted a similar accolade from the players at the end of a remarkable programme of early 20th-century music featuring a huge orchestra. Listeners to the live BBC Radio-3 broadcast will have missed this touching visual but will certainly have enjoyed what they heard. Thanks to the Rattle days the CBSO have Mahler’s Seventh Symphony (certainly his most difficult to bring off) firmly under their fingers, and this performance was yet another marvellous one to add to the list.”     …

Jac van Steen Conducts Mahler 6

Tuesday 29 March 2011 at 7.30pm

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

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Jac van Steen  conductor

Mahler: Symphony No 6 85′

Art imitates life – it isn’t meant to happen the other way round. Mahler
imagined his mighty Sixth Symphony as an epic musical tragedy, in
which a hero is destroyed by three devastating blows of fate. And
then…he lost his job, was diagnosed with heart disease, and lost his
five-year old daughter. Coincidence? Mahler didn’t think so. And you can
tell why; he’d filled every bar of this immense symphony with his most
heartfelt and intimate emotions. It’s a musical experience like no other, a
symphony that leaves no listener unmoved – and it absolutely has to be
heard live. In the hands of master-Mahlerian Jac van Steen be ready to
be astonished, to be moved, and to be shaken to the very depths of
your being.

Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:

…     “The orchestra played out of its socks for this conductor so attuned to the Mahlerian idiom, drawing crisp martial rhythms, full-throated lyricism (what a wonderful “Alma-theme” from the strings), defiant woodwind interjections, uneasy brass, now affirmative, now questing, and percussion-playing both colourfully evocative and menacingly implacable – fabulous timpani unisons from Peter Hill and Cliff Pick on the famous motto-rhythm which drives the hero into oblivion.”

Rating * * * * *

Review by John Quinn, MusicWeb:

…   “The playing of the CBSO was impressively sonorous and incisive. Even this early in the symphony’s epic journey there were some excellent solo contributions to admire, not least from leader Zoë Beyers and principal horn Elspeth Dutch – these proved to be a foretaste of consistently good solo work across the orchestra throughout the performance.  […]

[…]   This was a very fine performance indeed. Jac van Steen’s conception of Mahler’s Sixth was a gripping one and it was marvellously realised by the CBSO, which was on trenchant form. This was surely one of the peaks in Birmingham’s excellent Mahler cycle.”