Symphony Hall, Birmingham

Friday 6th January, 2017, 7:30pm

Artists

National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain

John Wilsonconductor

Tamara Stefanovichpiano

Programme

Lauren Marshall – Suspended Between Earth and Air (conducted by Joshua Mock)

Brett DeanKomarov’s Fall

SzymanowskiSymphony No 4 (Sinfonia Concertante)

RachmaninovSymphony No 2

It’s cold outside. But step inside the concert hall and the world’s greatest orchestra of teenagers is fired up and ready to put on a show of orchestral brilliance.

The journey begins in the chilly isolation of outer space, lands in the middle of a lively Polish party and ends in the radiant warmth of a showstopping Russian symphony. Your guide for the evening is John Wilson, charismatic conductor and conjurer of musical magic.

Brett Dean’s Komarov’s Fall is music that sharpens the senses. Its eerie opening requires precise and fearless playing as sparse, icy strings and woodwind glisten in the silence of space. As the tragic drama unfolds, jagged percussion and urgent brass take over the story of the Russian cosmonaut who became a hapless victim of the ruthless 1960’s space race.

For a fun-filled feast of toe-tapping rhythms, joyful dances and cheerful marches look no further than Szymanowski’s Symphonie Concertante. It is a cross between a symphony and a piano concerto and was one of the composer’s favourite pieces. With playful banter between the orchestra and piano, it is energetic and spirited, just like a stage-full of teenage musicians.

The finale of the evening is Rachmaninov’s Symphony No. 2, the ultimate Russian Romantic symphony. With big, bold melodies and lush, glowing harmonies, this music will smoulder and blaze in a performance of irresistible sparkle and flamboyance.

Totally teenage orchestral brilliance. Come and hear it.

BBC Radio 3 Live Broadcast –

Available on BBC Radio iPlayer here until 5th February 2017

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Review by Roderic Dunnett, MusicWeb, SeenandHeard:

Click here for full review

…     “This is an orchestra of marvellous flair and panache, profoundly intelligent, miraculously accurate, immensely responsive to scores of different hues, romantic and modern, producing a thrilling overall sound that is sheer joy to listen to. “Aurally volcanic” was how The Observer dubbed these breathtakingly talented young players. And indeed there were plenty of full-blooded explosions throughout this concert.

The chief surprise was an unexpected opener, Suspended between earth and air, by Lauren Marshall. She studied at the Purcell School and is currently NYO’s Principal Composer. This work turned out to be a miracle of inspiration. To behold at the outset eight trombones and a mass of horns arrayed in front of us, with a vast, possibly quadruple, spread of woodwind and strings, was in itself pretty astonishing, even if the NYO has more than 160 players to call upon.

But the impression made by Marshall’s largescale yet compact, beautifully argued piece and its use of a bigger-than-Wagner sized orchestra was astonishing: so atmospheric, indeed, that it actually managed to upstage Brett Dean’s Komarov’s Fall, a piece with which it had affinities both in subject matter (the might of the universe) and deployment of thickly massed orchestral sections. The start alone made a wondrous impact: low tympani, growling soft trombone, yielding to a striking early string build-up and some vivid chattering — almost a conversation — from the percussion. Some of the birdlike chirruping in the strings sounded uncannily like Szymanowski (the opening of his Violin Concerto No.2), which was especially appropriate given what was to come.     […]

[…]    There followed another piece of inspired programming by the NYO: one of the very rare live performances one can hear of Szymanowski’s Sinfonia Concertante (Symphony No.4). It is the work the Polish composer sketched late in life in an attempt to keep alive his performing on the platform when tuberculosis was beginning to play havoc with his health. Though the composer attempted to keep the solo part restrained, it is in fact a pretty full-blooded concerto, with a great deal of virtuosity which calls for an able soloist. Tamara Stefanovich brought colour and life and vivacity to the solo role, ably supported by the orchestra as a whole.

It is too unwieldy a task to elaborate on every detail of this work, which responded so well to the Symphony Hall acoustic. The start was mysterious and quizzical as it should be, with pizzicato cellos and basses, later a hinterland of flutes and clarinets, and the piano part characterised by the octaves and other parallellings that form part of its identity. The violins’ delayed entry was wonderfully robust, and they led in the falling-third patterns which become so essential to the argument. After a faultless surge from horns and trombones — I did not hear a single hint of a brass fluff all evening, which is a rare treat — the timpanist ushers in the cadenza, a great medley of material from the movement’s themes. Finely performed as that was, the orchestra’s scampering to a sudden, rather Ravel-like close, was yet more brilliant.     […]

[…]     The final movement gained equal impact thanks to the enduring quality of the NYO’s playing. The swellings and subsidings, all meticulously measured out, continued from earlier movements, the sensitive violas again supplied a plangent link, and the horn flutters — all eight of them beautifully synchronised — sounded like something out of Wagner. The movement, like the others, contains some tricky junctures calling for total attention and excellent conducting, which Wilson, nursing each section with intimacy and encouragement, and an unerring twinkle in his eye, dutifully supplied. In fact it was the links throughout the Rachmaninov, as in the Szymanowski, which showed off to great satisfaction the intelligence and attentiveness of these player en masse. The explosion of timpani and bass drum, and cymbals too, at the close, perfectly engineered, demonstrated with a final burst the magnificent effort put in by all their fellow players. Only occasionally one sensed the massed violin sound could be a little edgy, a mite domineering. But all in all, this was a concert to die for.”

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Review by Andrew Clements, Guardian:

Click here for full review

…     “Wilson energised and balanced everything very precisely, but even in Symphony Hall, which can probably clarify such massive textures better than anywhere else in Britain, there were moments in both works that suffered from problems of scale. Tamara Stefanovich’s fabulously secure solo playing tended to disappear altogether at the climaxes of the Szymanowski, while, though played with enormous verve and skill, the outer movements of the Rachmaninov seemed glutinous and flabby. Even the beautifully sculpted clarinet solo in the slow movement sounded oddly out of place in such a larger-than-life performance.

The published programme began with Brett Dean’s Komarov’s Fall – his short, touching memorial to the first astronaut to die in space – but before it one of the orchestra’s cellists, Joshua Mock, had conducted a beautifully paced account of Suspended Between Earth and Air, by NYOGB’s principal composer scholar, 16-year-old Lauren Marshall, which unfolds a sequence of striking musical images – fluttering woodwind, dense packed clusters and a final, enigmatic chorale – in a wonderfully assured way.”

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Review by Vincent Coster, Blog:

Click here for full review

…     “Tonight they played another concert that is a testimony to the fine work of this orchestra and proudly supports the fact that their ethos is a noble and worthy one. It was evident from the very beginning when we were treated to a surprise piece not originally listed. One that was written by the orchestra’s principal composer Lauren Marshall called Suspended Between Earth and Air. The piece itself was one of those typical modern compositions, which oscillate sharply, jagged and sharp in their contortions, and this too was wonderfully constructed in that mode. It was a treat and fitted in with the direction of the concert, setting us up perfectly for the next piece which was Dean’s piece Komarov’s Fall. So well blended where these two pieces that one thought they had stumbled into the film score of a futuristic nightmare set deep in the cold wastes of space. I for one hope we hear more of this young composer in the future, and that this piece gets performed more often.

Hardly had one time to breathe or recover from the modernistic style which begun this concert when the Orchestra took us backwards to an earlier part of the modern period with Karol Szymanowski’s Symphony No 4 (Sinfonia Concertante), this time joined on stage by Tamara Stefanovich. Together they treated the audience to such a wonderful rendition of a difficult and strikingly beautiful symphony.”     …

 

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Vaughan Williams’ Fifth

Thursday 5th May 2016, 7.30pm

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Programme

  • Bax  The Garden of Fand , 17′
  • Elgar Sea Pictures , 23′
  • Vaughan  Williams Symphony No. 5, 42′

A vision of peace in the depths of war, a pagan orgy beneath the waves of the Atlantic, or Edward Elgar revealing his deepest, darkest feelings? Forget everything you thought you knew about British music, and surrender to the emotion, as John Wilson joins Alice Coote to bring all his signature insight to three glorious masterpieces by three very different British masters.

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Review by Richard Bratby, Birmingham Post:

Click here for full review

…     “A performance of this freshness, scope and sheer beauty is something else altogether. It’s partly about the sound. Wilson has a knack for making an orchestra glow, and the CBSO responded with ardour. The way the tone swelled with warmth in the first movement, as Vaughan Williams quotes his own ‘Alleluias’, sent waves of shivers down the spine.

It’s not just about sonority, though. In Elgar’s Sea Pictures , Wilson and the CBSO surged and flowed around Alice Coote’s smoky mezzo, giving her both space and support to draw some troublingly dark and intimate things from these much-misunderstood songs. And in Bax’s The Garden of Fand , Wilson shaped long, sweeping phrases, pushing the music urgently forward while bringing out all the swirling details and iridescent greens and purples of Bax’s art nouveau seascape. Incredibly, this is the first time the CBSO has played The Garden of Fand . From the streaming passion with which the violins sang the central lovesong, we shouldn’t have to wait 100 years for the second.

But still, the enduring memory of this concert will be the final bars of Vaughan Williams’s Fifth Symphony. As the CBSO’s strings quivered with quiet rapture and Symphony Hall lit up with sound, Wilson offered the most eloquent possible ripost to those misguided souls who still pin labels like ‘pastoral’ and ‘placid’ on this visionary music. Heartbreaking – and sublime.”

 

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Review by Richard Bratby, TheArtsDesk:

Click here for full review

…     “Wilson conducted like he was making up for lost time: driving the music forward in big, surging arcs, pointing up Bax’s thematic connections, relishing the deep harmonic undertow, and, in short, putting the emphasis of this symphonic poem firmly on the “symphonic”. That’s important to say because purely as sound, it was gorgeous. Wilson let all the art nouveau details of Bax’s Celtic seascape swirl and flow, voicing big climaxes so that you really could catch the iridescent gleam of the orchestration and visualise the “sky of pearl and amethyst” that the composer described in his typically florid programme note. Harps glinted, the bass clarinet gurgled and snaked, and in the central love song, the violins let fly with vibrato as wide as the Irish Sea, streaming with passion.

It genuinely did feel like the climax of a spiritual journey Not terribly English? Hardly: few conductors take more care than John Wilson over the sound they draw from an orchestra. The gloriously idiomatic results bring the house down every year at the Proms, when Wilson conducts his own hand-picked orchestra in reconstructed scores from classic Hollywood musicals. But relatively few have commented on the sound he creates when conducting British music with a conventional symphony orchestra. It sounds different, and yet familiar: the wide-grained, flexible string tone; the glowing softness of the woodwinds; the brass by turns mellow and bandstand-brazen. It’s the sound you hear on Barbirolli’s classic recordings with the Hallé, a sound last encountered in the hands of Vernon Handley and the RLPO some time in the 1980s.

That in itself is a little miracle. But it’d be a lifeless exercise in style without Wilson’s freshness and vision – a spontaneous natural musicianship, coupled (on the strength of this concert) to an impressive and deepening grasp of long-range form.”     …

 

British Classics with John Wilson

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  • CBSO 2020

Wednesday 22 January 2014 at 2.15pm

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

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

John Wilson  conductor

Paul Watkins  cello

Ireland: A London Overture 12′

Walton: Cello Concerto 30′

Vaughan Williams: A London Symphony 48′ Listen on Spotify Watch on YouTube

Vaughan   Williams may have loved the countryside, but he couldn’t resist the capital.   Listen out for street-songs, buskers and even the chimes of Big Ben as conductor   John Wilson drives us through the fog – and enjoy John Ireland’s gloriously   tuneful take on the same bustling scene. Walton’s Cello Concerto, meanwhile,   comes from warmer climes; with Paul Watkins as the soloist, this is one trip   to London where sunshine is guaranteed!

If you like this concert, you might also like:

Ultimate Vaughan Williams, Wednesday   5th February

Mozart and Elgar, Wednesday   19th February

Belshazzar’s Feast, Saturday   26th April

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Review by Norman Stinchcombe, Birmingham Post:

Click here for full review

…     “The twilit slow movement was serene and haunting, illuminated by Christopher Yates’ viola playing. 

I thoroughly enjoyed it – a slightly guilty pleasure like watching Downton Abbey while dipping digestives into tea.

If the symphony was a little paunchy, even after the composer trimmed it, then Walton’s cello concerto is lean and lithe without an excess note.

There’s not even a flashy cadenza but the two solo episodes in the final variation movement give the cellist the spotlight and Paul Watkins seized the opportunity.

Throughout he was fast and fluent with a full but not over-rich tone, just right for Walton’s musical sweet-and-sour mixture.

Wilson was attentive to details such as the magical touch Walton brings with just few judicious dabs of the tinkling celesta.”

The Wizard of Oz

Birmingham International Concert Season 2011/12

Friday 4th May 2012

Symphony Hall

BBC Symphony Orchestra
John Wilson conductor

The Wizard of Oz (film screening, Certificate U)

Each performance lasts approximately 1 hour 45 minutes with no interval.

Film Courtesy of Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

We’re off to see the wizard! John Wilson conducts this lavish orchestral score as a live accompaniment to a screening of the magical 1939 movie, complete with original vocals. Forget scratchy soundtracks: this is the chance to hear Somewhere Over the Rainbow, Follow the Yellow Brick Road and all your favourites in vivid orchestral technicolour – the perfect Bank Holiday treat for munchkins of all ages.

‘The debonair flair of a matinee idol. He drew a fabulous quality of sound from his outstanding orchestra.’ The Guardian on John Wilson at the BBC Proms

Review by Chris Caspell, ClassicalSource:

Click here for full review

…      “The film has been shown on television many times and yet a two-thirds-full Symphony Hall demonstrated that, over seventy-years later, it still has pulling power. Indeed many of the younger members of the audience, perhaps seeing the movie for the first time, were as engaged in the adventures of Dorothy as were their parents and grandparents. The ‘feel-good’ factor has clearly not diminished.     […]

[…]     The quantity and quality of underscoring that is heard in The Wizard of Oz is surprising. Of the 101 minutes of film, as much as three-quarters (maybe more) has musical accompaniment. As with many of the best film scores, the music is complimentary to the action: an enhancement, never a distraction. ”     …

 

 

Friday Night Classics: Puttin’ on the Ritz

Friday 1 July 2011 at 7.30pm

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

City of Birmingham Symphony Orhcestra

John Wilson conductor
Kim Criswell vocalist
Gary Williams vocalist

Youmans/Kahn/Eliscu: Flying Down to Rio
Berlin: Top Hat
Berlin: Cheek To Cheek
Kern/Fields: Pick Yourself Up
Kern/Fields: A Fine Romance
Kern/Dougall: I’ll Be Hard To Handle
Kern/Fields: The Way You Look Tonight
Berlin: Puttin’ On The Ritzv Conrad/Magidson: The Continentalv Gershwin: Walking The Dog
Gershwin/Gershwin: Let’s Call The Whole Thing Off
Gershwin/Gershwin: Slap That Bass
Gershwin/Gershwin: They All Laughed
Gershwin/Gershwin: Shall We Dance?

interval

Berlin: Steppin’ Out With My Baby
Berlin: It Only Happens When I Dance With You
Berlin:A Couple of Swells
Lane/Lerner: You’re All The World To Me
Lane/Lerner: Too Late Now
Lane/Lerner: How Could You Believe Me When I Said I Loved You When You Know I’ve Been A Liar All My Life?
Schwartz/Dietz: Dancing In The Dark
Gershwin/Gershwin: They Can’t Take That Away From Me
Gershwin/Gershwin: Let’s Kiss and Make Up
Gershwin/Gershwin: Clap Yo Hands

Encore Schwartz/Dietz: That’s Entertainment

Pick yourself up and dust yourself off at the end of the week, and indulge in an evening of great music from the golden age of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. Conductor John Wilson has a real passion for these songs, and it’s easy to see why, with hit after hit by George and Ira Gershwin, Irving Berlin and Jerome Kern – brought to you by star vocalists Kim Criswell and Gary Williams. Top hat, white tie and tails are optional, but expect smooth glamour and tuneful exuberance perfect for an uplifting summer’s night. That’s entertainment! www.cbso.co.uk

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. www.cbso.co.uk

Friday Night Classics : John Williams’ Heroes

Friday 30 October 2009 at 7.30pm

Symphony Hall, Birmingham

 John Wilson  conductor

Williams: Star Wars Theme 5′
Korngold: Theme from the film, “The Sea Hawk” 6′
Williams: Symphonic Suite from Star Wars 5′
Waxman: The Philadelphia Story Suite: Main Title; Tracey in Love; End Title 6′
Williams: Jaws: Shark Theme 3′
Herrmann: Taxi Driver: Main Title 3′
Williams: Adventures on Earth: E. T. 10′
Newman: Airport: Main Title 5′
Williams: Escapades Suite: from Catch me if You Can 13′
Rozsa: Ben Hur – Parade of the Charioteers 3′
Williams: Schindler’s List Theme 5′
Williams: Excerpts from Close Encounters of the Third Kind 8′
Williams: Harry’s Wondrous World 4′

From blockbuster to blockbuster, tonight’s concert is a celebration of great film themes with live symphony orchestra, as you’ve never heard them before. Travel across the stars with an unbeatable line-up featuring the music of John Williams and the amazing film-score writers that influenced him. www.cbso.co.uk