Yamada conducts Bernstein

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra


  • Ravel La Valse, 13′
  • Korngold Violin Concerto, 24′
  • Ravel Valses Nobles et Sentimentales, 18′
  • Bernstein West Side Story: Symphonic Dances, 24′

“This young man is full of music from head to toe” said one critic about Kazuki Yamada, and he’s become a real favourite with audiences and orchestra alike. With Bernstein’s electrifying Symphonic Dances, delicious decadence from Maurice Ravel, plus another Birmingham favourite – Baiba Skride – in Korngold’s luscious Violin Concerto, his first concert as our new Principal Guest Conductor is pretty much guaranteed to set the ears tingling.     http://www.CBSO.co.uk


Review by Nick John Whittle, Bachtrack:

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[…]      “Of the final work of the evening a written description will not suffice. Rarely have I been more entertained at a classical concert than this by rendition of Bernstein’s Symphonic Dances from West Side Story. An augmented CBSO, complete with all manner of percussive instrument, delivered something that altogether rose above the basal definition of ‘music’.

Special mention must be made of the percussion section whose relentless hammerings constituted the strong, jagged backbone of the magnificent beast. Complex tempi were delivered with accuracy – a breathtaking example of how best to deliver beat and rhythm and, for the young students of the audience who may baulk at the idea of just ‘beating drums’, here was an insight into the beauty and sexiness of rhythm.

Yamada is no despot by any means. He is part of the Big Picture, the final ingredient in the chemical reaction that turns concerts into celebrations. His connection with the orchestra was apparent, and his rapport with each section and each player was as plain as day. By his own admission he feels a connection with the CBSO that is almost “telepathic”; that much was obvious at tonight’s concert.”


Review by Norman Stinchcombe, MidlandsMusicReviews:

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[…]      “The playing sparkled and mixed the musical ingredients perfectly; a rainbow of carefully shaded and crisply delivered rhythms, street-wise New York pizzazz and just a dash of schmaltz. There were magical moments too, like the pizzicato strings for Maria and the all stops out Mahler-on-the-Hudson orchestration of Somewhere. Every section took a fully-deserved bow and Yamada, a diminutive bundle of bobbing energy, got a rightly raucous reception.

Korngold’s violin concerto got a sniffy critical drubbing when it was premiered in 1947 – as did almost everything tonal and tuneful – but is now getting the recognition it deserves. Vilde Frang gave a fantastic fulsomely passionate performance here two years ago but Baiba Skride’s more inward and subtle interpretation was equally satisfying. She started daringly slow and quiet, a mere wisp of sound heard from afar – music as Wordsworth’s “emotion recollected in tranquillity” – the central Romance warm but not over-heated and the finale’s humorous high-jinks (with characterful brass and wind playing) were delightful. ”     […]




American Classics with Freddy Kempf


Wednesday 28th January 2015 at 7.30pm

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

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Michael Seal  conductor
Freddy Kempf  piano

Bernstein: Divertimento 14′
Gershwin: Piano Concerto in F 29′
Listen on Spotify

Korngold: Symphony in F Sharp 53′
Listen on Spotify

A symphony from the New World… with a difference. Mahler declared Erich Korngold a genius, but Hitler had other ideas – and from exile in California, Korngold poured out all his hopes and sorrows in 53 minutes of grand, heartbroken passion. It’s a wonderful counterpart to Bernstein’s hilarious Divertimento and the irresistible jazz-age melodies of Gershwin’s “skyscraper concerto”, played by one of Britain’s favourite pianists.


Review by John Quinn, SeenandHeard, MusicWeb:

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…     “Near the end Gershwin pares everything back to just a solo flute and the pianist, quietly duetting as if they were the last people left in a downtown bar late one night. Here Marie-Christine Zupancic and Kempf were quite magical in partnership. There was vitality and drive in the colourful finale. Kempf offered sparkling playing but, as in the Bernstein, I didn’t quite feel the orchestra were encouraged by Michael Seal to be quite as unbuttoned as the music demands. Nonetheless, this was an enjoyable account of the concerto

 Erich Wolfgang Korngold attracted great attention as a youthful prodigy in Vienna. In the 1930s he made a new home in America where he put his prodigious talent to work writing many notable movie scores in Hollywood. Yet despite his success in the cinema Korngold continued to write concert music also. His only symphony was completed in 1951. It is an elusive work in the sense that opportunities to hear live performances are rare indeed. I first became acquainted with it through Rudolf Kempe’s pioneering 1972 recording – the MusicWeb International review by Ian Lace is well worth reading, not least for much valuable background information.  There have been a number of subsequent recordings of the work – including one by Sir Edward Downes for Chandos  – but I’ve never had a chance to hear it live until this evening.

 The symphony is scored for a large orchestra, including a substantial percussion section, and the scoring is constantly interesting and resourceful. Among many features that catch the listener’s ear are the percussive use of piano and marimba, especially in the first movement, and the rather spooky end to that movement, including col legno work by the strings. It was one of the achievements of this performance that Michael Seal and the CBSO brought out all the colour and rhythmic ingenuity in the work.”     …



Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:

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…     “The first winner was Leonard Bernstein’s Divertimento, a sparky masterpiece of sleight-of-hand wizardry bettering Stravinsky’s Pulcinella, allowing every section of the orchestra to shine (it was written for the Boston Symphony Orchestra, so there’s a topical connection, Andris Nelsons about to leave the CBSO for that band), and consummately delivered under the efficient and empowering baton of Michael Seal.

The second was George Gershwin’s Piano Concerto, the greatest to emerge from the western hemisphere, so redolent of the aspirations of the United States, and delivered with idiomatic flair here by Freddy Kempf’s fleet pianism.

An initially staid orchestral contribution came to life once Kempf got going, the soloist positively encouraging attentive interplay between himself and the players, and his gorgeously singing cello-like tone in the lyrical episodes drawing an “anything you can do” response.

This was a performance radiating sheer pleasure, and will not easily be forgotten.”     …



Review by Richard Whitehouse, ClassicalSource:

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…     “Enjoying audible rapport with the CBSO, Freddy Kempf knitted its various sections together convincingly – though this performance, as with the work itself, was at its best in the Adagio; its trumpet theme plaintively phrased by Jonathan Holland, with Kempf maintaining tension admirably in the brief central cadenza prior to an eloquent climax. He made the most of the finale’s review of earlier ideas as part of its agitated progress, and if the peroration seemed a mite underwhelming, the breezy coda did not lack for panache.

After the interval, a welcome hearing (the first-ever in Birmingham?) for Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s Symphony in F sharp of 1952. The composer’s most far-reaching attempt to recalibrate his innate late-Romanticism for the austere post-war era, it is a work fairly riven with contradiction for all that its ambition cannot be doubted. Seal had the measure of the initial Moderato with its bracing deployment of piano and percussion (not the only instance where Prokofiev’s Fifth Symphony acts as a template), and purposeful interplay of its respectively ominous, yearning and poignant main themes. The quixotic Scherzo needed a little more agility for its acute contrasts in harmony and texture fully to register, but the Adagio was finely handled in terms of sombre emotions which reach a climax of tragic and consciously Mahlerian import prior to the resigned close.”     …


Review by Owen Walton, OldMusicalCuriostiyShop:

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…     “Michael Seal, a passionate devotee of the composer, has waited some time to conduct the work in Birmingham and I for one am extremely grateful to him for being afforded the opportunity to hear the symphony live played by a world-class ensemble.

For that is the impression that this performance left; a truly astonishing display both of orchestral virtuosity and of commitment. We all know that British orchestras operate on a minimal rehearsal schedule and the results here were deeply impressive. There is no real Korngold tradition in Birmingham, the orchestra having performed his music for the first time in 1993 (the now ubiquitous Violin Concerto which would, arguably, have become a repertoire staple much earlier if it were not for the length of time it took for soloists capable of rivalling Heifetz in the work to emerge) and little else since. Considering, then, that this was a new work to the majority of players the results were a testament to their versatility and to Seal’s ability to galvanise his players.

Korngold wrote expertly for orchestra and the CBSO obviously relished the challenges that faced them in every department. The brass, in particular, now seem to have a sound when playing as a full section that is deep, dark and centred in the Concertgebouw mould (how different they sound than in the Rattle era). The strings start with a focussed bass section, rich celli, vibrant violas. The upper strings have a leanness (do not mistake this for undernourished) that make easy work of clarifying Korngold’s frequently dense close harmony writing. If the second movement scherzo was a feat of ensemble playing and expert crowd control, the dark heart of the work (the ensuing adagio) sang with an eloquence that was intensely moving when not shrieking with despair. Korngold’s own brand of wistful nostalgia, in which he brings to the fore fragments of what sound once popular Viennese songs brings to mind the sentiment of ‘Gluck mir das verblieb’ from Die Tote Stadt (Ich kenne das Lied/Ich hört es oft in jungen, in schöneren Tagen/ Es hat noch eine Strophe- weiß ich sie noch?). These small ideas seemed to materialise and fade away, half-remembered experiences of a happier time. It takes intelligence and an ear for orchestral balance for this to work.”     …

Friday Night Classics: Classics at the Movies

Friday 1 November 2013 at 7.30pm

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

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Michael Seal  conductor

Claire Rutter  soprano

Barry Norman  presenter

Including music from:   Verdi: The Force of Destiny (Jean de Florette)

Catalani: Ebben? Ne andrò lontana (Diva)

Puccini: O mio babbino caro (A Room with a View)

Tchaikovsky: Swan Lake (Black Swan & Billy Elliot)

Barber: Adagio for Strings (Platoon & The Elephant Man)

Herrmann: Salaambo’s Aria (Citizen Kane)

Sibelius: Finlandia (Die Hard 2)

Wagner: The Ride of the Valkyries (Apocalypse Now)

Korngold: Glück das mir verblieb (The Big Lebowski)

Mozart: The Marriage of Figaro (Trading Places)

Strauss: Blue Danube Waltz (2001: A Space Odyssey)

Britten: Playful Pizzicato (Moonrise Kingdom)

Mascagni: Cavalleria Rusticana (Raging Bull)

Puccini: Madam Butterfly (Fatal Attraction)

Saint-Saëns: Organ Symphony (Babe)

Encore: Rossini: William Tell Overture

You know that moment at the cinema when   you realise that you’ve heard that tune before – but you can’t quite put your   finger on it? Well, tonight, movie legend Barry Norman reveals all, in the sensational   3D-sound of the CBSO. You might think of the music of Sibelius, Puccini and   Barber as the soundtracks to Die Hard, Fatal Attraction and Platoon   – but it sounds even better when you hear it for real! www.cbso.co.uk

CBSO Youth Orchestra Academy

Sunday 21 July 2013 at 3.00pm

Town Hall, Birmingham 0121 345 0603

Michael Seal  conductor

Revueltas: Homenaje a Federico García Lorca 12′

Ravel: Mother Goose (complete) 28′

Korngold: Much Ado About Nothing – Suite 21′

Mozart: Symphony No. 36 (Linz) 26′

A mariachi band, a French fairy tale, a Shakespearean rom-com, and a symphony written in four days flat! Under the inspirational baton of Michael Seal, a chamber orchestra drawn from the very best of the CBSO Youth Orchestra’s superb young players explores three extraordinary 20th century masterpieces – from the Latin-American energy of Revueltas, to the luscious romance of Hollywood composer Erich Korngold. And did we mention Mozart’s most brilliant symphony? There’s a special electricity about everything our Youth Orchestra plays – come and share the thrill of discovery.

Please note: The St Chad’s and Queensway tunnels will be completely   closed to all traffic from 19 July to 2 September. The closure will be preceded   by four weeks of overnight closures, from 10pm to 6am, and followed by up to   two weeks of similar overnight closures. For more information please follow   this link: www.brumtunnels.co.uk

Please allow plenty of time for your journey as traffic disruptions are likely.




Review by Norman Stinchcombe, Birmingham Post:

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…     “A delightful piece of programming gave us a complete contrast – Korngold’s delicately-scored suite of incidental music to Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing. Not for nothing was Korngold’s middle name Wolfgang. Like that other wunderkind his light music combines charm, romanticism and the sensuous without ever breaking sweat. That the orchestra could play two such differing works with equal aplomb is a credit to their talent and the patient conducting of Michael Seal.

Mozart’s own Linz symphony zipped along merrily from the properly spiritoso first movement to the kinetic, but never frenetic, finale. Ravel’s complete Mother Goose ballet showed the orchestra at its finest with each fairytale character vividly realized in virtue of stylish playing from every section.”     …


C’est Fantastique!

Thursday 24 November 2011 at 7.30pm

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

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Edward Gardner conductor
Martin Fröst clarinet

Dukas: The Sorcerer’s Apprentice 10′ Listen on Spotify
Martinsson: Concert fantastique (CBSO co-commission; UK premiere) 24′
Berlioz: Symphonie fantastique 49′ Listen on Spotify

Fantastique by name – fantastic by nature! Witches, guillotines, dance-tunes and of course, unrequited love: Berlioz threw them all into his sensational Symphonie fantastique, and the result is still bringing the house down today. New CBSO principal guest conductor Edward Gardner unleashes all his operatic flair, and joins one of the world’s finest living clarinettists in an entertaining new commission (inspired by Berlioz) from Swedish composer Rolf Martinsson.

To listen to some of the music in this concert, and explore the rest of the season, using our Spotify playlists, click here.

Click here to find out more about composer Rolf Martinsson and his music.  www.cbso.co.uk

Martin Fröst’s Encore – “Let’s Get Happy – by Göran Fröst

Sounds Interesting pre-concert talk at 6.15pm
Conservatoire Showcase!

Butterworth: Two English Idylls;

Korngold: Overture to a Drama, Op. 4
Come early to hear the Birmingham Conservatoire Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Michael Seal, perform two tuneful mini-masterpieces from the year 1911. Free!

Review by Norman Stinchcombe, Birmingham Post:


…     “Fröst’s technical wizardry and engagingly extrovert musical personality make him the ideal interpreter of Swedish composer Rolf Martinsson’s Concert Fantastique which received its UK premiere with the CBSO conducted by Edward Gardner.

It was heartening to hear a contemporary work being greeted so warmly – deservedly so.”     …

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