Abrahamsen and Mahler

Thursday 28th April, 7.30pm

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Programme

  • Debussy (orch. Abrahamsen)  Children’s Corner , 16′
  • Hans Abrahamsen  Left, alone (CBSO co-commission, UK premiere), 20′
  • Mahler  Symphony No. 4, 55′

Gustav Mahler never wrote anything happier than his Fourth Symphony. Jangling sleighbells, Mozart-like melodies, and a child’s vision of heaven… if it almost sounds too sweet, trust Ilan Volkov to find the black comedy beneath the playful surface. First, though, we’ve a charming new version of Debussy’s Children’s Corner – and the first UK performance of a new piano concerto, specially written for tonight’s soloist by the Danish sonic magician Hans Abrahamsen.

CBSO+ 6.15pm Hans Abrahamsen will be interviewed before his UK premiere by CBSO Chief Executive Stephen Maddock.

CBSO Membership

BBC Radio 3 Live in Concert – Available here on iPlayer for thirty days

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Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:

Click here for full review

“The CBSO has a proud history of premiering new work, and its latest offering proved an absolute triumph.

“Left, alone” is the apt title, both witty and sad, of Hans Abrahamsen’s Concerto for Piano Left Hand, a CBSO co-commission with orchestras in Germany, Denmark and the Netherlands, and was written in response to the composer’s weakness in his own right hand. Like the Ravel Left Hand concerto, it begins in the nether regions, but unlike the French work’s grumblings, here it flickers in paroxysms of rhythmic energy, ducking and diving in and out between varying orchestral textures.

Orchestral detail — including the grim presence of another piano — teems with activity, impeccably marshalled by Ilan Volkov’s baton, and throughout this 20-minute piece, the proportions of its six movements perfectly judged, the soloist (Alexandre Tharaud here) is a poignant presence of immense character and dignity.”     …

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Review by Andrew Clements, Guardian:

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…     “Abrahamsen himself was born with restricted use of his right hand so that, as he says, he has always had a “a close relationship” with those piano works, like the Ravel concerto, composed for left hand alone. None of those pieces, though, deals with the challenge of writing such a work in the way that Left, Alone does so memorably. As the title suggests, it’s music of solitariness, in which the piano’s lonely melodic line (which only very rarely becomes chordal) weaves its way through the glittering and grumbling thickets of canons and cross rhythms that the orchestra creates, trying to establish its own identity. It regularly finds itself stranded, without support, and only in the last of the six short movements is there some kind of reconciliation between the two.

All this takes place in the special airy sound world that Abrahamsen has invented for himself, full of textures that can hang suspended in the orchestral stratosphere or plunge at any moment to the lowest depths that instruments can inhabit. Before the concerto, too, there was the chance to hear that world taken on in the work of another supreme musical colourist, as Volkov conducted Abrahamsen’s orchestration of Debussy’s Children’s Corner, which renders that suite of piano pieces into astonishing miniature tours de force, each one with its own carefully defined range of sonorities, that seem at the same time to belong to two very different musical worlds.”     …

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Review by Richard Bratby, TheArtsDesk:

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…     Ilan Volkov conducted with pinpoint precision, and the CBSO supported Tharaud with playing of breathtaking transparency and refinement. Transfixingly beautiful and charged with unspoken emotion, Left, alone doesn’t so much end as cease to be audible. It deserves the same success as Abrahamsen’s Grawemeyer Award-winning song cycle let me tell you (due to be performed by the CBSO and Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla at this summer’s Proms). For now, congratulations are due to the CBSO for co-commissioning a work that should by rights become a modern classic.

After the interval, Volkov deployed all his alertness and ear for texture in Mahler’s Fourth Symphony. More than that: beginning with sleighbells in strict time, he made the cod-Mozart opening theme as graceful and springy as a ballet. From there on in, this was Mahler in inverted commas – all knowing irony and brisk, bold gestures. That gave the scherzo a hallucinatory quality, with long string slides offset by honking clarinets and tangy, low vibrato solos from leader Ioana Petcu-Colan. In the third movement Volkov held the cellos’ opening theme poised above its pizzicato bass like the slow movement of Schubert’s string quintet; later he unleashed huge sweeps of horn and violin sound with the same crisp beat. And then on came Sarah Tynan in full storytelling mode, gazing around the hall, glancing conspiratorially up at the audience and all the while colouring Mahler’s “child’s vision of heaven” with luminous warmth darkened by just a hint of boyishness.

Volkov and the CBSO supported Tynan with the same delicacy and care they’d brought to the concerto; and at the start of the concert, Abrahamsen’s orchestration of Debussy’s Children’s Corner. These arrangements were lovely, poignant things. Doctor Gradus Ad Parnassum became a lush prelude, the tuba commented on Jimbo’s Lullaby and a lone castanet clicked comically and just a little sadly in the Serenade of the Doll. On paper, it looked like a throwaway opener. But by the time Left, alone had told its tale and Tynan’s wide eyed child was marvelling at her heavenly fruitbowl, it made perfect sense. Few conductors have more eclectic tastes than Volkov, and few plan their programmes with more intelligence and care. Under his direction, every part of this concert clicked perfectly into focus.”

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Review by Richard Whitehouse, ClassicalSource:

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…     “Abrahamsen the arranger was in evidence at the start of this concert, his 2012 orchestration of Debussy’s Children’s Corner (1908) well-removed from the familiar one by André Caplet. In essence this comes down to texture, with Abrahamsen eschewing the picturesque in favour of something plangent and restrained, most evident in the heaving pathos of ‘Jimbo’s Lullaby’ or distanced eloquence of ‘The Little Shepherd’. Not that the high-jinks of ‘Golliwog’s Cakewalk’ was passed over, its capering humour rounded off this insinuating version and perceptive reading of it.

An unusually well-planned concert ended with Mahler’s Fourth Symphony (1900), once the most-often-heard of this cycle in the UK (the Birmingham orchestra giving only its second performance here in 1927) and whose blend of the sardonic and naivety was duly brought out by Volkov – not least in a first movement that found a secure formal trajectory without sacrificing charm or humour. If the deadpan irony of the Scherzo could have been greater (though leader Ioana Petcu-Colan handled its scordatura with aplomb), and the trios’ easy rapture was ideally caught.

Nor was there much to quibble over in a slow movement which, while avoiding the grandeur summoned by Rudolf Schwarz in a fondly remembered account with the CBSO over three decades ago, traced a convincing course across its developing variations through to a climax of celestial radiance and a coda of heartfelt repose. Sarah Tynan was affecting and never merely cloying in the Finale’s setting of ‘Das himmlische Leben’ – not least during those evanescent closing pages with their promise of benediction in some hereafter.”

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Review by Robert Gainer, BachTrack:

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…     “This impression was the exact opposite of that created by the first piece of the evening, Debussy’s Children’s Corner, which only goes to show how just how versatile Abrahamsen is as an orchestral arranger. Originally written for piano it was arranged for orchestra by André Caplet in 1911, and this is the version with which most of us are likely to be familiar. This arrangement by Abrahamsen was refreshing, much more subtle and sophisticated than Caplet’s, yet also more vivid. The famous final movement for example, The Golliwogg’s Cakewalk, was coherent as an orchestral piece in its own right rather than merely an orchestrated transcription of a piano rag. Unlike Left, alone, the whole six-movement suite had a continuously warm yet appropriately light and witty ambiance.

The second half of the concert was Mahler’s Symphony no. 4 in G major. Again a creditable performance by Maestro Volkov and the CBSO, though I did feel the first two movements were a little sterile. Yes, the strings were sumptuous and there was nothing I could fault in the conducting or playing, just that I was unmoved. It was all a little bit too safe. However, by the third movement I began to transcend my critical ear and lose myself in the beauty of Mahler’s blue sky vision, ascending heaven-bound. This is what Mahler wanted to achieve, and the CBSO delivered. Soprano soloist Sarah Tynan put in a perfectly measured invitation to the heavenly-realm and Volkov, once he finally had the hall in the grasp of his hand, did not let it slip. By the end I was entranced. “

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Review by Rebecca Franks, The Times (££):

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“I felt as if I had stepped out of time in this concert. Hans Abrahamsen’s new concerto, Left, alone, is weightless and otherworldly, as stark, soft, radiant and magical as fresh snow. Each movement seems to hang in the air. Even its composer, who took his bows after the flawless UK premiere with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, the soloist Alexandre Tharaud and the conductor Ilan Volkov, had the air of a magician with access to unimagined realms.”     …

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Blog post by “Doundou Tchil”, Classical-Iconoclast:

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…     “Abrahamsen’s music listens, as a child listens, with purity and wonder.  It’s alert to the kind of quiet detail that gets missed in a world of white noise and bluster. A child doesn’t need to prove anything to anyone. He or she can marvel, without precondition.  One of my friends hated Abrahamsen’s Schnee (2007) because it “feels like watching snow fall”, but for me that’s precisely what I love about Abrahamsen.  Buddhists believe that the path to wisdom lies in divesting oneself of Self and the need to control. Abrahamsen’s music examines sounds from different angles and, importantly, through silence, the antithesis of mental muzak 

In Abrahamnsen’s Left, Alone the concept “the sound of one hand clapping” is uniquely realized.   Ravel’s Concerto for the Left Hand was written for Paul Wittgenstein who lost his right hand in war.    Perhaps it carries the memory of a lost limb, as often happens to amputees. Abrahamsen’s piece feels, however, like an exploration of something entirely imagined. Left, Alone moves through a series of six vistas, dark rumblings on the lower keys to bright outbursts in the orchestra. Single notes on percussion blocks tempt the piano forth. At first the piano sounds tentative, as if exploring space. A surge of strings from the orchestra, then a long passage of semi-silence. In fact there are several, passages of semi-silence, each one different, so you have to pay attention. Eventually the piano finds its voice, stabbing exuberantly at the keys, the whole orchestra  animated in support. Having thus found itself, the piano can return to quietude. Single notes are played, repeatedly. A huge arc of sound from the orchestra, a frenzy of sparkling notes: piano, percussion, winds and strings together. The pace intensifies, bubbling along cheerfully.  Not having a right hand is not funny, but the protagonist triumphs, nonetheless. Alexandre Tharaud was the soloist.  Preceding Left, Alone was Abrahamsen’s orchestration of Debussy Childrens Corner. The connections are clear: six vignettes unified by playful imagination.”     …

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Mahler’s Tenth

Symphony Hall, Birmingham

Thursday 31st March, 2016 – 7:30pm

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Programme

  • Webern Six Pieces Op. 6 (chamber version)
    Brahms Four Songs for Women’s Voices,
    Op. 17
    Mahler Symphony No. 10
    (completed by Deryck Cooke)

Mahler never quite finished his Tenth Symphony, but when musicologist Deryck Cooke finally pieced together the sketches, he uncovered a lost masterpiece – in which cries of love and cries of pain finally resolve in music of shattering honesty and piercing beauty. Nicholas Collon uncovers its secrets tonight, and sets it alongside miniatures from Brahms and Webern – each one a tiny, concentrated world of poetry and emotion.

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Available on iPlayer BBC Radio 3 Live in Concert here until 30th April 2016

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Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:

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…     “And so to the Mahler, a work which perhaps would never have been written had the dying composer not realised his wife was having an affair with the next creative artist in her collection. It is maudlin, self-repeating from previous works, but also has a visionary quality which begs the listener’s forgiveness.

Collon allowed the music to make all its own points, as Mahler would have intended. He drew a wondrously rich string tone, summoned the brass to awesomely terrifying outbursts, and presided over a myriad of vital instrumental solos.

Chief among these must come the many contributions of concertmaster Zoe Beyers, and, too, the lengthy flute solo in the finale from Marie-Christine Zupancic. We have heard all such things earlier in Mahler’s authentic symphonic output, but this does not detract from how valid they sounded within this context.”

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Review by Andrew Clements, Guardian:

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…     “There was a real authority about the CBSO’s playing under Collon, the sense of an orchestra continuing to explore a work it knows inside out. Beyond the English Midlands, Cooke’s score may not have quite secured the place in the canon it deserves. No other completion of the 10th I’ve heard seems anything like as convincing, so true to the world of late Mahler as what Cooke, with the assistance of Berthold Goldschmidt and Colin and David Matthews, produced. This performance was a reminder of how important a musical document it is.

Occasionally, the account was perhaps a little glib. Both scherzos have more menace in them than Collon suggested, and parts of the huge first movement seemed doggedly persistent rather than genuinely aspirational. But from its crepuscular opening onwards he caught the mood of the finale perfectly, right through to the radiance of the coda, when the strings return to the untroubled world of the Fifth Symphony’s adagietto.”

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Review by John Quinn, SeenandHeard, MusicWeb:

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…     “In the first scherzo Mahler constantly changes the time signature, giving the music a very unstable feel. Here the playing of the CBSO was incisive and displayed no little brilliance.  Collon handled the Ländler-like trio very well, using rubato very skilfully so that the music sounded very idiomatic. When the scherzo material reappeared he drove the movement to an exciting conclusion.

The short third movement, entitled ‘Purgatorio’ is a strange piece of writing. As I listened to the performance it seemed to me that the music offers echoes of the Seventh Symphony. Collon showed a fine feeling for Mahlerian style and he brought out the colours in the orchestration very vividly.

He took the second scherzo attacca. (In effect, since the finale also follows without a break, this meant that we heard the three movements that constitute Part II of the symphony as an unbroken span.) In some ways this fourth movement sounds to me the most Mahlerian of all – I’m thinking especially of the middle three symphonies and the Ninth. Here passages that require – and were given – real bite alternate with warm, sentimental music. The mood and colours of the music seems to be constantly changing – the former the responsibility of Mahler, the latter the product of Mahler’s invention as realised by Cooke’s orchestration. The CBSO played the movement with great virtuosity. The hushed coda, dominated by the percussion, was spookily effective.

If the end of the fourth movement was spooky then the beginning of the long finale was positively eerie; the dull bass drum thuds and doleful tuba distilled an atmosphere as baleful as even the start of the finale of the Sixth. And then, out of the darkness emerged the wonderfully tender flute melody, cushioned by soft violas and cellos. As voiced by the CBSO’s principal, Marie-Christine Zupancic, the melody was fragile yet soothing. Had Mahler’s sketches been left to gather dust we should have been deprived of this, arguably his most heart-stopping melody; what a loss that would have been. The consoling melody was then taken up and developed most beautifully by the violins. The paragraphs that followed were shaped with intensity and understanding by Collon and the CBSO responded to his leadership with wonderfully glowing playing.  Later, in the faster episodes there was urgency and bite from the orchestra but it’s for the heart-easing lyrical passages that I will long remember this performance.  The last few minutes of the movement seem suffused by acceptance and, perhaps, by a recollection of temps perdu. Collon conducted these closing pages with fine yet controlled intensity and was rewarded with luminous playing, especially from the strings and golden-toned horns. One last anguished outcry and then the symphony ends in tranquillity.

As I said earlier, many distinguished Mahler conductors have resisted performing this performing version by Deryck Cooke – or, indeed, the various versions by other hands. With all due deference, I have to say I think they are wrong. Cooke never made any pretence that what he had done was to “complete” Mahler’s score. Using highly informed conjecture and great musicianship he and his colleagues gave us a way – not the way – to hear the music that Mahler had composed. If we ignore the Tenth we surely have an incomplete picture of Mahler in his last years. If we embrace it, however, we expand and enrich our understanding of one of the twentieth century’s most important and influential symphonists. This evening’s very fine performance demonstrated very clearly how rewarding an experience Mahler’s Tenth can be.

I left Symphony Hall full of admiration for the performance by Nicholas Collon and the CBSO. But above all I left full of gratitude to Deryck Cooke and his three collaborators. Through their dedicated work our Mahler horizon was expanded significantly.”

 

 

Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra

Performs Mahler Symphony No. 5

Part of Birmingham International Concert Season 2015/16 Concert Package, SoundBite, Piano Highlights and Birmingham International Concert Season 2015/16

Saturday 12th March, 2016

Symphony Hall

Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra
Vasily Petrenko conductor
Simon Trpčeski piano

6:15pm Pre-concert conversation with Vasily Petrenko.
This conversation will be signed by a British Sign Language interpreter

Grieg Lyric Suite Op 54 17’
Rachmaninov Piano Concerto No 2 33’
Mahler Symphony No 5 72’

Simon Trpceski’s encore  with cellist Louisa Tuck – Rachmaninov – Vocalise

Oslo Philharmonic’s encore – Schubert – Moment Musical no. 3 in F Minor (for strings)

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Long acclaimed as Scandinavia’s finest orchestra, the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra has found a fresh energy under its dynamic new music director Vasily Petrenko. In Mahler’s Fifth Symphony, Petrenko and the Oslo Phil will make a compelling pairing; in Rachmaninov, meanwhile, Petrenko and pianist Simon Trpc˘ eski have already been hailed by critics as a ‘dream team’!

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Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:

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…    The concerto was Rachmaninov Two, the soloist the much-loved Simon Trpceski (…)playing with a confident rubato and empathy with his collaborators. This was a joint triumph for pianist and orchestra (full-throated strings, eloquent woodwind), Trpceski bringing warmth as well as glitter to rippling passage-work, and always a freshly-minted response to this well-worn work.

Applause from a packed auditorium came in huge waves, rewarded with a lovely encore, Trpceski modestly accompanying cello principal Louisa Tuck in Rachmaninov’s poignant little Vocalise.

Petrenko drew a tight, compact sound from the OPO for Mahler’s mighty Fifth Symphony. Strings dug deep, and the brass soloists (horn, trumpet, trombone), so important throughout this work laden with symbolic imagery, were a constantly commanding presence.”     …

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Mahler’s First

Saturday 28th November, 7.00pm

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Programme

  • Ives  The Unanswered Question, 7′
  • Bernstein  Chichester Psalms, 19′
  • Mahler  Symphony No. 1 , 56′

“The symphony should be like the world,” said Gustav Mahler. “It should embrace everything.” And from its breathless opening to the roof-raising triumph of its final bars, his blockbuster First Symphony does exactly that. It’s a thrilling showcase for guest conductor Lahav Shani; first, though, our superb Chorus shouts for joy in Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms, and Charles Ives sets one of music’s most intriguing puzzles.

Sir Mark Elder and the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain

Part of Birmingham International Concert Season 2014/15 Concert Package, SoundBite, Birmingham International Concert Season 2014/15 and Orchestral Music

Friday 7th August

Symphony Hall

National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain
Sir Mark Elder conductor

Programme includes:

Tansy Davies Regreening (new commision)
Mahler Symphony No9 81’

The National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain isn’t just the largest symphony orchestra in the UK; it’s one of the most virtuosic, and every one of its concerts is a gala occasion, supercharged with energy and emotion. So imagine the sensation of hearing Mahler’s Ninth Symphony performed by these 163 exceptional performers, under the inspirational direction of Sir Mark Elder.

A luminous, mesmerising energy makes every concert by the world’s greatest orchestra of teenagers thrilling.

Re-greening, written by Tansy Davies especially for this brilliant orchestra, is performed without a conductor and completely from memory. With ritualistic focus the musician’s move, sing and play, visceral connections are made and musical currents crackle from player to player, awakening an ebullient Spring from her long Winter slumber. Following it, Mahler’s awesome, ‘affirmative love-song to life’ performed by 163 twenty-first century teenagers committing themselves totally to its turbulence and radiance will be a transforming experience.

Tansy Davies is one of the UK’s most inventive composers. Her music has a lucid, visual quality that engulfs the senses. Sometimes joyful and exuberant, sometimes brooding and mystical, it is always an exhilarating ride. It’s the perfect music then, for an orchestra of teenagers with bucket loads of spirit and a hunger to share their passion for music with everyone. Free from the usual stage confines, the musicians are in full focus for Re-greening. With exquisite playing they send reverberations straight from the heart to the ground below, summoning up new life.

Mahler’s Symphony No. 9 is consuming in its emotional intensity and these inspiring musicians pour themselves into it completely, driving through the tumult and anguish to reveal that hope will endure and life must and will go on. It is music that speaks directly to the soul. Life and all its joys and sorrows are encapsulated within it. There are moments of overwhelming grief but even at its bleakest a heart beats through the music determined to hold onto life and find joy.

It will be totally uplifting, totally inspiring, totally brilliant. Come and hear it. You will feel totally alive.

Oliver Condy, Editor of BBC Music Magazine, explains his recommendation:

The award-winning National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain and brilliant conductor Sir Mark Elder make a formidable team.

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Review by John Quinn, SeenandHeard, MusicWeb:

Click here for full review

…     “The performance was a triumph. This symphony is one of the greatest and deepest symphonic works of the twentieth century. It is enormously exacting, not just technically but also emotionally, and these young musicians accepted and rose to its manifold challenges with relish – I noted that even on the back desks of the violin sections evident physical commitment was shown throughout the evening. The long, remarkable first movement began promisingly, the strings phrasing beautifully in the opening pages; the rest of the orchestra took their cue from that. In all sections of the orchestra the playing was impressively secure and highly motivated. There were some 160 musicians involved and there were a few occasions, both here and in the other three movements, when despite the sensitivity of the players, one was aware that the orchestra is larger than one would normally hear in this music. Yet never did the large ensemble sound unwieldy and Elder and his players were most attentive to dynamics and other matters of detail. The performance was gripping and the exposed writing in the last few minutes of the movement were impressively negotiated. This is fantastically difficult music to play, let alone to play with such assurance, but these young musicians were never daunted by Mahler’s demands.

At the start of the Ländler second movement, taken at a steady, sturdy pace by Elder as on his CD, the second violins really dug into their music as, subsequently, did all the string sections. This was a robust and strongly projected account of the music in which Mahler’s sardonic humour was brought out very well. There was a genuine Mahler style in the orchestra’s playing.  The Rondo-Burleske was on fire from the start, the playing acute and the rhythms sharply articulated. This was music that benefitted hugely from the sheer commitment of these young musicians. But even amid the tumult there was a clearly evident attention to detail on the part of both conductor and orchestra. In the slower central section with its premonition of the Adagio to come the NYOGB’s principal trumpet had just the right silvery tone. In this section I felt Elder’s tempo was a bit too swift; the music wasn’t as nostalgically peaceful as it should be. When the Rondo material returned no prisoners were taken; the movement was driven to a scalding conclusion, the final pages being positively incendiary.

For the great concluding Adagio Elder dispensed with his baton, the better to mould the music expressively. This is a huge test for any orchestra but the opening paragraphs augured well; the string playing was outstandingly eloquent, the musicians manifestly giving their all.”     …

Review by Andrew Clements, Guardian (for same programme but at Snape Maltings)

Click here for full review

Review by Colin Anderson, ClassicalSource (for same programme at Royal Albert Hall, Prom 31)

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Review by Jonathan McAloon, Telegraph (Prom 31)

Click here for full reivew

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Andris Nelsons’ Farewell Concerts

Symphony Hall, Birmingham

Thursday 18th June, 7.30pm

Programme

  • Ešenvalds Lakes Awake at Dawn, 13′
  • Mahler Symphony No. 3, 92′

All good things come to an end. And on what are sure to be emotional evenings, Andris Nelsons has chosen to say farewell to Birmingham with Mahler’s huge, rapturous hymn to nature – both unchanging, and forever renewing. A beautiful new choral work by Andris’s fellow-Latvian Eriks Ešenvalds – jointly commissioned (thanks to support from the Feeney Trust) with Andris’s new orchestra in Boston – brings our orchestra, choruses, audience and conductor together to celebrate seven inspirational years.
Share your memories of Andris’ time with the CBSO
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Support the CBSO
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Andris Nelsons says Birmingham must keep loving the CBSO.

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Farewell Andris – CBSO Gallery, video, etc

Storify here

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Review by John Quinn, SeenandHeard, MusicWeb:
Click here for full review
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     “Lakes Awake at Dawn is scored for SATB choir and a large orchestra and in this performance played for about 10 minutes. In it Ešenvalds sets some lines by the Latvian poet, Inge Ābele in an English translation to which the composer has appended some words of his own, also in English. The score plays continuously but has two clearly defined sections. In the first, the Ābele setting, the music is tense and powerful, depicting, to paraphrase the composer’s own description, “one’s emotional unrest, anxiety, and physical running away from danger at night in a forest.” Nelsons inspired his combined forces to project this music very strongly, creating a potent atmosphere. Ešenvalds’ own words depict the arrival at the consoling safety of a lake. Here the music becomes hymn-like. The writing for both choir and orchestra has great beauty and is initially tranquil though it gradually builds to a majestic climax, retreating thereafter to a soft consonant orchestral conclusion. The piece has great impact – especially in such a committed performance as this one – and its enthusiastic reception by the audience clearly delighted the composer, who was present. […]

[…]

The concluding Adagio opened with wonderfully rapt playing from the CBSO strings; you sensed they were on their collective mettle, determined to deliver one last time for Nelsons – and they did. Nelsons paced the music broadly and generously but though the tempo was expansive there was always a sense that the music was moving forward with purpose: there was a goal in sight. Throughout this movement the orchestra were at the top of their game. Impressive dynamic contrasts were a telling feature of the reading. In the last few minutes there was a true sense that Nelsons was leading his forces to the summit; certainly he drew every last ounce of commitment from the orchestra. He surely knew that the last great D major chord would be followed by an immediate ovation but Nelsons held the moment, his arms aloft, so that no applause intruded until the music had reverberated around the hall and properly died away. Only then did he lower his arms.[…]

[…]

During a prolonged standing ovation Nelsons plunged into the ranks of the orchestra; it seemed as if he shook hands with or hugged most of the players on the platform. After several minutes he gave a disarming short farewell speech in which, typically, he stressed two themes: the CBSO family, including its audience, and a strong plea to the people of Birmingham to cherish their orchestra. And so with this unforgettable performance the Nelsons era came to an end, though it’s not quite the end for he and the orchestra and the CBSO Chorus have one last outing together: Beethoven’s Ninth at the BBC Proms on 19 July. He will be back in Birmingham, I’m sure, as an honoured guest, but for now, with his successor still to be chosen, he leaves big shoes to fill.”     …

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Review by Robert Gainer, BachTrack:
Click here for full review
…       “Ešenwald’s composition was commissioned by both the CBSO and the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Nelson’s new home. It was fitting that the great Latvian conductor should have used the opportunity to promote the music of one of Latvia’s best contemporary composers in this UK première. The CBSO Chorus clearly relished the work, projecting their magnificent sound throughout the hall with enthusiasm and diction that made the most of the counterpoints and rhythms. Although a number of the lines from the text were repeated, it was never repetitive thanks to the imaginative and colourful orchestration. At various points I could hear the sound of gulls on the lake coming from the violins, the waters of the lake rippling in sync with Nelsons’ elongated fingers, and the sun finally breaching the horizon to a percussive technique that looked from afar like a string bow being drawn across a xylophone block. Yet this was not ‘experimental’ music, but a mature and innovative composition in its portrayal of both imagery and narrative. I have heard some of Ešenwald’s work before on recording and I have been impressed. Its impact in concert is manifold, and I shall be seeking opportunities to hear his work again. (sic) […]
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Highlights from the other movements were aplenty. The changes of mood in the third movement were brilliantly executed, with the offstage flugelhorn exquisitely lyrical. Mezzo-soprano Michaela Schuster’s performance was perfectly measured and supported by some mellifluous French horn playing. The CBSO Youth and Children’s Choruses were enchanting in the fifth movement, maintaining good balance with the adult chorus and bringing joyous light relief after the profundity of the fourth movement. In the final movement Nelsons, who had conducted with passion and energy throughout and sometimes jumping on the spot, seemed to get renewed strength and there was a palpable response from the musicians as the finale built to its emphatic conclusion.As Nelsons cut the final thunderous chord his arms remained aloft, motionless and statuesque. Two thousand two hundred lungs simultaneously suspended their breath. Not until the sound had completely faded away after a prolonged pause did he move. Only then did the audience exhale, rising spontaneously as one in a standing ovation that went well past the point of hand hurting.

 

So, what is it that Nelsons has with the CBSO that they find so difficult to replace? Personal chemistry. Despite the risks, the CBSO is right to hold out until they find such chemistry again before appointing Nelsons’ successor.”    

*****

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 Review by Fiona Maddocks:

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…     “A hundred minutes is a long time to be on the edge of your seat, but Nelsons kept us there throughout this epic hymn to man and nature.

During his time in Birmingham he has made his mark with resplendent Wagner and Strauss, electrifying Beethoven and a shoal of world premieres and recordings. The orchestra, trained for 18 years by Simon Rattle and for a decade by Sakari Oramo, was already on fine form. With Nelsons they have discovered a new freedom of expression. This reflects the qualities of this warm-hearted musician from Riga, not yet 40, who encountered his first opera – Tannhäuser – aged five, cried when the hero died, and decided to become a conductor.

Nelsons working his way round the entire CBSO to say his goodbyes.

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Nelsons working his way round the entire CBSO to say his goodbyes. Photograph: Neil Pugh

The Ešenvalds work, Lakes Awake at Dawn, recalls a dark event in Latvian history – June 1940 – when a mass Soviet deportation to Siberia forced thousands to flee their homes and spend a fearful night in the forest. After an explosive start, the work achieves a radiant calm as dawn arrives. The writing is tonal and ecstatic, immediate in impact rather than radical. Commissioned both by the CBSO and Boston, where it was premiered last year, it was a thoughtful prelude to the Mahler, troubling more for its subject matter than its harmonies.

Nelsons has always shaped every phrase and nuance – unlike, say, Barenboim, who sometimes drops his arms altogether and leaves his players to get on with it. Edging towards the precipice with his fascination for detail, Nelsons somehow always holds the work secure and intact. This was true in the half-hour-long first movement of the Mahler. Colours and effects stood out as if for the first time – the burbling bassoons, the military wind-band mood of the high E flat clarinets. (“Yes, Mr Mahler has E flat clarinets on the brain,” sniped a Viennese critic, one of many who questioned the composer’s sanity when the work was new.)

Watch the CBSO’s farewell video.

Using a full avian repertoire of gestures, Nelsons shifts from gawky wet crow to elegant flamingo to shrinking sparrow to, in the limitless melody of the final movement, a giant kite gliding freely in space. His players, never knowing what might happen next, are ever alert. Check out the CBSO’s tribute video, and see him waggle his hands behind his ears to conjure a brass trill. Boston will enjoy him, if they can keep him.”     …

*****

Andris Nelsons’ Farewell Concerts

Symphony Hall, Birmingham

Wednesday 17th June, 7.30pm

Programme

  • Ešenvalds Lakes Awake at Dawn, 13′
  • Mahler Symphony No. 3, 92′

All good things come to an end. And on what are sure to be emotional evenings, Andris Nelsons has chosen to say farewell to Birmingham with Mahler’s huge, rapturous hymn to nature – both unchanging, and forever renewing. A beautiful new choral work by Andris’s fellow-Latvian Eriks Ešenvalds – jointly commissioned (thanks to support from the Feeney Trust) with Andris’s new orchestra in Boston – brings our orchestra, choruses, audience and conductor together to celebrate seven inspirational years.
Share your memories of Andris’ time with the CBSO .
See the final rehearsal pictures of CBSO with Andris Nelsons here
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Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post
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…     ” “Please continue to love this orchestra; I feel almost guilty that I am leaving,” were Andris Nelsons’ parting words to the packed audience gathered for his final concert in Symphony Hall as music director of the CBSO after seven amazing years. […]
Sticking with these supposedly slighter central movements, Michaela Schuster was the Erda-like mezzo soloist in the “O Mensch, gib Acht!” Nietzche setting, joined by the ebullient CBSO Chorus Ladies, sounding delightfully youthful, and Julian Wilkins’ remarkable CBSO Youth and Children’s Choruses for the medieval exuberance of “Es sungen drei Engel”.

Full marks to the youngsters for their exemplary attentiveness throughout such a long concert. And so to the top and tail.

The opening movement, nature stirring into life, was persuasively delivered under Nelsons, his conducting gestures constantly alert and choreographic (one of his CBSO predecessors, Boult, would not have approved), balancing colour, dynamics and multi-metred textures always with the most detailed clarity.

World-stopping is an appropriate word for the finale, and some conductors might make its melodic/harmonic richness sound glutinous. Nelsons gave it a flow and sense of direction, growing at last to the tremendous affirmation, two timpanists pounding out the most fundamental of musical intervals (nice to welcome back Peter Hill as an old-stager — trumpeter Alan Thomas was another), as Mahler’s vision of the world was at last achieved.

This finale’s gorgeous melody has a phrase initially sung out by Eduardo Vassallo’s cellists, and it sounds hauntingly like the tune of the old song “I’ll be seeing you in all the old familiar places”.

Sorry, Andris, we won’t. But we all wish we were.”

*****

Review by Ivan Hewett, Telegraph:

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“Andris Nelsons, the brilliant Latvian conductor who’s led the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra these past seven years, is departing for Boston. It seemed appropriate that, to say their farewells, he and the orchestra chose to play the most colossal symphony in the repertoire, Mahler’s 3rd.

Andris Nelsons may not be particularly big in stature, but on the podium he seems like a giant. He leans forward eagerly as if to scoop the sound from the players, sculpting it with huge embracing gestures.

This might seem domineering, but what makes Nelsons’ music-making so humanly appealing is that the music possesses him, not the other way round. That inspires the players as well as us. “He catches your eye to enthuse you, then lets you do things your own way,” said one of the wind players, one of several orchestral members who gave spoken tributes to Nelsons from the platform.

These followed the 12-minute curtain-raiser, a setting of two poems for chorus and orchestra by Latvian composer Eriks Esenvalds about cold Siberian lakes, and hope arising even in the dead of night.”     …

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Review by Andrew Clements, Guardian:

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…     “Some conductors ease their way into what is the longest of all Mahler’s symphonies, but that is not Nelsons’s approach. The CBSO horns delivered the opening theme like a challenge, setting the stage for a performance that bristled with combative energy, and the kind of vivid incident that Nelsons finds in everything he conducts. There was some tendency to compartmentalise things, to micro-manage detail at the expense of the overall symphonic scheme, which mattered more in the 30-minute opening movement than it did in the later ones where Nelsons regularly sought out the sinister undertow to the music, whether in the faster sections of the second, or the nature imagery of the third, despite the escapist dream offered by its offstage posthorn solos.

But the finale was very much all of a piece, and it built to a final, gloriously assured affirmation; the sense that every section of the orchestra was determined to give its music director the best possible send-off was quite obvious.”     …