CBSO Youth Orchestra: An Alpine Symphony

Sunday 1st November, 7.00pm

CBSO Youth Orchestra


  • Nielsen  Helios Overture, 12′
  • Lindberg  Clarinet Concerto , 28′
  • Strauss  An Alpine Symphony, 50′

“What a hope for the future!” declared one critic after hearing the CBSO Youth Orchestra – but tonight the future is here, as Michael Seal and 120 world-class young musicians storm the heights of Strauss’s colossal Alpine Symphony. Nielsen’s solar-powered overture and a true contemporary classic – played by another young star – launch them on their way. Glaciers? Waterfalls? Alpine storms? In the phenomenal acoustic of Symphony Hall, hearing is believing.


Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:

Click here for full review

…     “Julian Bliss was the assured soloist, fully up to the work’s demands of phrasing, breathing, and embouchure-technique. Gloopy microtones, comedic effects? No problem, and always unfolded in a logical line teeming with incident. Seal’s CBSOYO collaborated with an empathy which belied their years.

Finally came the awesome challenge of Richard Strauss’s Alpensinfonie, a dawn to dusk traversal of a Bavarian mountain, and totally moving and exciting in its performance here. Winds are often easy to praise, and these deserved to be, but not so often do we mention the strings; here they were extraordinary, pouring out a wonderful maturity of tone, not least from the lower cohorts.

I cannot praise enough the maturity of every section. I have heard young brass players showing off like nobody’s business. I have seen percussionists turning what they do into a theatrical performance.

Nothing like that here. This was an Alpensinfonie under Michael Seal which was all about the music, and it will stay long in the memory.”

Dvořák’s Sixth

Symphony Hall, Birmingham
Wednesday 14th October, 2.15pm

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra


  • Mozart Idomeneo – Ballet Music, 10′
  • Nielsen  Violin Concerto, 35′
  • Dvořák  Symphony No. 6, 41′
Pekka Kuusisto’s encore – Aulis Sallinen – Cadenza
Love Dvořák’s symphony from the New World? Now discover his symphony from the old one! Dvořák’s Sixth is musical sunshine: from pastoral opening to jubilant finish, it’s 45 joyous minutes of folkdances, lullabies and autumn sunsets – perfect for the youthful energy of conductor Nicholas Collon, just as Nielsen’s tuneful Violin Concerto could have been written for our soloist Pekka Kuusisto. Mozart’s Idomeneo ballet launches the evening in majestic style.
Review by Norman Stinchcombe, Birmingham Post:
Click here for full review

“Good to hear Dvorak’s sixth symphony, the equal of his last three in all but fame, especially when performed with such a winning mixture of tender lyricism, rhythmic vigour and bravado. With the CBSO brass and Elspeth Dutch’s outstanding horn section in full cry the finale powered away like a ship in full steam down the Vltava.The conductor Nicholas Collon’s pacing of the opening allegro was spot on and while the dynamic scherzo, with its cross-cutting rhythms, was exuberant Collon allowed the wind section to give full play to the trio’s Bohemian melodies.

They impressed again at the opening of the adagio which sounded like one of Mozart’s magical wind serenades.”     …


Rachmaninov’s Third Piano Concerto

Symphony Hall, Birmingham

Wednesday 23rd September, 7.30pm

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra




  • Sibelius Finlandia, 8′
  • Rachmaninov Piano Concerto No. 3, 44′
  • Nielsen Symphony No. 4 (Inextinguishable), 36′


Simon Trpčeski’s encore with Eduardo Vassallo –

Rachmaninov Cello Sonato – Third Movement


“Music is life,” declared Carl Nielsen, “and like it, inextinguishable.” And from volcanic opening to final life-and-death battle, Nielsen’s Fourth Symphony is one of those pieces that you just have to hear live. Birmingham audiences need no introduction to the fabulous Simon Trpčeski, in the grandest of romantic piano concertos, but this should be a powerful debut for conductor Cristian Măcelaru.


Review by Richard Bratby, TheArtsDesk:

Click here for full review

…     “Rachmaninoff once wrote that he conceived the first theme of the Third Concerto as something to be sung by the piano, and that’s exactly how it came across. It helped, of course, that Simon Trpčeski was the soloist. Trpčeski’s artistry is ripening gloriously: the energy, the clarity of touch and brilliance of articulation are as electrifying as ever, but his youthful flamboyance has evolved into a masterly calm and assurance at the keyboard. No histrionics here: cool as iced vodka, Trpčeski at one point reached casually into his pocket, unfolded a handkerchief and dabbed at his brow while the tutti swept by on all sides.

Meanwhile Măcelaru drew seldom-heard colours from the orchestral part: a distant glint of Russian nationalist jewellery in the finale’s col legno passage; and meltingly soft horns in the transition out of the first movement’s epic cadenza – which drew from Trpčeski, in turn, an exquisite tenderness of tone. I’ve heard more spectacular performances of this concerto, but rarely a more musical one.

Eduardo VassalloFor an encore, Trpčeski beckoned to the CBSO’s principal cello Eduardo Vassallo (pictured left by Upstream Photography) , and together they played the gentle third movement of Rachmaninoff’s Cello Sonata. Trpčeski always takes care over his encores (on one occasion assembling an impromptu Macedonian folk band), but this felt particularly intimate. Its appropriateness, and Trpčeski’s eagerness to share his applause, spoke volumes for his priorities as both artist and human being. 

Nielsen’s Fourth Symphony looked on paper like a rather more severe test for Măcelaru – not because in this anniversary year, we’ve heard it too many times (as if!), but because the CBSO has a Nielsen tradition dating back through Oramo and Rattle to Harold Gray’s cycle (the UK’s first) in the 1960s. All the more impressive, then, that he managed to say something distinctive about the piece from the very outset – and without any overt point-making or micromanagement.”     …


Review by David Fanning, Telegraph:

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…     “Trpčeski is one of the most bankable assets for the big concerto repertoire. His first movement cadenza was rock-solid, his scherzando episode in the slow movement scintillating in its clarity, and his entire finale a demonstration-quality display of pianistic fireworks. Through all this Măcelaru steered the accompaniment with close attention to balance and a near-telepathic sense of ensemble.

If there were still a few throwaway phrases from Trpčeski, and even some near-crossing of the line into jazzy nonchalance, those things were amply compensated for by the sweep and authority of his playing. His encore – a dreamy account of the slow movement of Rachmaninov’s Cello Sonata with the CBSO’s Eduardo Vassallo – was an inspired initiative.

The second half was given over to Nielsen’s Fourth Symphony – The Inextinguishable. This may be the Dane’s best-known work, and the most direct in its impact thanks to its timpani duels in the finale. But it covers an enormous amount of ground in its 35 minutes, and can feel episodic unless the conductor keeps a firm grip on the structure.

Never tempted to over-react to passages of violent disruption, or, at the other extreme, to exaggerate the score’s repeated requests for calm, Măcelaru placed the climaxes with unerring instinct and led into and away from them with consummate skill.”     …


Review by Robert Gainer, BachTrack:

Click here for full review

…     “The central focus of the evening was not the post-interval symphony, but the first-half concerto. Simon Trpčeski walked out onto the stage with an air of supreme confidence. It was clear before a single note was played that he was here to enjoy himself, and through his composure he forged a connection with the audience that relaxed the hall even while he adjusted his stool. Sympathetically supported by the orchestra, his first notes teased the ear, hinting the theme, seducing the audience to fully engage with the music. Rachmaninov is famous for his long flowing lyrical lines and they require some deep interpretation to make them come off. As a virtuoso pianist himself, he was renowned for the exceptional technical demands of his compositions. Trpčeski was equal to both the musicality and the technique required, his fingers whirling, hammering, tickling, skipping and skating over the keyboard at his whim. The CBSO accompanied with some lush romantic strings. There were moments, however, where I felt they slightly overpowered the soloist. Nonetheless, I was able to immerse myself in the sheer joyous drama of the piece, so well played by Trpčeski, and by the conclusion I was quite elated.

Indeed, Trpčeski seemed to have anticipated the effect he had had on the audience and followed up with an unprogrammed but no-so-impromptu musical treat in a recital of Rachmaninov’s Sonata for Cello and Piano (the third movement). Ably rising to the challenge of playing alongside Trpčeski was CBSO principal cellist Eduardo Vassallo. The playing was delightful and serene, providing calm after the drama of the concerto that was just right for leading into the interval.    […]

[…]      Reflecting afterwards on the concert I could not help but think about the differences in this generation. Măcelaru clearly understood all three in real depth and was able to bring something new and insightful to all of them, particularly the Nielsen symphony. But the lasting memory of the night for me will be the golden touch of pianist Simon Trpčeski in what was a truly tremendous display of virtuosic artistry.”


Review by Rebecca Franks, Times (££)

Click here for full review

…     “Macelaru was not a showy presence but assured, steady and thoughtful, capable of letting the music breathe and tell its own story. His Sibelius Finlandia opened with a heavy tread, but was confidently steered to its triumphant end. And if Nielsen’s The Inextinguishable lacked that final crackle of electricity, it was still bold and compelling.

Each section of the CBSO gleamed: the strings meticulous and intense, with particularly gutsy violas, the wind sensitive and the brass glorious. And in the final movement, the duelling timpanists were wonderfully exhilarating – surely the embodiment of what Nielsen wanted this music to express, “the Elemental Will of Life”.


Royal Danish Orchestra perform Nielsen

BICS 2015/16 – Royal Danish Orchestra perform Nielsen

Part of Birmingham International Concert Season 2015/16 Concert Package,

SoundBite, Birmingham International Concert Season 2015/16 and Opera highlights

Wednesday 16th September

Symphony Hall

Royal Danish Orchestra
Michael Boder conductor
Magdalena Anna Hoffman soprano

Per Nørgård Iris 12’
Schoenberg Erwartung Op 17 30’
Nielsen Symphony No 5 Op 50 34’

Royal Danish Orchestra’s encore – Nielsen – Maskarade – Overture


PLEASE NOTE: Petra Lang is now unable to perform Schönberg’s Erwartung for this event. She has been replaced at short notice by Magdalena Anna Hofmann Bookers will be contacted in due course. 5/8/15 ~ THSH

Carl Nielsen actually played in the Royal Danish Orchestra – so there’s no orchestra in the world with a longer tradition of performing his music.

In this anniversary year, RDO principal conductor Michael Boder brings arguably Nielsen’s finest symphony to Birmingham and opens with the ravishing Iris by Denmark’s pre-eminent living composer.

Praise for Magdalena Anna Hoffman performing Erwartung in April 2015 in Vienna

The monodrama revolving around the nocturnal wanderings of the Woman found its brightly shining voice in Magdalena Anna Hofmann…
Wiener Zeitung

Magdalena Anna Hofmann with her deliciously pleasing soprano voice..
Tiroler Tageszeitung

… Magdalena Anna Hofmann as The Woman with her sensual, majestic soprano voice, able to transmit every imaginable emotional impulse or outburst. Quite simply an experience!
Harald Lacina, Der Neue Merker

Review by Richard Bratby, Birmingham Post:

Click here for full review

…     “There was a similar intimacy to Schoenberg’s Erwärtung – notwithstanding the dark beauty and lustrous tone of Magdalena Anna Hofmann’s voice, and the controlled tension with which she unfolded Schoenberg’s great psychological drama. The RDO darted and shimmered around her to the manner born: this is where that opera pit experience pays dividends.

And then, at last, Boder let his band off the leash for a volcanic Nielsen Fifth Symphony. Lean, powerful strings, deliciously folksy woodwind and a positively malicious percussion section all came together in an interpretation conceived as one sweeping gesture. Boder let his players play, and the symphony’s desperate last-minute triumph can rarely have sounded so hard won – or so overwhelming. The encore – Nielsen’s Maskarade overture – had the audience yelling with excitement.”     …


Review by Richard Bratby, TheArtsDesk:

Click here for full review

…     “The piece is a natural for an opera orchestra, of course, and Boder and the RDO darted, shimmered and swirled under and around Hofmann’s dark, lustrous voice without a false step. Hofmann herself told Schoenberg and Pappenheim’s horror story with cool control; as the implications of the words flashed across her face, she never forced her tone or descended into melodrama – making her short, sudden bursts of vocal characterisation all the more powerful. A ghoulishly rolled “r” here, a low hint of a snarl there: this performance was both intensely beautiful and unsparingly honest. On the opera stage, it would have been devastating.

Unsparing honesty is very much Carl Nielsen’s line of business too; and with the Fifth Symphony we finally had a chance to hear Boder let his players off the leash. Woozy, overripe bassoons gasped out the opening theme; the percussion launched into their onslaught with raw malice, and the principal clarinettist peacocked shamelessly. No question, the RDO came across as an orchestra with character to spare. But the impression of a super-sized chamber group coalesced here into something more powerful.

No-one would say that the RDO strings have a luxurious sound, but their transparency and sonorous power whipped up a genuinely menacing storm in the first of the second movement’s great fugal episodes. Put simply, they sounded like they meant it. All this, while Boder maintained his undemonstrative beat: letting his players play, and trusting them to understand where he was taking them – in this case, through a symphonic struggle which found resolution only at the last possible moment: almost at the very last note. The stakes can rarely have felt higher, and there was a slightly hysterical, off-the-hook edge to the encore (an uproariously OTT Nielsen Maskarade overture). In an uncompromising programme, perhaps Boder and the RDO’s greatest achievement was making the 150-year old Carl Nielsen seem the most dangerous man in the room.”


Review by Andrew Clements, Guardian:

Click here for full review

With origins that can be traced back to the middle of the 15th century, the Royal Danish Orchestra can claim to be the world’s oldest orchestra. Nowadays it divides its time between concert hall and opera house, and in both those roles this year it has been marking the 150th anniversary of the birth of Carl Nielsen, who was a second violinist in the orchestra for 16 years. A Nielsen symphony was inevitably part of the programme it brought to Birmingham – the Fifth, played under its principal conductor Michael Boder.

Anniversary years apart, we don’t hear Nielsen symphonies often enough in the UK to have a real sense of a performing tradition about them, and it was fascinating to hear the Fifth played by an orchestra for whom the work is core repertoire. Boder emphasised the music’s extremes rather less than some conductors – the side drum’s interventions towards the end of the first movement seemed less anarchic; the fugal writing of the second less manic – and the work nudged closer to the 19th-century symphonic mainstream than usual, and seemed a more natural development of Nielsen’s earlier Brahmsian style.”     …


Review by Alexander Campbell, ClassicalSource:

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“The Royal Danish Orchestra and its conductor Michael Boder presented this brilliantly planned programme of Schoenberg’s nervy monodrama Erwartung sandwiched by two works by Danish composers. With its eerie opening, including flutter-tongued woodwinds, Per Nørgård’s Iris set the tone perfectly, music that is initially unsettled until gradually developing a pulsing quality that ushers in other instruments, a prominent, rather elegiac clarinet flourish proving to be the core of the work. The volume increases until an aggressive burst from the brass and the music fades away in an unresolved way. With some fantastic playing, this thoroughly vivid performance suggested that Iris deserves to be heard more often.

Magdalena Anna Hofmann

Following on the theme of uncertainty, next was Schoenberg’s 30-minute extravaganza for soprano and orchestra, Erwartung (Expectation). Magdalena Anna Hofmann, singing from memory, revealed a strong and characterful voice with a rich middle register allied to a rather metallic top range, which suited the character’s fluctuating moods and transient thoughts of warmth, jealousy, anxiety, resolve and deep despair. Her performance was internalised allowing one to focus on the text (a shame there were no surtitles). Hofmann has excellent diction however – a real plus! Thanks to Boder’s sympathetic conducting, the orchestra provided washes of sound without overwhelming the singer. Erwartung is an unsettling piece and best experienced live – and here exerted its curious magic.”     …

Tasmin Little Plays Beethoven

Wednesday 18 April 2012 at 7.30pm

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

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Michael Seal conductor
Tasmin Little violin

Beethoven: Fidelio – Overture 6′
Beethoven: Violin Concerto 42′ Listen on Spotify
Nielsen: Paraphrase on ‘Nearer my God to Thee’ 6′
Nielsen: Symphony No. 4 (Inextinguishable) 36′

“Music is life,” declared Carl Nielsen, “and like it, inextinguishable!”And then, in the middle of the Great War, he proved it with a symphony that from volcanic opening to unstoppable finish, leaves you thrilled to be alive. It’s a long way from the serene open spaces of Beethoven’s Violin Concerto, but CBSO associate conductor Michael Seal adores both composers, and soloist Tasmin Little gives everything she touches a special panache. Beethoven’s Fidelio launches the evening in heroic style, and as part of our celebration of the year 1912, discover Nielsen’s extraordinary tribute to the sinking of the “Titanic” – 85 years before Celine Dion!

If you like this concert, you might also like:
Once Upon A Time…, Wednesday 9 & Thursday 10 May
Summer Serenade, Thursday 28 June

Review by David Hart, Birmingham Post:

Click here for full review

…     “Some might have been anticipating a virtuoso display, but Little shunned muscular heroics – or made them so effortless as to appear non existent – to focus on Beethoven the poet. Her ruminative and often daringly quiet playing brought a songs-without-words lyricism and sweetness to the melodies, and gave even the most workmanlike passagework a tensile sense of purpose. Such an intimate, ensemble approach clearly found favour with Seal and his equally sympathetic colleagues, who responded with wonderful sensitivity.”     …  


The Year 1911: Sibelius and Nielsen

Thursday 1 December 2011 at 7.30pm

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

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Robert Spano conductor
Inger Dam-Jensen soprano
Jeremy Huw Williams baritone

Sibelius: Symphony No.4 32′
Grieg: Orchestral Songs 20′
Nielsen: Symphony No. 3 (Sinfonia Espansiva) 38′ Listen on Spotify

It’s the year 1911, and in Finland Jean Sibelius wrestles with his demons in his most powerful symphony. Meanwhile, in Denmark, Carl Nielsen’s imagination takes flight in his gloriously optimistic Sinfonia Espansiva. Two great composers re-invent the symphony in unmistakable style in this stirring programme from guest conductor Robert Spano; and in between we welcome another great Dane, as soprano Inger Dam-Jensen sings a selection of Grieg’s lovely orchestral songs. They’re everything you’d expect from the composer of Peer Gynt: lush, romantic and irresistibly tuneful.

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

Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:

…     “And how well Spano and the CBSO achieved this; top marks to Ulrich Heinen for the dark eloquence of his frequent cello solos, but top marks, too, for the biting strings, the portentous brass and the lamenting woodwind.

We come close to the otherworld of the Kalevala here, and it was good eventually to escape into the pastoral optimisim of Nielsen’s Third Symphony.”     …


Nordic Odyssey


Thursday 10 March 2011 at 7.30pm

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

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Michael Seal  conductor
Laurence Jackson  violin

Sibelius: The Oceanides 10′
Nielsen: Violin Concert 35′
Sørensen: Exit Music (UK Premiere) 13′
Sibelius: Symphony No. 5 31′ Listen
requires Real Player

A glowing sunrise, a flight of swans, the endless stillness of the great
northern forests…different listeners have heard many things in
Sibelius’s Fifth. But you don’t have to see any images at all to be
overwhelmed by the freshness, the beauty and the elemental power of
this majestic 20th century symphony. It’s the climax of a concert that
positively surges with the forces of nature, from Sibelius’s luminous
Mediterranean seascape, through Nielsen’s wonderfully original violin
concerto (a splendid showcase for CBSO leader Laurence Jackson)
and a freshly-minted classic by one of Denmark’s most accessible
contemporary masters. Conductor Ilan Volkov has gripped CBSO
audiences in Mahler and Shostakovich; expect passionately committed
performances of this supremely original music.

We regret to announce that Ilan Volkov, who was due to conduct this concert, has withdrawn due to illness. We are very grateful to Michael Seal, CBSO Associate Conductor, who has agreed to conduct the concert at short notice. There is no change to the advertised programme.

Review by Maggie Cotton, Birmingham Post:

…   “Here we have a consummate soloist, always giving his all with exquisite tone, immaculate intonation and breathtaking imagination.”  […]

[…]  Finally to round off an epic evening a no-holds-barred performance of Sibelius’ Symphony No 5, beginning with pristine intonation from winds, then onto shimmering immaculate unison strings in the scherzo. From buzzing violas, faultless pizzicatos and hardly audible CBSO pianissimos – wonderful in Symphony Hall –to the devastating heart-pounding climax after the triumphant key change in the finale. This was a performance to remember.”

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