Vladimir Ashkenazy conducts Rachmaninov’s Symphony No 3

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

SoundBite, Birmingham International Concert Season 2015/16

and Competitions highlights

Tuesday 1st March, 2016

Symphony Hall

Philharmonia Orchestra
Vladimir Ashkenazy conductor
Vikingur Ólafsson piano

Rachmaninov The Rock 18’
Liszt Piano Concerto No 2 21’
Rachmaninov Symphony No 3 39’


Víkingur Ólafsson’s encore – Rameau – Le Rappel des Oiseaux

A song of exile; bittersweet, jazzy and heartbreakingly lyrical. Vladimir Ashkenazy adores it, and few living conductors match his understanding and empathy for this music.If you don’t already know Rachmaninov’s Third,this performance with the Philharmonia might just make you fall in love.


Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:

Click here for full review

…     “But there was nothing comical about their partnership in Liszt’s Second Piano Concerto, Ashkenazy collaborating with experienced insight, Olafsson ruminative and fiercely attacking by turns (and his thumbs must be among the most elastic in the business), taking self-possessed ownership of a work which remains bitty, for all its thematic unity.

At the top of its musicianly form, the Philharmonia responded thrillingly to the score’s proto-Wagnerian orchestral writing, with full marks to the cello soloist.

Olafsson gave us a delightful encore in the shape of a miniature by Jean-Philippe Rameau. When’s the last time we heard anything of that baroque master in Symphony Hall?

Both pianist and conductor had the courtesy to turn and acknowledge the audience in the choir-stalls; not all performers do that. And Ashkenazy, brimming with enthusiasm, gave virtual embraces to the entire audience and his orchestra after the two Rachmaninov works which framed this memorable evening.

The Rock, a Tchaikovskyian rarity (indeed, much admired by that composer) was warmly, engagingly delivered, with frolicsome flute and clarinet solos, and a genuine sense of ongoing narrative.”     …

Nelsons Conducts Bruckner

Håkan Hardenberger & Andris Nelsons

Sunday 6th Dec 2015, 7.30pm
Royal Festival Hall, London

Philharmonia Orchestra

Andris Nelsons conductor

Håkan Hardenberger trumpet

Zimmermann, Trumpet Concerto Nobody Knows De Trouble I See


Bruckner, Symphony No. 8 biography | programme note

Bruckner’s awe-inspiring Eighth Symphony, a veritable cathedral of sound, is conducted here by Andris Nelsons, the recently appointed Principal Conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. In the first half of the concert, soloist Håkan Hardenberger opens his series The Trumpet Shall Sound with a performance of Bern Alois Zimmermann’s jazz-inspired trumpet concerto.

This concert is part of the The Trumpet Shall Sound series

Håkan Hardenberger & Andris Nelsons in Conversation and Rehearsal


Review by Chris Garlick, BachTrack:

Click here for full review

…     “He was particularly effective in the first movement, which must rank very highly in the pantheon of great first movements, where the inevitability of the progression towards the final apocalyptic climax was breathtaking. The orchestral sound here and throughout the performance, had just the right mix of weight, lushness and transparency. Only occasionally was the balance slightly awry, not allowing some of the telling woodwind solos their room to breathe. The tempo of the Scherzo was spot on, enabling the main sections to have a unique rhythmic heft. The trios weren’t allowed to linger, with a constant sense of the inevitable return of the Scherzo.

It was in the Adagio that Nelsons’ passionate approach to the writing bore most fruit. The three glorious main themes of the movement were beautifully presented, with the strings supported by a lustrous carpet of brass. As these themes are developed over the rest of the movement and Bruckner is at his most remarkable when he is developing his material, the impetus created was spectacular, culminating in the glorious E flat major climax.

The finale set off at a fastish pace, with the fanfares of the main theme sounding as they should – heroic, but still on the edge of the abyss. As in many Bruckner finales, the constraints of sonata form can seem to hold the composer back from achieving the character of the music he wants to create. To an almost irrelevant degree this is the case in the Eighth Symphony and finding a way through this poses particular interpretative problems for all conductors. Nelsons again navigated with an immediacy that was impressive, but his grading of the climaxes was not as sure-footed as in the Adagio. The development of the main material is so overwhelming here, with climax after climax trying to find a way out of the labyrinth, that only in the coda is the destination point of C major reached and the final joyous conflagration is allowed to wash away all the doubts and fears. Achieving the full impact of these final bars has proved to be a massive challenge to the most experienced conductors and to his credit, Nelsons was nearly there.”


Review by Barry Millington, Evening Standard:

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“Some of the finest interpreters of Bruckner — Bernard Haitink and Günter Wand come most readily to mind — have been those who take an Olympian view, towering above the fray. That’s not the way of Andris Nelsons, who likes to dig deep into the entrails of the work, revealing its nerves and sinews. In his account of the Symphony No. 8 in C minor, Nelsons came closest to this Mahlerian aspect of the music in the deeply felt Adagio.

He has a way of highlighting detail within the texture yet also succeeds in marshalling individual paragraphs into the broader structure. Nor was there any shortage of firepower: the heavy artillery of trumpets, trombones and tuba (not to mention horns and Wagner tubas) was unleashed to crushing effect. By the time the apocalyptic final bars were reached, the Philharmonia players, who drove themselves to the limits demanded by Nelsons, looked as shell-shocked as we felt. Quite overwhelming: not simply in the volume of sound but in the nervous energy expended.”     …


Review by Martin Kettle, Guardian:

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…     “Nelsons is a classic podium fidget, visibly and audibly attentive to phrasing and dynamics. In the abstract, this detailed way of doing things might seem too exhausting for Bruckner’s 70-minute span. Yet Nelsons has a sense of architecture, too. His changes of pace felt idiomatic, always part of the larger picture, and he gets the obsessive, uncertain and unresolved nature of Bruckner’s writing.

The opening movement never lost momentum in spite of some breathtakingly effective quiet playing by the Philharmonia in moments of stillness. The scherzo was admirably lithe rather than bombastic, the trio particularly eloquent. The adagio pushed forward where others always hold back, but the control was unfailing, the playing eloquent and the falling away at the close mesmerising as ever. The finale, quicker than you often hear it, felt rather generalised, the argument sacrificed in favour of effect.

Although Bruckner was the centrepiece, the evening began with a performance by Håkan Hardenberger of Bernd Alois Zimmermann’s scintillating 1954 Trumpet Concerto.”     …


Review by Antony Hodgson, ClassicalSource:

Click here for full review

…     “It was gratifying in this Philharmonia performance to hear carefully-calculated balancing since in Bruckner brass can be over-powerful and often the strings get swamped. Nelsons avoided this and with something left in reserve for the bigger climaxes. Given this grand, carefully integrated sound, Nelsons’s expressive way with Bruckner’s invention was given a firm basis.

The first movement was taken broadly, there was space for eloquent phrasing and the music moved forward in an unhurried manner. Bruckner’s imaginative revision whereby he turned a conventionally triumphant ending to the movement to a quiet one was a stroke of genius and Nelsons allowed the music to flow gently to its poignant close. As the work progressed Nelsons’s personality began to impose itself: the Scherzo started firmly enough but after the announcement of the main themes the lovely countersubject with its close-harmony woodwind lingered unexpectedly. The careful shaping of the section was some compensation but freedom of tempo was also evident in the Trio. The Adagio was even more expressive, it was also very beautiful, full of beguiling phrasing, ample recompense for the lingering. By the Finale Nelsons had ceased to use his baton and after the initial onslaught this assisted him in caressing shaping that was more expressive still.

The last movement is somewhat episodic and from the moment the slower second subject arrived and was taken very broadly it seemed that attention to sections was overcoming forward motion – full marks for great sensitivity but here, even more than in the Adagio, there was a sense of indulgence. By giving loving and detailed attention to every phrase the music sometimes came across as languorous; however the vividness of the climaxes and in particular the radiance of the final pages ensured that a sense of triumph was achieved.”


Review by Alan Sanders, MusicWeb, SeenandHeard:

Click here for full review

…     “There isn’t a dull moment in its single movement. It teems with solo brilliance of all kinds, pungent orchestral timbres and tremendous rhythmic vitality. And it has just the right length. Zimmermann understood the value of brevity in a composition of this kind.

Andris Nelsons’ approach to the Bruckner symphony’s first movement had initially almost a feeling of exploration. The opening statements were presented calmly and straightforwardly at an easy-going tempo. But as the movement progressed so did the conductor’s use of phrase and inflection become more pronounced, very effectively so, since he did not allow any pulse variations to disturb a strong onward momentum or his overall control of the large-scale structure. The contemplative ending was beautifully managed and rounded off a most satisfying account of the movement as a whole.

Nelsons adopted a middle-of-the road tempo for the Scherzo. Some conductors feel the need to jolly things up in this movement to form a contrast with the slower moving structures that flank it. Here the rhythm was pointed clearly yet there was no feeling of haste. And the contrasts implicit in the trio sections were tellingly brought out with some lovely turns of phrase.

The enormous span of the Symphony’s third movement – usually over 25 minutes in length – and its Adagio tempo present a conductor with a great interpretative challenge. This was met by Nelsons with great skill, yet with great sensitivity. Each episode was strongly characterised with heart-easing warmth of expression, but as in the first movement one always had the feeling that inexorable and logical progress throughout the mighty structure was taking place.

At the outset of the finale Nelsons brought out very clearly Bruckner’s curious but masterly effect of the music having two tempi: a throbbing rhythmic ostinato underpinning a slow brass chorale. Again he showed great skill in pacing the movement’s strongly contrasting elements, and the final climax was overwhelming. One truly had the feeling of having been through a profound symphonic experience.”


Review by Gavin Dixon, TheArtsDesk:

Click here for full review

“Bernd Alois Zimmermann’s Nobody knows de trouble I see is a popular concerto, but it’s an unlikely hit. Zimmermann maintains a distanced relationship with the spiritual on which the work is based, and, while there are jazz elements too, this is a long way from crossover. Zimmermann maintains his modernist/serialist perspective throughout, and all the jazz ideas – the trombone glissandos, the sax section replacing the French horns, the vaguely improvisatory trumpet writing – are configured within a strict and austere single-movement structure.

Fortunately, both trumpeter Håkan Hardenberger and conductor Andris Nelsons have the measure of this music, giving a performance that fully acknowledges both the composer’s desire to connect with the radical jazz of the 1950s, and the loyalty to modernist conventions that prevent him from doing so. Hardenberger seemed more constrained than usual, effortlessly virtuosic, but without any flamboyant displays. The work has a pervasively dark mood that Hardenberger conveyed well, especially in the flat, broad tone that he applied. The orchestra is occasionally required to play the big band, with brass outbursts, and even a Hammond organ break at one point. But nothing here ever sounded laidback or casual. This was a performance fully in keeping with the spirit of the music, but what dark and unyielding spirit that is.” …

Vladimir Ashkenazy Conducts Rachmaninov’s Symphony No. 2

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

Tuesday 3rd November, 7:30pm

Symphony Hall

Philharmonia Orchestra
Vladimir Ashkenazy conductor
International Fryderyk Chopin Piano Competition winner Seong-Jin Cho piano

Sibelius Valse Triste 6’
Chopin Piano Concerto No 1
Rachmaninov Symphony No 2 60’

.Seong-Jin Cho’s encore – Chopin –

Ashkenazy and Rachmaninov – need we say more? Few conductors know how to make Rachmaninov’s melodies sing like Ashkenazy does, or have a more intimate understanding of what makes a top pianist tick.

Expect a near-definitive performance of Rachmaninov’s most romantic symphony, and the finest possible introduction to the winner of this year’s International Fryderyk Chopin Piano Competition.

About the winner:

Born on 28 May 1994, in Seoul, Seong-Jin Cho is a student of Michel Beroff at the Paris Conservatoire. He has won the International Fryderyk Chopin Competition for Young Pianists (2008) and a piano competition in Hamamatsu, Japan (2009), as well as Third Prize in the Pyotr Tchaikovsky Competition in Russia (2011) and the Arthur Rubinstein in Tel Aviv (2014). He has performed in concert with the Mariinsky Theatre Symphony Orchestra (cond. Valery Gergiev), the French Radio, Czech, Seoul (all with Myung-Whun Chung), Munich (cond. Lorin Maazel) and Ural (cond. Dmitry Liss) philharmonic orchestras, Berlin Radio Orchestra (cond. Marek Janowski), Russian National Orchestra (cond. Mikhail Pletnev) and Basel Symphony Orchestra (cond. Pletnev). He has toured Japan, Germany, France, Russia, Poland, Israel, China and the US. He has appeared at the Tokyo Opera, in Osaka, at the Moscow Conservatory and at the Mariinsky Theatre in St Petersburg, including with recitals. He has participated in numerous European festivals, including in St Petersburg, Moscow, Duszniki-Zdrój and Cracow, as well as festivals in New York and Castleton. As a chamber musician, he has been invited to work with the outstanding violinist Kyung Wha Chung. He is the winner of the 17th International Fryderyk Chopin Piano Competition (2015).

We’ll find out which Chopin piano concerto will be performed after the competition finals in October 2015.


Review by Robert Gainer, BachTrack:

Click here for full review:

…    “The Philharmonia was on top form having already performed Jean Sibelius’ Valse Triste to open the programme. Ashkenazy, wearing his trademark white polo-neck sweater, coaxed a barely audible, yet tremendously solid, pianissimo from the strings at the beginning, then danced with the dynamics in a serene sway. Translated as ‘Sad Waltz’, this is a work that is bitter-sweet and melancholic in its portrayal of the inevitability of mortal fate than simply sad. Ashkenazy conveyed this distinction brilliantly through his deft musical shaping, and the sound quality of the string and woodwind sections of the Philharmonia was both sensuous and faultless.

They continued in the same manner in opening and accompanying Cho in the Chopin. The Allegro maestoso was exact, never forced or pompous. Cho has an enviable ability to make every note sound distinct and clear, shaping and balancing each phrase perfectly. After only about a minute of his performance I stopped analysing, closed my eyes and lost myself completely in the sheer musicality of the moment. Things only got better in the Romanze: Larghetto, with lyrical reflections seemingly glistening from the black gloss of the concert grand as Cho superbly demonstrated his understanding of Chopin’s stated intent: “calm and melancholy, giving the impression of a thousand happy memories. It’s a kind of moonlight reverie on a beautiful spring evening.” Cho’s more assertive performance of the Rondo: Vivace brought fresh rigour and colour to the conclusion of the concerto, demonstrating the breadth of his interpretative abilities.     […]

[…]     Ashkenazy made me feel like I was hearing an old friend in the symphony, but learning all sorts about that friend I never knew before, and his direction of tempi and dynamics was inspirational. He returns to Birmingham Symphony Hall with the Philharmonia to play Rachmaninov’s Third Symphony in March next year, and based on this performance, it should be well worth booking in advance.”

Dudamel Conducts Mahler

Part of Birmingham International Concert Season 2013/14

Friday 15th November

Symphony Hall

Philharmonia Orchestra

Gustavo Dudamel conductor

Mahler Symphony No 7 77’

This concert has a running time of c 1 hour 20 minutes with no interval.

Lively, charismatic and driven by a burning urge to communicate, Gustavo Dudamel is quickly becoming one of the artists who define classical music in our time. On only his third visit to Symphony Hall, he conducts the Philharmonia Orchestra in the symphony Gustav Mahler called his ‘song of the night’: music of horn-calls and twilit processions, set in a world of dreams, nightmares, and roof-raising joy.

Classic FM’s John Suchet says:

A mighty Mahler symphony conducted by a mighty maestro, this is one concert not to be missed. Described as the hottest conductor on the planet, young Venezuelan Gustavo Dudamel has engulfed the musical world with his boyish charm and precocious talent. Hear him tonight take on Mahler’s tantalizing Seventh Symphony.




Review by Peter Marks, BachTrack:

Click here for full review

…     “The orchestra tore into the rambunctious opening of the finale. Again, Dudamel didn’t interfere with the flow of this triumphant passage and he had the very end of the movement in sight, holding the unexpected chord that foils the first fanfare passage long enough so that we knew what was coming at the coda. Coherence was the name of the game, once again, with each bombastic episode seeming to join with the last rather than seeming repetitive and disjointed as is sometimes the case. At one point the timpanist couldn’t suppress giggles at this almost absurdly hyperactive music. Perhaps this music is absurd – but then, as Alfred Brendel recently pointed out on Desert Island Discs, the world is absurd. Mahler’s well-known wish was certainly to capture the world in each of his symphonies.

The return of the first movement’s main theme was preceded by crackling electricity in the playing of the orchestra, and as the coda approached there were smiles all around from the players as they realised what a special performance they had executed. The chord of harmonic oblivion that Dudamel had signposted at the beginning of the movement hung in the air once more, like the absurd world suspended in a bubble, which he obligingly popped with Mahler’s triumphant final note.”



Review by John Quinn, SeenandHeard, MusicWeb

Click here for full review

…     “The central scherzo carries the marking Schattenhaft, which I believe can be translated as ‘shadowy’. I think that perhaps it’s only when you see a live performance that you fully realised just how difficult this music is to play. The scoring is full of weird shrieks and broken rhythms; fragments of music are hurled around the orchestra. The music is full of all sorts of nocturnal goings-on. Dudamel was the master of the score here, controlling everything very tightly and positively, ensuring that all the elements of Mahler’s piquant orchestration were realised. The Philharmonia backed him to the hilt with some marvellously precise playing

The second Nachtmusik could not be more different in character to the second movement. Marked Andante amoroso it’s a piece that finds Mahler in nostalgic and sentimental mood. The movement was distinguished by much excellent solo playing from the orchestra’s leader, Zsolt-Tihamér Visontay. Here, textures were admirably clear – the mandolin and guitar parts registered nicely. Dudamel’s reading was clear-eyed and once again he brought out, without any artificial spot-lighting, a lot of detail, such as the long, low clarinet trill near the end. However, I didn’t feel there was a great deal of warmth or affection in the reading; it seemed to me to be rather objective.

With scarcely a pause for breath Dudamel launched into the finale, the orchestra’s timpanist, Andrew Smith, making his presence felt – as he should in this movement.”     …



Review by Norman Stinchcombe, Birmingham Post:

Click here for full review

     “Who but Mahler would have thought of opening with a horn call but transforming a romantic cliché into something fresh and disturbing by assigning it to a rasping tenor horn?

He wanted it to sound like “nature roaring” and the Philharmonia’s player gave us just that, using the “big tone” Mahler demanded. The romantic trumpet calls and wind trills sounded magically distanced; the second night-music movement’s violin and mandolin solos were sweet but never sickly.

At the introduction of the beautiful second theme of the first movement Dudamel couldn’t resist slowing down despite Mahler’s insistence on maintaining tempo but this was a minor indulgence. He launched into the last movement without a pause but the sudden timpani assault was the sort of theatrical gesture Mahler might have relished.”

Holst’s The Planets

Part of Birmingham International Concert Season 2012/13… more events…

Part of Universe of Sound… more events…

Part of Entertaining Erdington… more events…

Saturday 15th June

Symphony Hall

Philharmonia Orchestra

Vladimir Ashkenazy  conductor

James Ehnes  violin

Ladies of the City of Birmingham Choir

Elgar   Violin Concerto 54’
Holst   The Planets 49’

Vladimir Ashkenazy conducts two of the greatest classics of English music. Holst’s The Planets is a marvellously evocative depiction of astrological influences, whilst Elgar’s Violin Concerto contains some of the composer’s most intimate and personal music, shot through with nostalgia for a passing Edwardian age.

Classic FM’s Anne-Marie Minhall, says of tonight’s recommended concert:

Nearly 100 years since its composition, Holst’s The Planets remains the most recorded piece of British music. The menace of Mars is its most famous movement, but the joyous vigour of Jupiter made the cleaners put down their brooms and dance in the aisles during its first rehearsals!




Review by Diane Parkes, BehindtheArras:

Click here for full review

…    “There is something quite magical about watching Ashkenazy. Not only is he incredibly enthusiastic but he also has a fluidity of conducting.

He coaxes the music out of every performer and then seems to feel it in his own movement – it is as though his very muscles reverberate music.

The Philharmonia Orchestra certainly responded to his energy with a Planets Suite which was packed with nuance, action and life. When a piece as well-known as this can still find new colour, the conductor and orchestra must be doing something right.”     …



Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:

Click here for full review

…     “Beneath the rhetoric, beneath the intricate solo writing, beneath the imposing proportions there beats a heart pierced with insecurity and regret, an inferiority complex which can only be hidden by swagger. And together James Ehnes and Vladimir Ashkenazy found it all.

Ehnes, a gentle giant, brought a rich, elegiac tone and unobtrusive virtuosity to his performance. Ashkenazy, diminutive and jerkily hyperactive (his conducting technique, quite the reverse of the austere Pierre Boulez, will never be a role-model), drew from what appears to be a rejuvenated Philharmonia both a remarkable depth of sonority and well-pointed athleticism. Rapport between soloist and orchestra in the finale’s extended, retrospective cadenza was extraordinarily gripping.”     …



Review by Verity Quaite, BachTrack:

Click here for full review

…     “The Planets was preceded by Canadian violinst James Ehnes performing Elgar’s Violin Concerto in B minor, Op. 61. This is the second time I have seen Ehnes perform at Birmingham Symphony Hall and, although impressed with his playing on the first occasion, he surpassed himself this evening. Ehnes is a passionate and earnest performer, not given to excessive flamboyance or extravagance and this clean style is perfectly suited to the repertoire. In this mentally and physically exerting piece, Ehnes appeared to give himself over entirely to the music and was able to fully exploit the emotional pull of the concerto, whilst successfully demonstrating his technical virtuosity with a stunning cadenza. A captivating performance by a musician of the highest calibre, Ehnes’ performance, like that of the Philharmonia Orchestra, cannot be praised enough.”     …

2001: A Space Odyssey

Screening with live music

Part of Birmingham International Concert Season 2012/13… more events…

Part of Universe of Sound… more events…

Part of Entertaining Erdington… more events…

Friday 14th June

Symphony Hall

Philharmonia Orchestra

Benjamin Wallfisch conductor

Ex Cathedra choir

2001: A Space Odyssey (film screening, Certificate U)

Live presentation in association with Warner Bros., Southbank Centre and the British Film Institute.

Concert lasts approximately 2 hours 45 minutes including a 20 minute interval.

2001: A Space Odyssey is one of the greatest science fiction films of all time, celebrated for its special effects and use of music. The film brought worldwide fame to Strauss’s Also Sprach Zarathustra, accompanying a primeval sunrise, and the unnerving music of Ligeti. It also created one of cinema’s most memorable images: a spaceship floating serenely through space to the strains of the Blue Danube waltz. This is a unique chance to experience it with the thrill of full orchestra, organ and chorus, all live for those unforgettable moments.

Classic FM’s Anne-Marie Minhall, says of tonight’s concert:

A project like this shows exactly why the Philharmonia Orchestra is one of our great musical institutions. It prides itself on pioneering new and diverse ways of sharing music. Don’t miss!

Ex Cathedra is a Town Hall Associate Artist.




Review by Jon Perks, Birmingham Mail:

Click here for full review

…     “From the latter’s first bars, as apes discover how to use tools as weapons, the music and visuals work as one.

The crescendo as the lead ape, Moonwatcher, throws his newly acquired weapon into the air, is a real ‘neck Mohican’ moment. With the fabulous Ex Cathedra choir and Philharmonia Orchestra, the score took on another dimension as it was performed live, the film projected on a mammoth screen behind them.

Timpani boomed, strings murmured, brass fanfared each new age of man. While the likes of The Blue Danube paint a serene landscape, Ligeti’s spectral, eerie Requiem and Atmospheres are used to incredible effect for The Dawn of Man and Stargate sections, a haunting sea of voices singing noises, not recognisable words.

The overall effect was mesmerising…”     …



Review by Ian Harvey, Express and Star:

Click here for full review

…     “Kubrick’s genius in his choice of music for his film was laid bare as the Philharmonia Orchestra, under the baton of Benjamin Wallfisch, filled Symphony Hall with awe and power. Also Sprach Zarathustra (the Apollo mission launch music to so many of us of a certain age) appears no less than three times in the film and loses none of its ability to thrill and inspire for that.

But what this particular performance highlighted more than anything was the astonishing impact the selection of pieces by the modern composer György Ligeti have as they are scattered throughout the film.

The sighting of the second monolith, on the moon, and the still visually thrilling, acid trip-like journey to Jupiter and beyond were accompanied by jagged, pulsing sounds that were unnerving and utterly unworldly.”     …

Duke Bluebeard’s Castle


Fri 21 Oct 7:30pm at Symphony Hall

Philharmonia Orchestra
Esa-Pekka Salonen conductor
Sir John Tomlinson Bluebeard
Michelle DeYoung Judith
Juliet Stevenson narrator
Nick Hillel director

Debussy Prélude à L’Après-midi d’un faune 10’
Janáček Sinfonietta 23’
Bartók Duke Bluebeard’s Castle (semi-staged) 60’

Please note Measha Brueggergosman will be replaced by Michelle DeYoung.

Fresh from last year’s breathtaking Tristan und Isolde, Esa-Pekka Salonen and the Philharmonia celebrate their return to Symphony Hall with the blazing fanfares of Janácek’s sunny Sinfonietta. But then we step into the darkness of Bluebeard’s castle for a world premiere production: a groundbreaking video installation transforms the Hall into the lair of one of classical music’s greatest villains. Sir John Tomlinson plays the formidable duke whose new bride discovers shocking secrets hidden behind seven doors, each evoked by Bartók’s spine-tingling score.

BBC Music magazine’s Editor, Oliver Condy, recommends tonight’s concert: “Bartók’s great psychological thriller is high up on my list of works that I’d encourage first-time opera-goers to give a try. A gripping evening awaits…” www.thsh.co.uk 

Article on Sir John Tomlinson, by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:
“It was growing up in the heart of industrial Britain which steered one of the great Wagnerians of our time to a career in music.” …

Read More:



Article about the production by Jessica Duchen, Independent:



Philharmonia players blog about Duke Bluebeard’s Castle:


The Making of Bartok’s Duke Bluebeard’s Castle:



Review by Andrew Clements, Guardian:



…     “The parade of images – weeping walls, bloodstained jewels, luxuriant blooms and a final sad parade of the silhouettes of Bluebeard’s former wives – is fine as far as it goes, but entirely superfluous when the performance is as good as it was here. Salonen conjured every orchestral colour from the Philharmonia with tremendous panache – the huge C major climax at the opening of the fifth door was sumptuous – while DeYoung and Tomlinson focused the drama superbly, she a wonderful mix of naivety and obsession, he remarkable in his portrait of cruel implacability and sheer, despairing loneliness.”


Review by Elmley de la Cour, Birmingham Post:



…     “But musically it was excellent. Michelle DeYoung dealt nimbly with Judith’s declamatory lines.

John Tomlinson’s Hungarian sounded wonderful, and, shrouded in his cloak, was every inch the mysterious, tortured duke.

Esa-Pekka Salonen navigated clearly through the work’s abounding details, and the orchestra played well for him, particularly the phalanx of strings.”     …


Review by Christopher Thomas, SeenandHeard MusicWeb:



…     “Nick Hiller’s production and dramatic visuals proved to be nothing short of a triumph, enthralling totally from the very start, whilst it is well nigh impossible to imagine a more chilling, atmospheric and powerful performance than that given by Sir John Tomlinson, Michelle DeYoung and the forces of the Philharmonia. With the production now set to go on tour, this is a Bluebeard not to be missed.”

Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde

Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde

(UK Premiere of Production with Visuals by Bill Viola)

Birmingham International Concert Season 2010/11

Thu 23 Sep 5:30pm at Symphony Hall

Philharmonia Orchestra
Esa-Pekka Salonen conductor
Gary Lehman Tristan
Violeta Urmana Isolde
Anne Sofie von Otter Brangäne
Matthew Best* King Marke
Jukka Rasilainen Kurwenal
Stephen Gadd Melot
Joshua Ellicott* Shepherd/Sailor
Darren Jeffery Helmsman
Philharmonia Voices
Bill Viola visual artist
Peter Sellars artistic collaborator

*Please note the change of cast from that originally advertised.

Wagner Tristan und Isolde 255’

There will be two 30 minute intervals and the concert will end at approximately 10.30pm.
Please note that due to video scenes with nudity, this performance is not recommended for under-14s.

Tristan und Isolde co-producers: Philharmonia Orchestra, Konzerthaus Dortmund and Lucerne Festival
In association with: Southbank Centre London and Symphony Hall, Birmingham
Also performed in: KKL, Lucerne (10 September), Konzerthaus, Dortmund (17 September) and Southbank Centre, London (26 September)

‘…The overall impact is shattering. A great occasion, no question.’ The Guardian
‘It could well be a very long time before something this great comes our way again.’ Los Angeles Times
‘One of the greatest experiences of my artistic life’ Esa-Pekka Salonen

This performance is, quite simply, an unmissable event that is one of the highlights of the UK cultural calendar: a partnership of three of the greatest artists of the present time – conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen, artistic collaborator Peter Sellars and film artist Bill Viola. Set against the stunning backdrop of Viola’s film projections, this UK premiere promises to bring a new intensity to Wagner’s hymn to love and death.

Classic FM’s Anne-Marie Minhall, says of tonight’s recommended concert:
“Wagner’s tale of forbidden love was inspired by Arthurian legend. The composer himself said that the story is ’one of endless yearning, longing, the bliss and wretchedness of love…one sole redemption – death, finality, a sleep without awakening.’”

Click here to view a lecture by Bill Viola on Tristan und Isolde.

Watch a short film about the production, including exclusive behind the scenes footage.

Review by Ivan Hewitt, Telegraph:


“If any opera aspires towards a purely abstract “theatre of the mind” it must surely be Wagner’s Tristan. This UK premiere of a collaboration between film-maker Bill Viola, director Peter Sellars and conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen gets close to that ideal state, immersing us in a dream-like experience.

On the platform was the Philharmonia Orchestra, sounding almost uncannily brilliant and warm, and on absolutely top form.  […]

…All this might have been thought-provoking but chilling, had it not been for the passion and grandeur of the performance. Gary Lehman was a truly heroic Tristan, especially at the moment when he tears off his bandages in the ecstatic expectation of seeing Isolde. Violeta Urmana had the power to soar over the Philharmonia, and the range of tone to be stinging and proud in the first act and rapturously tender in the second. Anne Sofie von Otter I’ve never associated with Wagner, but she made a thrilling Brangane.”  …..

Review by Andrew Clements, Guardian:


…..”Salonen’s conducting was exceptional, not for its sense of line or febrile intensity, but for calm, almost nonchalant authority and musical clarity, combined with wonderfully sculpted playing from the Philharmonia. Gary Lehman and Violeta Urmana were not the most vocally alluring Tristan and Isolde, but in two taxing roles they were unfailingly secure and tirelessly confident. Anne Sofie von Otter contributed a elegant, calm Brangäne, Jukka Rasilainen a sturdy, forthright Kurwenal, and Matthew Best a noble and eloquent King Marke, his second-act monologue arguably the emotional fulcrum of the whole performance.”

Review by Andrew Clark, Financial Times:


…”The Birmingham performance had rare potency, thanks to the hall’s acoustical properties, Salonen’s clear-sighted vision and a cast that was able to focus on musical values. In the title roles, Gary Lehman and Violeta Urmana sang with the utmost refinement and conviction, while Anne Sofie von Otter made a regal Brangäne. 4 star rating”   Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2010.

Review by Lynne Walker, The Independent:


…”Once over the hurdle of what to focus on – the montage of imagery, the surtitles (situated impossibly high in the third act), the magnificent singers positioned around the hall, the doughty instrumentalists placed centre-stage – what really gripped one’s attention was the ebb and flow of Salonen’s conducting and the insightfulness of the orchestral playing. In the acclaimed acoustic of Symphony Hall, the surround-sound effect – enhancing lusty choral-singing and insightful orchestral playing – represented an electrifying aspect of an unforgettable evening.”    Copyright The Independent 2010

Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:


…”and where Esa-Pekka Salonen shaped, balanced and guided his tremendous orchestra with all the sense of pace, direction and transparency he had unobtrusively summoned all evening.

We were left with a powerful stage-picture, too: Violeta Urmana’s Isolde subsiding with all the control and dignity of her entire performance, Gary Lehman’s Tristan lying dead at last after tribulations so powerfully expressed, and Matthew Best’s sorrowing, compassionate King Marke sadly bestowing one last blessing on these two people he had loved most in all the world.”

Muti conducts Beethoven

Tue 23 Mar 7:30pm at Symphony Hall

Riccardo Muti

Philharmonia Orchestra
Riccardo Muti conductor
Joshua Bell violin

Beethoven Violin Concerto 42’
Beethoven Symphony No 3, Eroica 50’

“There have been few more glamorous conducting careers than that of Riccardo Muti, who has conducted the world’s greatest orchestras and spent nearly twenty years as director of La Scala, Milan.

Tonight he appears at Symphony Hall for the first time, conducting two towering Beethoven masterpieces: the majestic Eroica Symphony and the timeless Violin Concerto, played by one of the finest violinists of his generation, Joshua Bell.

Classic FM’s Anne-Marie Minhall, says of tonight’s recommended concert:
“Riccardo Muti and Joshua Bell go back a long way. When the violinist was just fourteen years old it was with Maestro Muti and the Philadelphia Orchestra that he made his debut.” www.thsh.co.uk “

Quality evening!

Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:


…”Joshua Bell was soloist in the Concerto, his approach properly Olympian, with no attempt to seek out spurious emotional underlayings, and his playing was both muscular and sweet-toned. But any sense of the music’s huge stature seemed to be skated over.”…