Romeo and Juliet

  • Wednesday 20th April, 7.30pm

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Programme

  • Tchaikovsky  Romeo and Juliet Overture, 21′
  • Bernstein  West Side Story – Symphonic Dances , 23′
  • Prokofiev  Romeo and Juliet – highlights , 50′

Two households, both alike in dignity, In fair Verona, where we lay our scene…” But whether we’re talking Montagues and Capulets or Nureyev and Fonteyn, medieval Verona or New York gangland, one thing’s for sure: Shakespeare’s star-crossed lovers have inspired some truly glorious music. Tchaikovsky’s impassioned overture, Bernstein’s explosive dances and Prokofiev’s bittersweet ballet: guest conductor Lahav Shani will commit to each of them, body and soul.

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Review by John Quinn, SeenandHeard, MusicWeb:

Click here for full review

…     “Shani and the CBSO gave a vivid account of the music. As the Jets and Sharks strutted their stuff in the ‘Prologue’ the playing was at first incisive and sassy and then brash and exciting, the bongos beating out frenetic tattoos. Shani ensured that ‘Somewhere’ was suitably yearning while the Coplandesque ‘Scherzo’ was light on its feet. The percussion section drove ‘Mambo’ along in manic style and as the movement reached its exuberant conclusion the CBSO trumpeters had a field day, blowing, as they say, mean horns. The sultry rhythms of ‘Cha Cha’ were well inflected. The ‘Cool’ Fugue is a terrific invention: who but Bernstein would have thought to introduce a 12-tone, rigorous fugue into a Broadway show – and who but Lennie would have made it so gripping? This section, above all, is where you realize how musically advanced West Side Story is. Shani built the music powerfully, generating a strident climax. ‘Rumble’ is just as advanced in terms of Broadway music; here it was done with great panache. Finally, the tender, tragic ending was really well done, the CBSO strings playing with great sensitivity.

Another Russian take on Romeo and Juliet followed the interval. A couple of years ago Andris Nelsons and the CBSO played a selection of numbers from Prokofiev’s great ballet score (review). Here Lahav Shani offered a selection that contained many of the same pieces. I remember that I greatly enjoyed the Nelsons concert and Shani’s performance was another fine one. Like Nelsons, his selection included many movements that lie at the heart of the drama but both conductors sensibly interspersed two or three of the lighter dance movements.

The start of Shani’s performance – ‘Montagues and Capulets’ – augured well, the massive dissonant chords built thrillingly and, at their peak, thrust home with great power. In the same movement we had the lumbering Knights’ Dance but also passages of much greater delicacy. ‘The Young Girl Juliet’ began with scampering eagerness but when Prokofiev shows us the more thoughtful side of her nature Shani was just as adept in bringing out the nature of the music. The ‘Balcony Scene began with a lovely depiction of a moonlit night from the CBSO. At the start of the encounter between the two young lovers I admired very much the lustrous tone of the cello section, and then the violins took over and sent the music soaring to the heights. Under Shani’s enthusiastic leadership the orchestra invested the music with ardour and romantic sweep but just as impressive was the spellbinding clarity that the players brought to Prokofiev’s magical scoring at the end.

From ardent young love we moved to violence with ‘The Death of Tybalt’. This was vivid and dramatic. The fight itself was fast and furious; no quarter was given. After Tybalt had been slain his body was borne off with shattering power.”     …

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Review by Katherine Dixson, BachTrack: (for same programme on 23rd April)

Click here for full review

…     “Tchaikovsky‘s Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture was his third attempt at this subject but was still one of his early works. Its substantial introduction opens with solemn woodwind foreshadowing Friar Laurence’s fateful involvement then moves into pugnacious, jagged music, the irregular accents conjuring up flashing swords and setting up the conflict with a bang. Brass and percussion, particularly cymbals, were in their element while Shani showed both great enthusiasm and control over the build-up of volume and intensity. Furious bowing from the strings added a visual reference point as you could just imagine weapons flying. The audience was well and truly hooked.

A complete change of colour occurred with the move into the luscious love theme: tempo, dynamic, articulation and melody producing a heart-stopping plaintive contrast with the clash and clamour of the previous scene.  A delicate harp spoke of moonlight shining on Juliet’s balcony. Shani urged the players to heights of tenderness, just as much as total involvement in the foreboding of eerie chords and fateful trumpets pealing out the Friar Laurence theme again as the tragedy unfolds. The funeral march coda, prefaced with menacing cello, brought the piece to a carefully-placed, emotionally-charged ending.”     …

 

CBSO Youth Orchestra

Rachmaninov’s Second

Sunday 21st February, 7.00pm

CBSO Youth Orchestra

Programme

  • Prokofiev  Scythian Suite , 20′
  • Rachmaninov  Symphony No. 2, 55′

Conductor Jac van Steen has a special rapport with the CBSO Youth Orchestra – and if you’ve heard them play Rachmaninov before, you’ll know to expect absolute commitment, glorious playing and pure, unbuttoned emotion when our fabulous young players tackle the ultimate Russian romantic symphony. Though after van Steen has unleashed them on the pagan frenzy of Prokofiev’s electrifying Scythian Suite, pulses should already be racing!

Tchaikovsky’s Sixth

Wednesday 17 February, 7.30pm

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Programme

  • Berlioz Roman Carnival Overture, 9′
  • Prokofiev Sinfonia concertante, 37′
  • Tchaikovsky  Symphony No. 6 (Pathétique), 45′

“Pathétique” means “full of emotion”: simple as that. And from first bar to last, Tchaikovsky’s epic Sixth Symphony brims with anguish, longing and unforgettable Tchaikovsky tunes. The charismatic young Venezuelan conductor Rafael Payare won’t stint on the passion; nor will his wife Alisa Weilerstein – soloist in Prokofiev’s huge, brooding “symphony concerto”. Hector Berlioz lights the fuse amidst a riot of Italian sunshine.

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Review by Katherine Dixson, BachTrack:

Click here for full review

…    “From the opening notes it was clear we were in for a warm, emotional time of it. By the end of the first movement, with interventions from different quarters of the orchestra but basically an improvisation for the cellist, you could sense that Weilerstein held the audience in the palm of her hand. The middle movement also held the gems of a heart-rendingly lyrical melody and a captivating extended cadenza, as well as some noteworthy wind highlights. 

Theme and variations was the order of the day for the final movement, with a relentless sensation of impetus throughout.  The cello played the stately main theme, contrasting with a more light hearted cadenza. This in turn led to a little comic relief courtesy of bassoon then cameo for soloist and a sextet of solo strings, which they all clearly enjoyed. Countless high arpeggios on the cello concluded this passionate interpretation and the audience responded equally warmly. 

If Prokofiev hadn’t long to live after Sinfonia Concertante was finished, Tchaikovsky’s death came even harder on the heels of his Symphony no. 6 in B minor, “Pathétique”. He famously commented on being pleased with this symphony: “I give you my word of honour that never in my life have I been so contented, so proud, so happy in the knowledge that I have written a good piece”, but he died just over a week after its première, rumoured to be suicide although never proven.

Unusual in its mood, since minor key symphonies in the 19th century were generally darkness-to-light journeys, this remains dark, reflected in the “Pathétique” label which conveys deep feeling and suffering. By the end of the finale, the music fades away into the darkness from which it emerged in the first place. A sense of struggle is highlighted by dynamic extremes and it’s full of powerful emotion. But there are plenty of beautiful lyrical melodies, as well as opportunities to showcase the various orchestral forces, with the balance well-handled by Payane – the violas were under the spotlight for a couple of passages, and rightly basked in their applause afterwards. The whole indulgent performance got an enthusiastic reception from the packed Symphony Hall audience.”

 

 

A to Z of the CBSO

Symphony Hall, Birmingham

Saturday 19th September, 7.00pm

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Featuring

  • Vivaldi Four Seasons (excerpt)
  • Zimmer Pirates of the Carribean
  • Williams – Star Wars = encore

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Put 90 top-flight musicians on one stage, and there’s no limit to what they can do. Three centuries in the making, the symphony orchestra is still the ultimate piece of music technology: at home in the concert hall or the movie studio, and capable of summoning up over 300 years of music in breathtaking live sound. Tonight, Michael Seal and the full CBSO walk you through an A to Z of the orchestra: with music ranging from Adams’ Short Ride in a Fast Machine to Hans Zimmer’s Pirates of the Caribbean!

If you’re not sure where to begin with the CBSO, come along for just a tenner to find out more. And if you’re a regular – why not bring a friend to introduce them?

Haydn in London

Thursday 7th May, 7.30pm

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

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Programme

  • Haydn Symphony No. 103 (Drumroll), 29′
  • Mozart Violin Concerto No.4 in D Major, 24′
  • Prokofiev Violin Concerto No. 2, 26′
  • Haydn  Symphony No. 104 (London), 29′

No two great composers were ever closer than Mozart and Haydn, and there’s a smile in every bar of this delightfully entertaining concert. Two of the wittiest and warmest symphonies ever written frame lively concertos by Haydn’s best friend, and his biggest 20th century fan. Andris Nelsons’ schoolfriend Baiba Skride is the soloist. This is going to be fun: this spring, put a spring in your step!

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Support the CBSO

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Review by Sarah Probert, Birmingham Post: (for matinee of same programme)

Click here for full review

…     “The Mozart was neat and crystalline, Skride’s bow resourceful and articulate in communication, her dovetailing with the orchestra triumphant at the end of the first movement cadenza.

The Prokofiev brought piercing purity of intonation in an amazingly empathetic collaboration with the CBSO under Andris Nelsons (Skride’s old schoolmate).

The opening movement quite rightly emphasised the music’s folklore narrative, the andante was full of veiled fantasy launched by the whispering tones of the CBSO strings, and the finale was a louche dance of death, the pearly bass-drum obbligato grimly delivered by Andrew Herbert.

Skride’s performances came as the announcement was made that next season she is to be artist-in-residence with the CBSO.

Sadly there is no Andris Nelsons in that prospectus, and as his tenure as the orchestra’s music director comes to a close he seems on fire.

I have never seen him so relaxed and so balletic (even for him) on the podium.

He has developed a back-handed resource to his conducting, and has the confidence in his orchestra just to sweep across 180 degrees, knowing that they are with him every beat of the way. Will Boston ever experience such a sense of unity, I wonder?”     …

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Mahler’s First Symphony: CBSO Youth Orchestra

ThumbnailRaise the Roof

Sunday 22nd February 2015 at 7.00pm

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

CBSO Youth Orchestra

Edward Gardner  conductor
Denis Kozhukhin  piano

Lutoslawski: Symphony No. 4 20′
Listen on Spotify

Prokofiev: Piano Concerto No. 1 16′
Mahler: Symphony No. 1 56′
Listen on Spotify

Denis Kozhukhin’s encore – Bach – Siloti Prelude in B Minor

Mahler’s First Symphony begins by creating the world – and ends by storming Heaven itself. Well, the CBSO Youth Orchestra likes a challenge, and if you’ve heard our inspirational young players before, you’ll know that under the baton of CBSO principal guest conductor Edward Gardner we’re in for something very special indeed. Twentieth century classics by Lutoslawski and Prokofiev raise the curtain with an explosion of colour. http://www.cbso.co.uk

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Review by Katherine Dixson, BachTrack:

Click here for full review

…     “The orchestra clearly enjoyed immersing themselves in Mahler’s Symphony no. 1 in D major.  The work appeared under various titles in its early days, from a five-movement symphonic poem to “Titan – a tone poem in the form a symphony”, but Mahler later did away with these. There remains an implied dramatic structure based on Mahler’s own poems Songs of a Wayfarer, with the music describing the hero’s journey from unrequited love via a pastoral setting towards the finality, yet triumph, of death. The band was evidently at home with Mahler’s brilliant orchestration and confidently tackled the subtleties and nuances that brought the landscape and journey to life. The minor-key Frère Jacques theme of the funeral march was particularly effective, with the chance for individual young musicians to shine, from menacing double-bass onwards. The final “triumphal” pages were exactly that, with upstanding brass giving it their all. Then it was time to get the whole crew on their feet for well-earned enthusiastic applause.”

Russian Classics

ThumbnailRelax and Revitalise

Wednesday 12th November 2014 at 7.30pm

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

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Gustavo Gimeno  conductor
Simon Trpceski  piano

Tchaikovsky: Overture: Romeo and Juliet 21′
Prokofiev: Piano Concerto No. 3 28′
Listen on Spotify

Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 2 (Little Russian) 33′
Listen on Spotify

No composer puts on a show quite like Tchaikovsky – whether it’s the world’s most famous love theme in his Romeo and Juliet overture, or the high-kicking, vodka-fuelled festivities that close his shamelessly tuneful “Little Russian” Symphony. In his CBSO debut, the energetic young Spanish conductor Gustavo Gimeno should get the pulse racing – and joins Birmingham favourite Simon Trpceski in Prokofiev’s best-loved piano concerto.

http://www.cbso.co.uk

Support the CBSO

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Review by John Quinn, MusicWeb, SeenandHeard:

Click here for full review

…     “He made a favourable impression here right from the moment that he came onto the platform, shook hands with the orchestra’s leader, Laurence Jackson and then kissed the hand of his first desk colleague, Zoë Byers. It was a courtly gesture that seemed quite unaffected and which raised a smile in the orchestra.  His beat is expressive yet clear and his left hand conveys meaning too. It seemed to me that all his gestures were relevant and not extravagant and he appeared to have a good rapport with the orchestra, which played very well for him. He clearly relished the opportunities to unleash the power of the orchestra in this acoustic – though never in an excessive or vulgar way – yet there was also much dexterous, refined and neat playing to admire also. And how refreshing it was to see a young conductor pay the orchestra the compliment of dressing, like the gentlemen of the CBSO, in white tie and tails rather than in one of the loose-fitting jackets that seem to be all the rage these days.

The Macedonian pianist, Simon Trpčeski joined the orchestra for Prokofiev’s Third Piano Concerto. In the past I’ve greatly admired his work as a concerto soloist in Rachmaninov (review ~ review) and he appeared equally at home in Prokofiev. David Gutman’s useful programme note quoted a perceptive observation by Hugh Ottaway that this concerto ‘accommodates nearly all the Prokofievs we have ever known’. Composed between 1911 and 1921 it contains passages of steely virtuosity and also fine examples of the composer’s lyrical gifts, especially the sweeping melody, so typical of Prokofiev, that we encounter in the finale.  The first movement, after a deceptively gentle start, soon becomes much more vigorous and the music often has a hard edge. Trpčeski despatched the often-formidable piano part with great élan. The second movement, like the second movement of the Second Symphony (1924-25), is a theme and variations. The variations are very wide-ranging in nature and I admired the way both Trpčeski and the orchestra under Gimeno’s direction, brought out the different facets of the music. There was much bravura brilliance in the finale but the aforementioned big melody was given its full value; it was worth waiting for. The ending was exuberant. I enjoyed and admired Trpčeski’s performance in equal measure – as, clearly, did the audience who responded very warmly – and it seemed to me that Gimeno and the CBSO offered him sterling support.”     …

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Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:

Click here for full review

…     “Between these two came Prokofiev’s Spring-like Piano Concerto no.3, Simon Trpceski the witty and affectionate soloist.

This is such a special work combining dewy freshness and sardonic cockiness, and Trpceski encompassed it all. His percussive playing was delicately poised, his open-eyed ruminations hinted at greater depths, and his amazing bravura did full justice to Prokofiev’s no-holds-barred conception (in some ways Trpceski surpasses what we hear from the composer himself on an ancient recording, but do try to get hold of that).”     …