War and Peace

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Thursday 6th November 2014 at 7.30pm

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

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Lahav Shani  conductor

Francesco Piemontesi  piano

Prokofiev: Overture to War and Peace 6′
Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 4 34′
Prokofiev: Symphony No. 5 46′
Listen on Spotify
Watch on YouTube

Composed in wartime Russia and premiered to the sound of gunfire, Prokofiev’s Fifth was considered by the composer to be a “symphony of the greatness of the human spirit”. But, like his opera War and Peace, it’s also a stirring chronicle of a nation’s final push to victory. They’ll make a powerful Birmingham debut for the award-winning young conductor Lahav Shani; between them, Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto will be an oasis of calm.

If you like this concert, you might also like:
Nelsons conducts Bruckner’s Seventh, Thursday 27th November & Saturday 29th November, 2014
Mahler’s First Symphony: CBSO Youth Orchestra, Sunday 22nd February, 2015
Brahms and Beethoven, Wednesday 25th March & Saturday 28th March, 2015

Support the CBSO

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Review by Peter Marks, Bachtrack:

Click here for full review

…    “The stakes were higher in the second half, featuring as it did one of Prokofiev’s most frequently performed symphonies: the Fifth. The clever programming meant that the overture, lasting little over five minutes, inevitably left the audience wanting more of the deliciously inventive Russian’s soaring melodies, masterful orchestration and cheeky dissonances. The orchestration was aided no end by another Shani masterstroke: trumpet vibrato. Strident enough to bring a grin to this reviewer’s face and yet tastefully in keeping with an authentic ‘Soviet’ approach, it was also symbolic of an orchestra transformed, electrified.

The symphony as a whole was ideally paced. Tempi were flowing and felt natural. All of Prokofiev’s miraculous orchestration registered, particularly the counterpoint in the lower brass. The tubist, bass and E flat clarinettists were particular stars. Shani placed greater emphasis on the grinding dissonances rather than encouraging the more patriotic elements in the music as can sometimes be the case. The swiftly taken first movement coda generated tremendous excitement, featuring icily powerful tam-tam strokes, and was capped with a breathtaking final chord.

There’s no doubting Shani is a risk-taker and what chutzpah for him to display this on his first concert with this orchestra, not to mention his first in the UK. The lively sardonic second movement scherzo and fourth movement gallop brought out a more animated conducting style, with the dapper conductor now reminiscent of a dancing Bernstein. In the third movement, Shani and the orchestra succeeded in transforming the seemingly innocent opening triplet figure in the violins into a terrifying presence later in the movement’s devastating climax. The symphony concluded in a thrillingly demonic fashion, bringing the house down. Only one more word seems appropriate: wow!  “

*****

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Review by Maggie Cotton, Birmingham Post:

Click here for full review

…     “Pianist Francesco Piemontesi gave a gutsy, in-your-face, technically brilliant performance.

A reduced orchestra still overpowered the soloist, but piano cadenzas were scarily astonishing.     […]

[…] Symphony No 5 is hauntingly poignant with wonderful tunes on full strings, lovely woodwind – particularly clarinet – plus characteristic parallel octave spaces between solo instruments, contrasting with brilliance and grotesque roaring through the texture to terrifying heights.” …

National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain

Part of Birmingham International Concert Season 2013/14 Concert Package,

SoundBite and Birmingham International Concert Season 2013/14

Saturday 9th August

Symphony Hall

National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain
Edward Gardner conductor
Louis Schwitzgebel piano

Stravinsky Petrushka (1911) 34’
Prokofiev Piano Concerto No 1 16’
Harrison Birtwistle Sonic Severance 2000 3’
Lutosławski Concerto for Orchestra 28’

 

This summer, the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain brings its infectious energy and artistry to a programme that bursts with character. As “the most uplifting orchestra in the world” (The Times), the all-teenage ensemble joins Edward Gardner (CBSO Principle Guest Conductor) for a celebration of imaginative music-making.

Experience the colourful storytelling of Stravinsky’s ballet Petrushka paired with the dramatic intensity of Lutoslawski’s Concerto for Orchestra, two pieces that spin folk tunes into vibrant musical fireworks. On the same journey, light the sparks in Prokofiev’s first Piano Concerto with dazzling young pianist Louis Schwizgebel (BBC New Generation Artist), who won second prize at the Leeds International Piano Competition in 2012.

6.15pm in the Symphony Hall Foyer: hear cutting-edge, fresh new music from NYOGB’s unique resident teenage composers performed by the orchestra’s players. This is a free event.

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Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet

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Wednesday 15th January 2014 at 7.30pm

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

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra 

Andris Nelsons  conductor

Erin Wall  soprano

Strauss: Don Juan 18′ Listen on Spotify Watch on YouTube
Strauss: Four Last Songs 22′

Prokofiev: Romeo and Juliet (highlights) 50′

Love   never dies. Richard Strauss’s career went off like a rocket with Don Juan,   and you can almost smell the testosterone. A lifetime later, Strauss gazed into   the sunset and heard his Four Last Songs; ardour turned to serenity,   in music of transcendent beauty. As for Romeo and Juliet… let’s just   say that there’s a lot more to Prokofiev’s romantic ballet score than the theme   from The Apprentice. Andris Nelsons will give it his all.

If you like this concert, you might also like:

CBSO Youth Orchestra, Sunday 23rd February

Der Rosenkavalier, Saturday 24th May

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Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:

Click here for full review

…     “And the CBSO under Andris Nelsons responded wholeheartedly and movingly. Tuttis were sumptuous and well-weighted, and instrumental solos touched the heart; Elspeth Dutch’s horn-playing really hit the spot, but I know she won’t mind giving place to the solos of prince among concertmasters Laurence Jackson, his violin trembling on the edge of the other-world.

Nelsons had begun with some Richard Strauss right at the opposite end of the composer’s life, when he was a rising young buck taking the world by storm: the tone-poem Don Juan, whose coruscating opening notes were the first Nelsons ever conducted with the CBSO, and which launched such an ineffable relationship between them.

Double-basses were here ranged across the back, having swapped places with the percussion, and the twang of their pizzicatos was arresting. At the other end of the dynamic scale, the various interludes were gloriously dreamy, and throughout Nelsons’ gestures inspired not only his players, but also us in the audience, drawing our attention to relevant lines. We are going to miss him, and in a way are doing so already.”     …

*****

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Review by John Quinn, MusicWeb, SeenandHeard:

Click here for full review

…     “Tonight’s performance opened with great panache, the music thrusting, urgent and colourful. The first love scene was expansive and ripe, expressively moulded by Nelsons. During the quicker music, which is, effectively, the development section of the piece, Nelsons got the orchestra to play with dash and brilliance – though they seemed to need little encouragement; the players were fully engaged in this interpretation. A lovely oboe solo from Steven Hudson was a highlight of the second love section; Nelsons shaped this whole section with almost extravagant attention to detail. The music sounded properly opulent and heroic towards the end but the quiet conclusion of the work was marvellously achieved. The performance as a whole was splendidly played, including many excellent solo contributions: the evening had got off to a tremendous start.     […]

[…] This was a most impressive performance by Erin Wall. In Frühling she offered ardent singing, her long phrases soaring over the mellow orchestral sound. Here, as elsewhere, it was perfectly possible to follow the words she was singing without recourse to the texts printed in the programme; that’s no mean achievement for a high voice faced with tessitura that is often demanding and a vocal line that can be florid. Singing September Miss Wall span a lovely line, her tone rich but not overdone. I appreciated especially the wonderful half-tone with which she delivered the last phrases of the song before Elspeth Dutch’s golden-toned horn solo took the music on seamlessly to its mellow close.  Beim Schlafengehen benefitted from radiant playing by Laurence Jackson in the glorious violin solo. When Miss Wall resumed singing after this solo the moving words ‘Und die Seele unbewacht/Will in freien Flügen Schweben’ soared memorably and ecstatically. Some conductors play the opening of Im Abendrot quite urgently, pushing the music forward. I can understand why but I prefer to hear the music taken expansively – yet not indulgently – and that is just how Andris Nelsons took it. You could see him visibly feeling each phrase the orchestra played. Erin Wall sang with great expression, phrasing generously. For much of the time her singing was soft and rapt yet such was the dynamic control exerted by Nelsons and his players that every note she sang was completely audible. The long orchestral postlude glowed beautifully, bringing to a deeply satisfying conclusion a moving performance of this song which clearly transfixed the audience. I hope very much that Andris Nelsons will include the Four Last Songs in his series of Strauss recordings with the CBSO; if he does I hope he will invite Erin Wall to be his soloist.”     …

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Review by Hilary Finch, Times:

Click here for full review £££

Russian Classics

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Thursday 9th January 2014 at 7.30pm

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

City of Birmingham Symphony Hall

Andris Nelsons  conductor

Lars Vogt  piano

Prokofiev: Symphony No. 1 (Classical) 14′

Mozart: Piano Concerto No. 27, K.595 32′

Stravinsky: Petrushka 34′ Listen on Spotify Watch on YouTube

Lars Vogt’s encore – Chopin Nocturne ..

It’s springtime in old Russia, and as crowds throng the Shrovetide Fair, passions are  rising. But how serious can it get? After all, a puppet doesn’t have feelings…  does it? 100 years on, Stravinsky’s brilliantly original ballet continues to startle  and delight; while Prokofiev’s firecracker of a first symphony proves that a real  popular classic can still spring a few surprises. Mind you, Mozart’s last piano  concerto gives them both a run for their money – especially in the supremely skilled  hands of Lars Vogt.

If you like this concert, you might also like:

Mozart and Elgar, Wednesday   19th  February

Mozart’s Gran Partita, Wednesday   26th  February

Rachmaninov’s Second Piano Concerto, Thursday   6th  March

http://www.cbso.co.uk

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Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:

Click here for full review

…     “Nelsons’ footwork was indeed balletic (for a big man he is very light on his feet), and he drew a reading which was now buzzing, now subtle, wonderfully shaded and rhythmically vibrant.

The sequence of dances in the final tableau emerged as noble as those in Wagner’s Meistersinger (the dour Stravinsky would surely hate that comparison), and instrumental solos throughout added characterful contributions: Marie-Christine Zupancic’s fey flute, Rachael Pankhurst’s lugubrious cor anglais, Jonathan Holland’s incisive trumpet, and Ben Dawson’s vivid piano.

And that piano had just beforehand delivered Lars Vogt’s no-nonsense, pellucid and elegant account of Mozart’s last piano concerto, no.27 K595.

Vogt brought both crystalline clarity and well-weighted chording to his performance, confident enough in his accompanists to be able to add a discreet element of rubato where appropriate.

Less is more. No affectation here, just a pure love of this otherwordly music, communicated by all concerned.”     …

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Review by Andrew Clements, Guardian:

Click here for full review

…    “Since he took over the City of Birmingham Symphony five years ago, hearing Andris Nelsons reveal more of the works in his repertoire has been one of the most compelling experiences British musical life can offer. Last autumn’s announcement that he is leaving Birmingham at the end of the 2014-15 season has made each of those revelations seem even more precious. I missed his performance of Stravinsky‘s Petrushka with the orchestra in 2011, but thankfully Nelson has now returned to the work, and it’s one of the best demonstrations of just what an exceptional conductor he can be.

Performances of the second full-scale ballet Stravinsky composed for Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes tend to emphasise the music’s modernism, and those aspects of it that anticipate the watershed of The Rite of Spring, which came two years later. Nelsons’s intensely vivid performance, fabulously realised by the CBSO, certainly did that, but it also showed how much of 19th-century Russian music, as channelled through Stravinsky’s teacher Rimsky-Korsakov, remains in the score, too. The way in which all the teeming detail emerged in high definition, characterised with such pictorial immediacy, was a thrilling reminder that Stravinsky’s debt to his St Petersburg training hadn’t been totally discharged with The Firebird.”     …

Kissin and London Symphony Orchestra

Kissin and London Symphony Orchestra play Tchaikovsky

Part of Birmingham International Concert Season 2013/14

Wednesday 18th December

Symphony Hall Birmingham

London Symphony Orchestra

Michael Tilson Thomas conductor

Evgeny Kissin piano

Rimsky-Korsakov Dubinushka 4’
Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No 1 32’
Prokofiev Symphony No 5 46’

Evgeny Kissin’s encore – Tchaikovsky – Waltz

The LSO have always brought out their best for guest conductors, but no one galvanises them quite like Tilson Thomas. The Arts Desk

Evgeny Kissin needs no introduction; the shock-headed prodigy has long since matured into a performer with unparalleled artistry and precision. Michael Tilson Thomas and the London Symphony Orchestra, meanwhile, rekindle an unforgettable partnership that stretches back over almost forty years.

This blend of virtuosity and understanding will be brought to a programme of music by some of the most renowned Russian composers; Tchaikovsky’s epic first concerto, Rimsky-Korsakov’s folk-inspired Dubinushka and Prokofiev’s ‘symphony of the greatness of the human spirit.’

World War II was still raging as Prokofiev composed his Symphony No 5 in a Soviet Union safe haven. This was a time of national elation, as the Soviet Union anticipated victory over Nazi Germany. As Prokofiev raised his baton to conduct the first performance of the symphony in January 1945, the audience could hear gunfire that celebrated the news that the army had crossed the River Vistula in its march into Germany.

Classic FM’s John Suchet says:

The legendary pianist Nicolai Rubinstein once declared to Tchaikovsky that his first piano concerto was ‘bad, trivial and vulgar’. Don’t let this put you off as Rubinstein was quick to change his mind.One of the first pieces of music to sell over a million recordings, it is edge-of-the-seat stuff, full of sweeping melodies and electrifying passages.

http://www.thsh.co.uk

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Review by Norman Stinchcombe, Birmingham Post:

Click here for full review

…     “Rimsky-Korsakov’s festive miniature Dubinushka was a tasty hors d’oeuvre but the main musical course was Prokofiev’s great wartime fifth symphony. This was a magnificent performance, the opening movement almost Mahlerian in its evocation of a world emerging from silence into bustling life. The scherzo was zany, frantic and brilliantly played with Andrew Marriner’s clarinet absolutely captivating. Tilson Thomas, like just about every conductor except Dorati, took the adagio slower than Prokofiev’s metronome marking but, given his epic approach to the symphony, it was still very intense and moving. The finale – socialist realism meets the Marx Brothers – was uproarious.”

*****

Cosmic Dances

Thursday 28 March 2013 at 7.30pm

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

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Diego Matheuz  conductor

Johannes Moser  electric cello

Moncayo: Huapango  8′

Chapela: Magnetar (CBSO co-commission: European premiere) 25′

Prokofiev: Romeo and Juliet (highlights) 50′

Johannes Moser

They  call it “El Sistema”: the Latin American phenomenon that’s got the whole world  of classical music dancing with excitement. Tonight, we welcome one of its most  brilliant graduates, Diego Matheuz, for an evening of vibrant, toe-tapping energy,  including a riotous Mexican dance-off, and the European premiere of an astonishing  new showpiece by the Mexican composer Enrico Chapela – for electric cello! Powerful,  dramatic, and heart-breakingly passionate, Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet should make just as many sparks fly.   www.cbso.co.uk

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Review by Andrew Clements, Guardian:

Click here for full review

…     “Matheuz’s debut with the City of Birmingham Symphony also introduced an unfamiliar Latin American composer, with the European premiere of the Mexican Enrico Chapela‘s Magnetar, a concerto for electric cello first performed in 2011 in Los Angeles. It was tailor-made for Johannes Moser, who was the stylish soloist with the CBSO, with the composer seated next to him controlling the balance and myriad effects that can be obtained from the skeletal instrument. Though the piece was inspired by astrophysics – magnetars are a form of neutron star, the most intensely magnetic objects in the universe – it turns out to be an easily digestible, straightforward three-movement work, a mix of woozy lyrical lines and driving figuration, given a slightly exotic edge by the electronics.”     …

 

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Review by John Gough, Birmingham Post:

Click here for full review

…     “There were many influences at work here yet everything was successfully  integrated into a satisfying three movement structure with an enormous range of  textures, balanced between orchestra and soloist, and allowing for all sorts of  novel timbres and effects. Lyrical moments sat next to rock riffs, episodes of  cool jazz met Dr Who type sound effects, yet everything convinced us that the  work was an effective whole. The Herculean soloist Johannes Moser, played with  panache and musicality, while the composer, discreetly seated behind him on the  platform, operated the sound altering electronics. An intriguing and imaginative  work.”     …
*****

 

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Review by Diane Parkes, BehindTheArras:

Click here for full review

…     “Conducted by the 28-year-old Diego Matheuz, a graduate of the El Sistema school of music, the programme was packed full of energy.

Beginning with Huapango by Mexican composer Jose Pablo Moncayo it threw us straight into Spanish mode. The piece is short but lively, inspired by Mexican dance songs and full of rhythm which encourages you to toe-tap before heading for a Tequila or two and then braving the dance floor.

In many ways the star of the evening was the European premiere of Enrico Chapela’s Magnetar. Inspired by massive magnetic fields in outer space, the piece aims to be cosmic in scope.”     …

 

The Year 1913: Falstaff

Wednesday 20 February 2013 at 7.30pm

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

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Andrew Litton  conductor

Freddy Kempf  piano

Elgar: Falstaff 35′ Listen on Spotify

Prokofiev: Piano Concerto No. 2 31′

Respighi: The Pines of Rome 26′ Listen on Spotify

When England’s greatest composer met England’s greatest writer, the results were bound to be special. Elgar’s Falstaff might just be his masterpiece; it’s a big-hearted, deeply personal tribute to Shakespeare’s comic hero, written in 1913 and filled with glorious tunes – as well as ominous shadows. Popular guest conductor Andrew Litton has matched it with two spectacular musical panoramas: Respighi’s sumptuous postcard from Rome, and the cold steel of Prokofiev’s electrifying Second Piano Concerto, also exactly 100 years old. Played tonight by Freddy Kempf, one of today’s true stars of the keyboard, it’s guaranteed to thrill. www.cbso.co.uk

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Review by John Quinn, SeenAndHeard, MusicWeb:

Click here for full review

…     “It certainly requires a pianist of exceptional virtuosity as well as a conductor who is a very adroit accompanist: happily this performance had both. In the first movement the performers brought out well the piquancy of the march-like material but the high point was Kempf’s rendition of the formidable extended cadenza. This is a remarkable passage, demanding consummate technique and reserves of physical strength.  Kempf has both. He was commanding in this solo and although much of the music is forward looking and dissonant it also shows, I think, an awareness of the heritage of Russian Romantic piano music. The brief, fast and furious Scherzo was dispatched through dazzling fingerwork on Kempf’s part and no little dexterity from the CBSO under Litton’s alert and lively direction. Calum MacDonald describes the third movement Intermezzo as “dissonant and angular”. It was powerfully projected in this performance though there are also passages that call for finesse both from the orchestra and the soloist and these came off equally well. There’s a good deal of percussive, powerful music in the finale and this was excitingly delivered. Another demanding cadenza gave Kempf a further opportunity to show his mettle before the pyrotechnical end of the work. I’d not experienced this piece in the concert hall before but tonight’s performers made a powerful case for it and Kempf’s virtuosity was rightly acclaimed by the Birmingham audience.     […]

[…] Once again the CBSO was on cracking form in this concert and it was evident from their response to him that they like working with Andrew Litton. I thought this programme was a mouth-watering, fascinating feast of extravagantly scored orchestral music when I first saw it advertised and it lived up to my expectations. There were a surprising number of empty seats in Symphony Hall; those who stayed away were the losers.”

 

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Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:

Click here for full review

…    “Andrew Litton proved yet again that it’s not only British  conductors who hold the secret to Elgar. His reading of Falstaff, a masterpiece valedictory in  tone, was sensitive to mood, allowing so much character to come from the players  themselves (Laurence Jackson’s dreamy violin, Eduardo Vassallo’s avuncular  cello, Gretha Tuls’ sorrowing bassoon, Cliff Pick’s so-sensitive timpanism – and  such beefy, generous sounds from all the rest) as he unfolded this sad old man’s  story with such clarity of texture and richness of colour. There were surtitles  recounting the episodes; they were almost redundant, given the communicative  grip of Litton’s reading.

Also written at the death-throes of self-bloating  romanticisim, but expressing itself in a totally different, twilight-denying way  is Respighi’s symphonic poem The Pines of  Rome, the CBSO winds fizzing in its boisterous opening  before more portentous matters take over, with a march-past of Roman legionary  forces.”     …

*****