Thursday 14th January, 2.15pm


  • Ravel  Mother Goose Suite, 16′
  • Rachmaninov Piano Concerto No. 4, 24′
  • Rimsky-Korsakov  Scheherazade, 45′

Once upon a time there was a beautiful princess, a cruel king… and a Russian composer. Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade is like opening a wonderful book of musical stories: there’s adventure, magic and – of course – love, all told in music of glittering splendour and gorgeous colour. Guest conductor Andrew Gourlay retells the tale today, along with Ravel’s own little book of musical fairytales, and Rachmaninov’s jazziest concerto. So, if you’re sitting comfortably…


Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:

(for Saturday 16th performance of same programme)

Click here for full review

…     “He and the orchestra were joined by Ukrainian Alexander Romanovsky for Rachmaninov’s elusive Fourth Piano Concerto, a work where everything is stripped to the bone. It’s a piece whose atmospheric gestures would soon be taken up by film-music composers (gorgeously dark lyricism from the CBSO strings), but here Romanovsky concentrated on the music’s remarkable cogency, bringing a strong rhythmic impulse and a mercurial pianism redolent of Rachmaninov himself. His Chopin Nocturne encore was a perfect choice, rich-toned and warmly pedalled.

We ended with Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade, a composition short in musical content but brilliant in terms of colour and opportunities for display, showing off the skills of so many CBSO soloists under Gourlay’s flexible, empowering direction.

And of course the princess of all of these was concertmaster Zoe Beyers, her narrations eloquent and subtly phrased, poignant in their underlying desperation (Scheherazade is spinning tales to prolong her own life, after all), and all the time neatly dovetailed into her orchestral duties.”     …


Review by Hedy Mühleck, BachTrack:

Click here for full review

…     “It was also a kiss (on the hand!) that stood at the end the performance of the second piece this afternoon – a superbly played Fourth Piano Concerto by Rachmaninov at the hands of Alexander Romanovsky. The CBSO’s sound immediately had more punch, was more immediate, and set the mood for the piano’s opening chords. Romanovsky spelled those out a bit too obviously, but soon played flowingly, coherently, effortlessly in the highly virtuoso passages, yet retaining a pithy sound. Romanovsky revelled in the jazzy opening of the middle movement as the orchestra revelled in its dreamy three-note-motif as if there was nothing musically more important to say. It was a thing of beauty, as was the third movement, played at breakneck speed, yet utterly focussed and with great accuracy.

What more could there possibly be said about Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade? This is music that paints an image with broad strokes in primary orchestral colours. It is a fascinating piece that makes the listener a first-hand witness to the Sultan’s experience listening to his Sultana’s intricate tales, gracefully spun by the violin. Zoe Beyer’s tone was engaging, tender, with small, quick vibrato, and captured the storyteller to a tee, creating an unobtrusive, calm and quiet presence. It entered into trusted dialogue with the flute while the orchestral waves around Sinbad’s ship rose and rolled covered by spray, and like the programmatic tales, it kept the listener captivated throughout.”     …

Baiba Skride: Tchaikovsky

Wednesday 16th December, 7.30pm


City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra


  • Rimsky-Korsakov The Snow Maiden – Suite, 12′
  • Tchaikovsky  Violin Concerto, 34′
  • Sibelius  Symphony No. 1 , 38′

Baiba Skride’s encore – Erwin Schuloff –

Our artist in residence Baiba Skride has been compared to the legendary violinists of the past, and critics reach for words like “transcendent”, “mesmerising” and “unparalleled” to describe her playing. But here in Birmingham, we’ve long since taken this schoolfriend of Andris Nelsons to our hearts. In partnership with Andrew Litton, her performance of Tchaikovsky’s ever-popular Violin Concerto will make a gloriously sunny upbeat to Sibelius’s powerful First Symphony.

CBSO+ 6.15pm 15-16 Artist in Residence Baiba Skride talks to CBSO Chief Executive Stephen Maddock.


Be Uplifted this Christmas!

Beethoven’s Eroica

Wednesday 2nd December, 7.30pm

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra


  • Rimsky-Korsakov  Capriccio espagnol, 15′
  • Scriabin  Piano Concerto, 28′
  • Beethoven  Symphony No. 3 (Eroica), 47′


Yevgeny Sudbin’s encore – Scriabin Mazurka Op 25 No 3

Available on BBC Radio 3 Live in Concert – here – for 29 days

With two mighty chords, Ludwig van Beethoven launched a musical insurrection. There’s still nothing in all of music to match the drama of Beethoven’s revolutionary Eroica symphony, and CBSO associate conductor Michael Seal conducts it with absolute commitment and unstoppable energy. Expect some serious voltage; an explosive contrast to Scriabin’s deliriously romantic early masterpiece – the greatest concerto Rachmaninov never wrote? – and Rimsky Korsakov’s all-glittering, all-dancing Capriccio espagnol.

Support the CBSO’s Be Uplifted A Festive Appeal supporting youth and community singing

Michael Seal on Rimsky-Korsakov, Scriabin and Beethoven


Review by Richard Bratby, TheArtsDesk:

Click here for full review

…     “Throughout, Seal’s reading followed through on the subversive logic of that headlong opening; paragraphs of Bruckner-like spaciousness and grandeur were punctuated, confronted and swung around by those climactic passages of violent release. This wasn’t the roughest “Eroica” you’ll hear – or for that matter the smoothest – but it was intelligent, articulate and on its own terms powerfully convincing.

Seal had opened the concert with a performance of Rimsky-Korsakov’s Capriccio Espagnol – one of those supposedly hackneyed popular classics that you actually never seem to hear any more. Rimsky said that in the Capriccio orchestral colour is the musical substance, and Seal responded by simply playing the socks off it. Rhythms were crisp, colours iridescent, and amidst a parade of exuberantly characterised solos, Oliver Janes’s clarinet and flautist Marie-Christine Zupancic’s fresh, fluid tone stood out. It was gleefully, unapologetically up-front, and the all-rattling, all-jangling final Alborada brought cheers from the audience. There’s life in this warhorse yet.

Yevgeny Sudbin

Scriabin’s solitary Piano Concerto, meanwhile, continues to hover on the fringes of the repertoire, with most of its (fairly rare) champions treating it either as supercharged Chopin or half-baked Rachmaninov. Not Yevgeny Sudbin (pictured above). Seal went for clarity rather than poetry in the opening bars, and it soon became clear that this was precisely Sudbin’s own approach. Scriabin’s too: what we usually hear as a perfumed dream of a first movement is actually marked Allegro.” …


Review by Hedy Mühleck, BachTrack:

Click here for full review (for matinee of same programme)

Cymbals crashed, tambourines rattled, the triangle threw a sprinkling of silver over the orchestral clatter that opens Rimsky-Korsakov’s Capriccio espagnol, and the CBSO’s Spanish picture was one full of red and earthen colours, varied textures and well directed dynamic developments. The musicians gave it transparency where needed and opened the windows to let in sound scraps of travelling folk in the third movement violin solo, aptly played gypsy-style with scratching attack and quick, strong vibrato.

While the various solo passages for the violin still hint at the composer’s initial plan for the piece to be set for violin and orchestra, he later abandoned this in favour of a compositional outline that allows all groups of the orchestra to display their art. And they shone, from Oliver Janes’ lively clarinet to Marie-Christine Zupancic’s bubbling flute. The orchestra seemed to burst with energy, expressed with softer articulation in the woodwinds, proud brass and ever-precise percussion, culminating in wild, whirling abandon – a magnificent noise!

How different a picture Scriabin’s Piano Concerto painted after this exuberance of sunshine and joy. “No one was more famous during their lifetime, and few were more quickly ignored after death,” writes Scriabin’s biographer, and there is at least some truth to it as his works still seem to be programmed fairly infrequently – unjustifiedly so! Just listen to his wonderfully emotional piano concerto for a few minutes. It is a work awash with Chopinesque sentiment and lush orchestral passages that often threaten to smother the piano’s expressive chord statements in the first movement.

Yevgeny Sudbin often surrendered to the orchestra’s forces, but then again wound his way out in intricate tracery, tender, round articulation and a brilliant tone without acidity. While one would often have wished to hear more of him and just a little bit less orchestral sweep, his playing mirrored the great influence Chopin had on Scriabin’s early works, not just in the fleeting arpeggios, but also the mazurka with alternating tender, dreamy passages and a more energetic, resolute reply that, heard just one, will not leave your head for weeks.

Sudbin played with relaxed concentration, using his fingers rather than the entire arm, as if he was playing Chopin’s very own 19th century Pleyel. His strokes were very controlled and rounded, almost all emphasis came from the wrists which otherwise breathed along with the phrases. There were no great gestures, no mannerisms, just a very honest, solemn and modest performance that made for my personal highlight that afternoon.”   …



Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade


Thursday 1st May 2014 at 2.15pm

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

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Rafael Payare  conductor
Jonathan Biss  piano

Brahms: Tragic Overture 13′
Schumann: Piano Concerto 31′
Rimsky-Korsakov: Scheherazade 45′
Listen on Spotify
Watch on YouTube

Schumann poured out his feelings for his beloved Clara. And Scheherazade just wanted to keep her head! But every one of them told an unforgettable musical story, and from Brahms’s epic drama to Rimsky-Korsakov’s fantastically tuneful musical fairytale on One Thousand and One Nights, Rafael Payare – the latest graduate of Venezuela’s legendary El Sistema – will make each one blaze with colour. Pianist Jonathan Biss finds poetry amidst the passion in this concert of much-loved classics.



Review by Norman Stinchcombe, Birmingham Post:

Click here for full review

“The brilliance of Rimsky-Korsakov’s orchestration for Scheherazade – he even makes the bassoon sound beguiling – means that it easily becomes a series of discrete beautiful moments. It’s to the credit of up-and-coming Venezuelan conductor Rafael Payare that while the incidental orchestral felicities were all in place there also was a strong narrative thrust to this exotic fairytale suite.

While motifs metamorphosed and themes reappeared we never lost sight of a story being told. The first violin is our Scheherazade and in self-indulgent performances she’s a musical Houri who flutters her eyelashes and wears too much make-up.

The CBSO leader Laurence Jackson gave us a storyteller whose music was subtle, tender and seductive. Every featured play received deserved applause with a loud ovation for principal timpanist Peter Hill in his last concert, retiring after twenty-five years with the orchestra.”     …

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.



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.”


Once Upon a Time

Wednesday 9 May 2012 at 7.30pm

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

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Kazuki Yamada conductor
James Ehnes violin

Ravel: Mother Goose Suite 16′ Listen on Spotify
Prokofiev: Violin Concerto No. 1 22′
Rimsky-Korsakov: Scheherazade 47′ Listen on Spotify

Once upon a time, three composers sat down to tell a story. Ravel paints his fairy-tales in glowing orchestral colours. Prokofiev makes a glittering solo violinist the hero of a very Russian tale of fantasy and romance. And Rimsky-Korsakov flies us to ancient Persia for an adventure beyond the imagination, in his spectacular, ever-popular Scheherazade. There’s action, there’s love, and there’s sheer magic, as conductor Kazuki Yamada and the great Canadian violinist James Ehnes ask the timeless question – are you sitting comfortably?

Review by Maggie Coton, Birmingham Post:

Click here for full review

…     “The indisputable star of the evening was leader Laurence Jackson, beguiling as Scheherazade with exquisite, sensuous sound throughout, eventually mesmerizing with a heart-stopping seamless gossamer thread.”


Russian Classics

Thursday 27 May 2010 at 7.30pm

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

Alexander Vedernikov  conductor
Steven Osborne  piano

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Rimsky-Korsakov: Russian Easter Festival Overture 16′
Shostakovich: Piano Concerto No. 2 20′
Prokofiev: Symphony No. 6 45′

Music director of Moscow’s legendary Bolshoi Theatre since 2001, Alexander Vedernikov makes his CBSO debut with a trio of very different Russian masterpieces. Rimsky’s colourful overture celebrates the Russian Orthodox Easter in a riot of bells and orchestral brilliance, while Prokofiev’s superb post-war symphony strikes a more serious mood in music of great intensity and power. His sometime friend Shostakovich is also famous for his serious symphonies, but this tuneful piano concerto finds him in a lighter mood, and is played for us by the versatile Scottish pianist who has entertained CBSO audiences in music from Mozart to Messiaen.

Alexander Vedernikov’s encore – Beethoven- Bagatelle

Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:

…”The same could be said in a way of Prokofiev’s Sixth Symphony, but here this rent-a-ballet score leads to a desolate, profound experience. Steely woodwind, full-throated strings, fearless horns stood out in a willing orchestra welded so skilfully and idiomatically by Vedernikov as he marshalled the music to its grim conclusion.

Rating: 5/5″

Review by Roger Jones, MusicWeb:

…”Prokofiev’s final symphony is a towering achievement which deserves to be heard more often in this country. Vedernikov managed to inspire the CBSO to play with vigour and commitment to produce a performance which was utterly overwhelming in its impact.”

One Thousand and One Nights

Tuesday 18 May 2010 at 7.30pm

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

Jakub Hrusa  conductor
Johannes Moser  cello

Mozart: Symphony No. 38 (Prague) 25′
Tchaikovsky: Rococo Variations 18′
Rimsky-Korsakov: Scheherazade 47′ Listen
requires Real Player

Soaring violin solos, drama on the high seas and a total mastery of the orchestra: it’s no surprise that Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade has become one of the most played and best-loved of all Russian pieces. After his thrilling CBSO debut two seasons ago, dynamic Czech conductor Jakub Hrusa returns with this and another Russian masterpiece, Tchaikovsky’s charming Rococo Variations. Tchaikovsky was inspired by his lifelong love of Mozart, and the concert begins with one of the greatest of Mozart’s symphonies, written for a visit to Hrusa’s home city.

Johannes Moser’s Encore – Bach – Sarabande from Cello Suite No 1

Review by Norman Stinchcombe, Birmingham Post:

“Johannes Moser’s performance of Tchaikovsky’s Rococo Variations had true star quality.

The young cellist’s engagingly flamboyant manner and instant rapport with the orchestra and audience caught the eye but what really impressed was the quality of his playing.    …

…This was an exhilarating performance with Laurence Jackson leading from the front – his violin made Scheherazade a silkily seductive storyteller capable of charming even the grouchiest Sultan.” ….   4/5