Sir Simon Rattle conducts The Dream of Gerontius

BICS 2015/16

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

Tuesday 8th September

Symphony Hall

Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Sir Simon Rattle conductor
Magdalena Kožená mezzo-soprano
Toby Spence tenor
Roderick Williams baritone
BBC Proms Youth Choir

Elgar The Dream of Gerontius 100’

Sir Simon Rattle returns to the hall he was so instrumental in the creation of, with one of the world’s greatest orchestras, three world-class soloists, and a massed choir drawn from the entire UK.

The work? Elgar’s supreme choral masterpiece, The Dream of Gerontius. It’s been performed many times in Birmingham since its premiere here in 1900 – but never quite like this.


At the bottom of his completed Gerontius manuscript, Elgar scribbled a few lines of Ruskin, including the words, ‘this is the best of me.’ Few would argue with him – this extraordinary oratorio, first premiered in Birmingham in 1900, is arguably Elgar’s finest work, and with former CBSO conductor Sir Simon Rattle at the helm, his great masterpiece really is ‘coming home.’

BBC Music Magazine Editor | Oliver Condy

Choir, Choir boxes and Stalls front four rows not available.
We are very grateful to Mrs Julian Blackwell for her generous support of this concert.


Review by Andrew Clements, Guardian:

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“It is always fascinating to hear great European orchestras play Elgar. Twenty-five years ago, Simon Rattle performed and recorded The Dream of Gerontius in Birmingham with his then orchestra, the CBSO. Now returning to the city and the work, he had the tonal resources of the Vienna Philharmonic at his disposal, and certainly made full use of them – encouraging the richest, dark string tone in the prelude to the first part of the oratorio, and allowing the brass to exert a wonderfully controlled authority in the climaxes.

That soundworld provided the foundation for a performance of persuasive dramatic power and sometimes enormous intensity. Rattle nowadays has a tendency to mould musical paragraphs in a slightly self-conscious, expressive way, but there wasn’t too much evidence of that here. Toby Spence was the Gerontius, and though his voice is not that of a heldentenor, his musicality and suave, even tone were more than ample compensation; only his outburst at Sanctus Fortis could have done with a bit more urgency and heft. Roderick Williams was the Priest and the Angel of the Agony, and added a dark edge to his normally honey-light baritone without losing any of his attention to verbal detail, or his perfect balance of every phrase.”     …


Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:

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…     “The Dream of Gerontius is a work which lives and breathes through its orchestral fabric, and the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra did its textures and timbres proud. What a difference various conductors make: I have heard this august orchestra sound dire under certain carvers, but Simon Rattle here encouraged the players to breathe life into this amazing score, realising that there are not just Wagnerian undercurrents to tickle their fancy but also so many other genuine depths of utterance. Particular praise to the lower strings for authority and presence.

Orchestrally this was a triumph, and almost so chorally, too. The fresh voices of the BBC Proms Youth Choir under the expert tutelage of Simon Halsey sounded wonderfully innocent as Angelicals, but were too many, and perhaps too unspoilt, to spit out the venom of the Demons’ Chorus with any harsh snarlings in the perfectly-judged acoustic of Symphony Hall. Things might be better in the vast reaches of the Royal Albert Hall when this performance is repeated at the BBC Proms on Friday.”     …

Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis

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Saturday 12 October 2013 at 7.30pm

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

Ex Cathedra

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Jeffrey Skidmore  conductor

Sophie Bevan  soprano

Jennifer Johnston  mezzo

Andrew Tortise  tenor

Roderick Williams  bass

Beethoven: Missa Solemnis 81′

Beethoven laboured for nearly four years to complete his Missa Solemnis,   and nothing he composed surpasses it for scale, sincerity or sheer vision. No   single performance can capture every aspect of this work, but under Jeffrey   Skidmore, Ex Cathedra and a team of first-rate soloists will surely come closer   than most to realising Beethoven’s wish that this music should come ‘from the   heart, that it may go to the heart’.



Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:

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…     “Jeffrey Skidmore and his Ex Cathedra (fully expanded) were joined by the CBSO in a fluent, natural account in which the composer’s cruel demands both on singers and players were so expertly assimilated into Beethoven’s confrontation with God. Beethoven takes no prisoners (all the sounds were trapped in his head by this time of his life), and Skidmore and company responded unflinchingly and devotedly.

There were two special things in this performance: Skidmore’s thoughtful and appreciative programme-notes which set the context, and the welcome prominence given to the organ (the excellent Alexander Mason), an element which is so often reduced to virtual nothingness, almost as an embarrassment; it is not, and Beethoven notated its part assiduously.

As we always confidently expect from the Ex Cathedra, the chorus was well-shaped and attentive.”     …

Variations on America

Wednesday 15 May 2013 at 7.30pm

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

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra 

Matthew Coorey  conductor

Roderick Williams  baritone

Ives: Variations on America 7′

Herrmann: Suite from Psycho 10′

Copland: Appalachian Spring – Suite 24′ Listen on Spotify

Adams: The Wound-Dresser 20′

Bernstein: Symphonic Dances (West Side Story) 23′ Listen on Spotify

Encore – Bernstein: Candide Overture

No country is as diverse as the USA – and that goes for its music too. But whether you’re walking Leonard Bernstein’s mean streets or deep in Aaron Copland’s green hills; whether you’re at the movies with Bernard Herrmann or searching a nation’s psyche with John Adams, you’re guaranteed sincere feelings, epic vistas and larger-than-life tunes. And, of course, fun – as conductor Matthew Coorey kicks off with Ives’s outrageous musical spoof of a tune that you might just recognise…

This concert coincides with the prestigious annual conference of the British American Business Council (BABC), taking place in Birmingham from 15–17 May 2013.



Review by Peter Marks, BachTrack:

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…     “The programme also featured a rare concert hall outing for Bernard Herrmann’s “narrative for string orchestra” from his score for Psycho. It was a thrilling to hear this fine symphonic film score played by a world-class symphony orchestra, particularly as it was film music that first drew me into the world of classical music. The attentiveness, throughout the concert, of the schoolchildren present suggested that at least a few more young people will hopefully follow in my footsteps.

Coorey’s highly disciplined conducting style ensured a taut attack in Herrmann’s irresistibly angsty “opening titles” scene. The string players of the CBSO clearly relished the Stravinskian writing, with numerous bow hairs lost in attrition as the suite progressed. Perhaps most recognisable of all is the graphic murder scene featuring those iconic and terrifying violin glissandos, which, the excellent programme note suggested, were a reference to Norman Bates’ taxidermic avian collection.  […]

[…]  Roderick Williams was the unflinching baritone protagonist, looking the audience squarely in the eye as he sang with a beautiful, creamy tone. Though the orchestral writing is characteristic of Adams, with its pulsing ostinatos and the addition of a synthesiser to more standard orchestral forces, the vocal line reminded me at times of Britten, who would surely have approved of setting this sort of material to music. The mood of the music changed with each verse and particularly vivid orchestral outbursts accompanied key phrases. Alan Thomas on two types of trumpet provided tender solos and Beyers was, once again, a tirelessly sensitive violin soloist.”     …




Review by Maggie Cotton, Birmingham Post:

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…     “Conductor Matthew Coorey’s reduced strings scared with  Hermann’s Psycho film music; impending doom mesmerising a rapt audience with  memorable hacking down-bows of screams and murder. “Violins did it!”

With Aaron Copland one is in a deepest Appalachian Spring.  Mysterious countryside, wide skies, gentle mountains. A story of lovers, country  folk, all encompassed by deliciously lop-sided rhythms, hymns, fiddlers and  square-dancers. Smiling pastoral music, not a gun in sight. All obviously  enjoyed by the players, fully entering into the spirit of the music.”     …