Autumn Classics

CBSO Benevolent Fund Concert



  • Dmitri Shostakovich   Festive Overture
  • Edward Elgar   Salut d’amour
  • Fritz Kreisler   Liebesleid,  and Tambourin chinois
  • Antonín Leopold Dvořák   Slavonic Dances, Op.72, No.1
  • Alexander Glazunov   The Seasons: Autumn
  • Leonard Bernstein   West Side Story: Overture
  • Robert Farnon   À la claire fontaine
  • Henryk Wieniawski   Légende, Op. 17,  and Polonaise Brillante Op. 4 No. 1
  • Camille Saint-Saëns   Danse macabre
  • Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky   Swan Lake: Act I Finale
  • Colin Twigg   Anton and Antonio

**  Support the CBSO Benevolent Fund here  **


Autumn: season of mists and mellow fruitfulness. But it’s also the time for a right old celebration, and in this delightfully entertaining concert in aid of the CBSO Benevolent Fund, former BBC Young Musician of the Year Jennifer Pike plays some of the most mouth-watering miniature treats in the violin repertoire. And then we crack open the vodka, as Shostakovich, Glazunov and Tchaikovsky start the party, Russian style!

The CBSO Benevolent Fund is a registered friendly society, no.735F, supporting CBSO players and staff.

Review by John Gough, Midlands Music Reviews:

Click here for full review

[…]     “Shostakovich’s opening ‘Festive Overture’ went off like a rocket, with deft articulation, cracking string playing, balalaika-like pizzicatos, and a blaze of fanfares at the close.

The pace varied constantly. Elgar’s ‘Salut d’amour’ was sweet yet purposefully phrased. The orchestra was joined by golden toned violinist Jennifer Pike in two Kreisler pieces, by turns dazzling and melting, producing an audibly contented sigh from the audience at the end of ‘Liebesleid’. She returned later with two attractive and entertaining pieces by Wieniawski.” […]

The Firebird

Thursday 3rd March, 2016, 2.15pm

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra


  • Tchaikovsky  Hamlet , 20′
  • Saint-Saëns  Cello Concerto No. 1 , 19′
  • Berlioz  Romeo and Juliet – Love Scene , 14′
  • Stravinsky  The Firebird – Suite (1945), 29′

Leonard Elschenbroich’s encore – Lutoslawski – Sacher Variation
A dark kingdom, a troubled prince, and a spine chilling mystery… OK, so Hamlet and The Firebird don’t exactly tell the same story! But they both unleash music of sweeping passion and dazzling colour, just as Romeo and Juliet gave Berlioz a chance to pour out his romantic soul. Nicholas Collon leads a colourful toast to Shakespeare, and partners the award-winning Leonard Elschenbroich in Saint-Saëns’ warm and witty First Cello Concerto.

Review by John Quinn, SeenandHeard, MusicWeb:

Click here for full review

…     “Tchaikovsky’s Hamlet is not heard as often as it should be. It lacks a big, sweeping tune such as one finds in Romeo and Juliet and it’s not as wild and passionate as Francesca da Rimini but it’s still a fine piece. Collon led a very successful performance, establishing a sense of foreboding in the opening pages and then bringing out all the dramatic elements as the music unfolded. There was a lovely oboe solo (Rainer Gibbons) portraying Ophelia and, indeed, in that section the rest of the woodwind were just as fine. I was impressed with Collon’s handling of the score though perhaps just a little more ‘give’ in the piece’s lyrical passages would have been welcome. He obtained excellent, keenly responsive playing from the CBSO. In the brief coda Tchaikovsky’s tragic ending was successfully done, not least because Collon didn’t overdo the emotion; an element of patrician restraint was most appropriate.

The young German cellist, Leonard Elschenbroich joined the orchestra for the Saint-Saëns concerto. It was written in 1872 for the Belgian cellist, Auguste Tolbecque who must have liked the work for I learned from Richard Bratby’s programme note that he was still playing the concerto in public in 1910 at the age of 80. And why would he not have liked the piece? It’s relatively short – about 20 minutes in this performance – but it gives the soloist plenty of opportunities to shine both in virtuoso writing and in lyrical stretches. The three movements play without a break.

It seemed to me that Elschenbroich was very well suited to the concerto. Needless to say, he had the necessary technique to despatch the virtuoso passages with seeming ease. Moreover, the consistently burnished and lovely tone that he obtained from his 1693 Goffriller instrument meant that the many lyrical passages were a delight. Indeed, his tone compelled attention throughout the performance. I especially liked the central Menuet movement. Here the orchestral strings displayed sensitive courtliness in playing the minuet material at the start – and later their woodwind colleagues were equally felicitous. In the meantime Elschenbroich made his countermelodies sing in a most attractive way. The vivacious finale was despatched with high spirits by soloist and orchestra. This was a most enjoyable account of a thoroughly engaging work.”     …

The Organ Symphony

Thumbnail                  Raise the Roof

Thursday 30 January 2014 at 7.30pm

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

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Kazuki Yamada  conductor

Francesco Piemontesi  piano

Stephen Farr  organ

Fauré: Pelleas and Melisande – Suite 19′

Rachmaninov: Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini 24′

Widor: Toccata 6′

Saint-Saëns: Symphony No. 3 (Organ) 35′

Listen on Spotify Watch on YouTube

Francesco Piemontesi’s encore –  

Debussy – La Cathédrale engloutie

You   might have heard it in the film Babe, but trust us – when the Symphony   Hall organ crashes in at the end of Saint-Saëns’ mighty Organ Symphony   you won’t be thinking about talking pigs! It’s a long way from the gentle perfumes   of Fauré’s lovely Pelleas and Melisande suite – though when Kazuki Yamada   joins forces with the award-winning pianist Francesco Piemontesi in Rachmaninov’s   superromantic Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, there’ll be fireworks   aplenty amidst the poetry.

If you like this concert, you might also like:

Rachmaninov’s Second Piano Concerto, Thursday   6th March

Rachmaninov’s Second Symphony, Wednesday   12th March

Andris and Håkan in Concert, Wednesday   28th May



Review by DPM, WeekendNotes:

Click here for full review

…     “And under the baton of conductor Kazuki Yamada, the Organ Symphony was confident and majestic, sweeping all before it.

Farr was also able to reveal his talents with Widor’s Toccata from his Organ Symphony No 5, a rich and colourful piece which really allows any organist the chance to revel in his, or her, skills.

When it comes to dexterity, pianist Francesco Piemontesi had it at his fingertips as he masterfully handled Rachmaninov’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini. One moment he was playing lightly with the orchestra, passing the musical baton back and forth, the next he was duelling with them, taking control of Rachmaninov’s delightful variations.

Beginning the programme was Fauré’s Pelleas and Melisande Suite in which the composer takes us on a journey through the doomed romance of the famous lovers.

Yamada had an easy rapport with the CBSO, clearly comfortable with all of the pieces of music and enjoying the experience of working with the orchestra. And the performance met with rapturous applause from a packed Symphony Hall.”



Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:

Click here for full review  (disagree with almost entire review – rare!)

…     “CBSO woodwind soloists can never fail to be eloquent, nor the strings (even if reduced by one desk each) deep-toned and agile, but the total effect was disappointing.

Similarly workmanlike was Rachmaninov’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, another of the CBSO’s calling-cards. Yamada’s opening was crisp, he ensured a smooth flow throughout the sequence of variations, and he secured a warm empathy between the elegant orchestra and the well-weighted pianism of soloist Francesco Piemontesi.”     …



Review by Diane Parkes, BehindTheArras:

Click here for full review

…     “In this performance, conducted by Kazuki Yamada, the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra was so enthusiastic it risked drowning out the actual organ – which is no mean feat.

At the hands of Stephen Farr, the organ just about won out, but it was a hard-pitched battle. As the orchestra reached its triumphant conclusion even the audience felt a little exhausted by the energy.

Farr did have his moment in the sun with Widor’s Toccata from his Organ Symphony No 5, a rich and colourful piece which really allows any organist the chance to revel in his, or her, skills.

When it comes to dexterity, pianist Francesco Piemontesi had it at his fingertips as he masterfully handled Rachmaninov’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini. One moment he was playing lightly with the orchestra, passing the musical baton back and forth, the next he was duelling with them, taking control of Rachmaninov’s delightful variations.”     …

Tchaikovsky’s Pathétique Symphony

  • Thumbnail
  • Pure Emotion

Saturday 14 December 2013 at 7.00pm

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

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra 

Andrew Litton  conductor

Benjamin Grosvenor  piano

Rachmaninov: The Rock 13′

Saint-Saëns: Piano Concerto No.2 23′

Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 6 (Pathétique) 45′ Listen on Spotify Watch on YouTube

Benjamin Grosvenor’s encore – Saint-Saëns – Le Cygne

Tchaikovsky   didn’t stint on emotion, and with his shattering Pathétique Symphony,   he wrote out his very soul. Music simply doesn’t get more overwhelming than   this, so we’ve paired it with a complete contrast: Saint-Saëns’s outrageously   entertaining Second Piano Concerto, played tonight by the brightest new star   of British piano playing, the 21-year old Benjamin Grosvenor, who opened the   BBC Proms last year.

“The Pathétique is Tchaikovsky at his best: full of   drama and great tunes, with the most tragic final movement… Cello and Double   Bass heaven!” (Catherine Ardagh-Walter, Cello)

Due to the popularity of the Birmingham Christmas Market please allow ample time for your journey to Symphony Hall.



Review by Norman Stinchcombe, Birmingham Post:

Click here for full review

…     “Benjamin Grosvenor’s performance encompassed its various moods with ease; cleanly articulated thunderous chords alternating with coquettishly delicate passagework and Saint-Saëns occasional vamp-till-ready passages were adroitly made to sound better than that. The CBSO under Andrew Litton (himself a fine pianist) gave excellent support.

Litton has long been a perceptive conductor of Rachmaninov and Tchaikovsky, as his recordings of their complete symphonies testify. The former’s youthful tone poem The Rock was given a splendid performance from its bass-led opening – black as the pit of Acheron – to the contrasting skittish woodwind section with some delightful playing from Marie-Christine Zupancic (flute). Litton built up the final delayed when-will-it-modulate section into an ecstasy worthy of Scriabin.”     …

Vengerov plays Mozart and Tchaikovsky

Part of Birmingham International Concert Season 2013/14

Sunday 17th November

Symphony Hall, Birmingham

Polish Chamber Orchestra

Maxim Vengerov violin/director

Mozart Violin Concerto No 4 in D 26’
Violin Concerto No 5 in A, Turkish 31’
Tchaikovsky (arr David Walter) Sérénade mélancolique 7’
Souvenir d´un lieu cher 20’
Valse-Scherzo 12’
Saint-Saëns – Havanaise
                             Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso
Maxim Vengerov has been away too long, but after a remarkable comeback from long-term injury he’s playing with all the charisma and authority that have placed him among the greatest violinists of our time. This concert celebrates two opposite but equal sides of his artistry; the sweetness and brilliance of Tchaikovsky’s violin miniatures, set against two joyous concertos by the composer Tchaikovsky called ‘the Christ of music’: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.Classic FMs’ John Suchet says:

It’s not often that we experience the Polish Chamber Orchestra in Britain’s concert halls, so I urge you to watch this unique band under the directorship of violinist Maxim Vengerov. Out of the soloist spotlight for quite some time due to a shoulder injury, Vengerov is making a welcome return to the concert platform not only as violinist, but conductor. Tonight he and his orchestra play a feast of music by Mozart and Tchaikovsky.

“Maxim Vengerov: new and turbo-charged
The virtuoso Russian violinist talks to Adam Sweeting about fame, family, and his return from career-threatening injury”
Click here for full article – Telegraph
Review by Norman Stinchcombe, Birmingham Post:
Click here for full review
…     “Vengerov, well supported by the Polish Chamber Orchestra, seemed more at home with Tchaikovsky, floating some silken sounds in the Serenade melancolique with fast fingering and crisp playing in the Valse-Scherzo.
Glazunov’s familiar orchestration of the three-part Souvenir d’un lieu cher, with its rich wind writing, sounds like genuine Tchaikovsky so David Walter’s arrangement for string orchestra appeared threadbare although it allowed the solo violin more prominence.
Vengerov seized the opportunity with a particularly luscious Meditation. The best playing was reserved for the two showpiece encores (again in sadly reduced orchestration): Saint-Saëns’ Havanaise, with Vengerov using judicious but juicy portamento, and the Introduction and Rondo capriccioso with dazzling scales and multiple-stopping played with panache. It was almost like having the young Vengerov back.”
Review by Katherine Dixson, BachTrack:
Click here for full review
…     “Violin Concerto no. 5 in A major, “Turkish” is so called because of the oriental ideas introduced in its wild and flamboyant finale. There’s something operatic about the style of the piece, with soloist as protagonist, halting proceedings and taking them off in new directions. The audience was transfixed by Vengerov’s cadenza in the first movement. The gorgeous melody of the central Adagio contrasted to fine effect with the swooping drama of the Finale, with a renewed sense of vigour from the orchestra and accented bowing from the lower strings adding a striking visual dimension.
After the interval came a selection of Tchaikovsky miniatures. Sérénade mélancolique in B flat minor was the epitome of melancholy, with occasional forays into more optimistic territory but with an overriding mood of sadness. There were some lovely cameos, with excellent contributions from viola and cello. Applause was cut short at Vengerov’s request, as he clearly wished all the Tchaikovsky pieces to flow from one to the next. This was an interesting approach since the three pieces of the suite Souvenir d’un lieu cher – the product of Tchaikovsky’s recovery period following his marriage breakdown – could clearly have stood as a single entity rather than being sandwiched quite so seamlessly within bookends. Also in a way it seemed a shame to curb the audience’s adulation, but the net result was that the final flourish of the Valse-Scherzo, a cocktail of sparkling mineral water and full-bodied vodka, issued the challenge: “now you can clap!”  And we did.
And so to those Saint-Saëns encores.  Still in dance mode, we were given Havanaise, the Cuban rhythms soulful and sultry, Vengerov displaying skill and emotion in equal measure, followed by the showmanship of Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso. The audience would gladly have lapped up even more, but as we finally conceded that it really was over, I noticed that the orchestra members were busily congratulating one another with handshakes. Civilisation as we know it.” 

Friday Night Classics: Classics at the Movies

Friday 1 November 2013 at 7.30pm

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

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Michael Seal  conductor

Claire Rutter  soprano

Barry Norman  presenter

Including music from:   Verdi: The Force of Destiny (Jean de Florette)

Catalani: Ebben? Ne andrò lontana (Diva)

Puccini: O mio babbino caro (A Room with a View)

Tchaikovsky: Swan Lake (Black Swan & Billy Elliot)

Barber: Adagio for Strings (Platoon & The Elephant Man)

Herrmann: Salaambo’s Aria (Citizen Kane)

Sibelius: Finlandia (Die Hard 2)

Wagner: The Ride of the Valkyries (Apocalypse Now)

Korngold: Glück das mir verblieb (The Big Lebowski)

Mozart: The Marriage of Figaro (Trading Places)

Strauss: Blue Danube Waltz (2001: A Space Odyssey)

Britten: Playful Pizzicato (Moonrise Kingdom)

Mascagni: Cavalleria Rusticana (Raging Bull)

Puccini: Madam Butterfly (Fatal Attraction)

Saint-Saëns: Organ Symphony (Babe)

Encore: Rossini: William Tell Overture

You know that moment at the cinema when   you realise that you’ve heard that tune before – but you can’t quite put your   finger on it? Well, tonight, movie legend Barry Norman reveals all, in the sensational   3D-sound of the CBSO. You might think of the music of Sibelius, Puccini and   Barber as the soundtracks to Die Hard, Fatal Attraction and Platoon   – but it sounds even better when you hear it for real!

Sokhiev conducts the Saint-Saëns Organ Symphony

Birmingham International Concert Season 2011/12

Sunday 1 April

Symphony Hall

Orchestre National du Capitole de Toulouse
Tugan Sokhiev conductor
Thomas Trotter organ

Berlioz : Roman Carnival Overture 8’
Rachmaninov : Symphonic Dances 35’
Saint-Saëns : Symphony No 3, Organ 36’

encores :   and Bizet – Carmen Overture

Symphony Hall’s mighty organ takes the limelight in Saint-Saëns’s gloriously uplifting symphony. One of France’s most revered orchestras brings its trademark joie de vivre to a programme which also features Rachmaninov’s irresistible orchestral dances under the baton of their Music Director, the electrifying Tugan Sokhiev.

This is a fundraising concert, in aid of Performances Birmingham Limited
Charity Number: 1053937

Review by Diane Parkes, BehindtheArras:

Click here for full review

…     “And finally Saint-Saens’ mighty Organ Symphony which truly makes the most of Symphony Hall. With Birmingham City Organist Thomas Trotter at the keyboard, the sound swelled through the pipes, taking advantage of the venue’s amazing acoustics. ”     …

Article by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:

Click here for full article

Tugan Sokhiev has lived and learned on his way to the very top”     …

Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:

Click here for full review

…     “The flutters soon disappeared, and the orchestra’s charismatic and expert principal conductor Tugan Sokhiev built a totally absorbing, spine-tingling reading, squeezing every oodle of tone from his remarkable string section. Thrills and spills were here a-plenty, but most memorable was the gentle ‘poco adagio’, chastely singing over Trotter’s beautifully-judged quiet organ chords.”     …          ***** 

Romantic Landscapes


Thursday 19 January 2012 at 7.30pm

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

 City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Karl-Heinz Steffens conductor
Sol Gabetta cello

Mozart: Symphony No. 36 (Linz) 30′
Saint-Saëns: Cello Concerto No. 1 19′
Dvořák: Silent Woods for Cello and Orchestra 5′ Listen on Spotify
Dvořák: Symphony No. 8 36′

“Play me some village music – that’s what I like.” Antonin Dvorák certainly practised what he preached. He took the sounds and emotions of the Bohemian countryside and transformed them into one of the happiest symphonies ever written (listen out for his pet pigeons!). That’s just the climax of this joyous concert, which also features Mozart’s brilliant Linz Symphony and Saint-Saëns’ passionate First Cello Concerto – played with style by the stunning young Argentinian cellist Sol Gabetta. Summer sunshine on a January day!

To listen to some of the music in this concert, and explore the rest of the season, using our Spotify playlists, click here.

Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:

Click here for full review

…     “Between the symphonies came added delight with the presence of Sol Gabetta, surely the most enchanting of cellists.

She immerses herself totally in the music (bopping along gleefully with the orchestra when not herself playing), and naturally creating a warm empathy with her orchestral colleagues.

To Saint-Saens’ First Concerto she brought both mercurial bowing and a well-burnished tone from her fabulous Guadagnini instrument, fleet and accurate in a bravura display in which songfulness was never far away.

And in the neatly-programmed encore, Dvorak’sSilent Woods, she created an atmosphere of quiet, serene concentration.”

Friday Night Classics: Classics at the Movies

Friday 28 October 2011 at 7.30pm

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

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Michael Seal conductor
Simon Bates presenter
Ben Dawson piano

Including music from:
Strauss: Also sprach Zarathustra (2001, A Space Odyssey)
Barber: Adagio for Strings (Platoon & The Elephant Man)
Wagner: The Ride of the Valkyries (Apocalypse Now)
Beethoven: Symphony No. 7 (The King’s Speech)
Mascagni: Intermezzo from Cavalleria Rusticana (Raging Bull & Godfather III)
Gershwin: Rhapsody in Blue (Manhattan & Gremlins 2)
Sibelius: Finlandia (Die Hard 2)
Rachmaninov: Piano Concerto No. 2 (Brief Encounter)
Tchaikovsky: Swan Lake (Black Swan & Billy Elliot)
Mahler: Adagietto (Death in Venice)
Saint-Saëns: Organ Symphony (Babe)
Rossini: William Tell Overture (Brassed Off & A Clockwork Orange)

Beethoven knew nothing of a future stammering king, and Rachmaninov didn’t compose with a great British screen romance in mind. Yet, from A Brief Encounter to The King’s Speech, classical music is synonymous with some of the most iconic moments on film, from the dramatic to the heartbreaking, the terrifying to the romantic. And played live, in 3D, in Symphony Hall’s incredible surround-sound, it’s even better without the pictures!

To listen to some of the music in this concert, and explore the rest of the season, using our Spotify playlists, click here.

The Organ Symphony

Thursday 5 May 2011 at 7.30pm

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

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Jun Märkl conductor
Sergio Tiempo piano
Thomas Trotter organ

Debussy: Le martyre de Saint Sébastien – Symphonic fragments 21′
Ravel: Piano Concerto in G Major 21′
Saint-Saëns: Symphony No. 3 (Organ) 34′

Sergio Tiempo’s Encore – Ginastera

You might have heard it in the film Babe, but trust us – when the mighty Symphony Hall organ crashes in at the end of Saint-Saëns’s Organ Symphony, and the CBSO’s trumpets raise the roof, you won’t be thinking about talking pigs! Few symphonies finish in such thrilling style, and with the full CBSO joined by Birmingham City Organist Thomas Trotter, one thing’s for sure: this concert is going to end with a bang. To whet the appetite, French music expert Jun Märkl dishes up a pair of very different French delights: Ravel’s deliciously jazzy Piano Concerto, with rising star Sergio Tiempo, and the latest landmark in the CBSO’s 10-year 2020 project – Debussy’s ultra-sensuous Symphonic Fragments.

Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:

…     “Acoustic chamber-doors wide open, and Thomas Trotter’s experienced rasping at the fabulous Symphony Hall organ added to the impact of this memorable performance.

Not, though, to eclipse the scintillating account of Ravel’s G major Piano Concerto, with Sergio Tiempo the deft soloist.”     …