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?

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Prom 51: Boston Symphony Orchestra and Andris Nelsons

Sunday 23rd August 2015, 3pm

Royal Albert Hall     

Boston Symphony Orchestra

Andris Nelsons  conductor                  

Haydn – Symphony No. 90 in C major   (24 mins)                                               

Barber – Essay No. 2, Op 17 (11 mins)                

ShostakovichSymphony No. 10 in E minor Symphony No. 10 in E minor, Op 93 (57 mins)

Encore – Shostakovich – Galop

About this event

Returning for a second appearance this summer, Andris Nelsons and the Boston Symphony Orchestra bring a piece of America with them in Barber’s Essay No. 2 – a symphony in miniature, moving from lyrical loveliness through contrapuntal conflict to end with a radiant chorale. They pair it with Haydn’s Symphony No. 90, where ebullient mischief and dignity vie for supremacy in sunny C major. Joy gives way to high drama, however, in Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 10 – a vivid portrait of Stalinist Russia.

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Review by Tim Ashley, Guardian:

Click here for full review

Shostakovich’s 10th Symphony has become something of a calling card for Andris Nelsons and the Boston Symphony Orchestra since Nelsons took up his appointment as music director last year. Their recording, the first instalment of a series entitled Under Stalin’s Shadow, caused a considerable stir, and the symphony formed the main work of Nelsons’ second Prom with his new orchestra.

It was a remarkable achievement, exploring every facet of a complex score. The symphony is widely regarded as an act of self-vindication on Shostakovich’s part after Stalin’s death. Nelsons’ interpretation, however, embraces a wider frame of reference than political anger, although he views the final expression of triumph as one of unambiguous elation. In this performance the structure had an almost Brahmsian tautness, in which not a single note is wasted. Whatever its political subtext, the symphony also encoded Shostakovich’s unrequited love for his pupil Elmira Nazirova, and the third movement was done with extraordinary tenderness. It was immaculately played.”     …

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Review by Gavin Dixon, TheArtsDesk:

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…     “Barber’s Essay No. 2 for Orchestra felt like a bit of a box-ticker: a native work for the orchestra to bring on tour, as close as any American could manage to the European barnstormers that Nelsons is famous for. It’s an attractive piece, a 10-minute single movement, by turns dramatic and lyrical. The material is of appropriate scale for the modest duration, and it doesn’t outstay its welcome, apart from in the overblown coda, which is repetitive to point of redundancy, and beyond. Skilful orchestration though, ideal for showcasing the orchestra’s many strengths.

From the first note of the Shostakovich symphony, it was clear that this was going to be a very special performance. The quiet, winding cello line was presented with absolute precision and clarity, the tone rich but intensely focused. As the movement gradually grew, Nelsons gently urged the music on, giving each of the woodwind just enough space to phrase, but always fitting their solos into a clearly defined and elegantly articulated progression. He was in his absolute prime in the turbulent second movement, the music here ideal for his propulsive, sometimes verging on manic, approach.

Shostakovich’s humour is never black under Nelsons’ baton. He gives the music its full measure of irony, but never lets it wallow in despair.”     …

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Review by Ben Lawrence, Telegraph:

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There was a sense of apprehension when Andris Nelsons strode towards the Podium at the Royal Albert Hall for this, his second of two Proms with the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Nelsons is the orchestra’s new music director and the shadow of past triumphs with his old colleagues at Birmingham’s CBSO loomed large.

In his previous job, Nelsons had developed such an intense connection with his players that you feared he wouldn’t have had time to elicit a response of any emotional depth from the Bostonians. Reassuringly, it was business as usual – those eagle-like swoops at moments of symphonic darkness, the playful hand puppetry, which teases out musical mischief – as he proved that, despite his intense theatricality, he is a conductor of exquisite technical nuance.

Haydn’s Symphony Number 90 was performed with a mathematical crispness that nevertheless switched effortlessly (in the double variation of the second movement) to something more profound. Nelsons slightly over-egged the famous false finale, in which the strings gallop to a four-bar silence before an extended coda in D Flat Major – here, four bars seemed to last an age, and Haydn’s musical joke subsequently felt heavy footed.”     …

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Review by David Truslove, BachTrack:

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The second of the BSO’s two London concerts began with Haydn’s Symphony no. 90 in C major. While in the opening movement there might occasionally have been cleaner horn sounds and a more rounded oboe tone there was no doubt about Andris Nelsons’ clear and invigorating direction. Perhaps supervision might be a more appropriate term, since from the Andante onwards there were moments when his left hand just rested motionless on the podium or, batonless, when he merely indicated to players when individuals were in the limelight. One such moment, in one of many chamber-style passages, was a winning partnership between flute and violins where their faultless musicianship caught the ear. In the finale, the high point of the entire performance, the violins seemed ablaze with animation with superbly articulated sforzando semiquavers. The work’s false ending was humorously achieved with Nelson jokingly closing the score during the four bars rest before the coda. Always alert and with some wonderfully spontaneous gestures, Nelsons was a joy to watch and appeared to be plugged into the national grid, such was the electrifying stimulus coming from the stand.

Andris Nelsons © BBC | Chris Christodoulou (Prom 49)

Andris Nelsons
© BBC | Chris Christodoulou (Prom 49)

Before the interval the BSO regrouped for Samuel Barber’s Essay no. 2. Written on the eve of the composer’s call up to the US army air force in 1942, and only once previously heard at the proms, the Essay is a colourfully orchestrated work. Its wistful moments, neatly drawn by expressive woodwinds at the outset, were countered by dramatic tensions in which timpani and brass made an impressive impact, and indicated that Barber is more than just an unabashed Romantic. A warm string tone also contributed to a fine, heartfelt performance, the Bostonians clearly at home with one of their own composers.”     …

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Review by Nick Breckenfield, ClassicalSource:

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…     “After the interval was Shostakovich’s Tenth Symphony, Nelsons and the BSO’s current calling card, having recorded it for Deutsche Grammophon to release in time for the tour. Shostakovich could match Haydn with humour, but of a more sardonic type, especially in the abrupt second movement. First, though, the BSO’s mahogany-rich cellos and double basses responded to the resonant Albert Hall acoustic at the opening of the expansive first movement – just a bar was enough to convince of the quality of this new partnership. Nelsons is as lithe and athletic as ever: bending back on to the slatted wooden podium brought from home, then crouching with knees almost to the floor as he peers over his score for a pianissimo.

The poignancy of Shostakovich’s unrequited love for pupil Elmira Nazirova was given rapt life by James Sommerville’s magisterial horn solo against the woodwinds, chattering away with the composer’s oft-used monogram DSCH in the third movement, while the slow introduction to the Finale, makes way for the bittersweet culmination of the Symphony; accepting the Soviet world has changed following the death of Stalin, but in no way enough.

Playing to the Symphony’s musical rather than overtly political or emotional side, Nelsons is a direct and honest interpreter, though also aware of the composer’s contradictions. Eventually quieting the acclamation (having noticed the pair of prommers holding up a line of scarlet hosiery – Boston Red Sox; geddit?!) he told us they had one more piece of Shostakovich – a sarcastic ‘Galop’; immediately recognisable from Cheryomushki.

Finally, and incidentally, I was intrigued by the lavish Boston Symphony Orchestra press pack. With respect to the tour, although it gave the details of all the venues where the BSO is playing, it didn’t mention any of the summer festivals that had issued invitations: no mention of the Proms, the Salzburg Festival or the Lucerne Festival. And it’s the same on the Boston website: although the Salzburg Festival website is the one that it links to, the London link is to the Royal Albert Hall site not the Proms. What a peculiar world view they must have.”

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Review by Geoff Brown, The Times: ££

Click here for full review

                 

Summer Showcase

Symphony Hall, Birmingham

Thursday 25th June, 2.15pm

Programme

  • Strauss  Suite in B flat major for 13 winds, 25′
  • Shostakovich Chamber Symphony, 20′
  • Reich  Music for Pieces of Wood, 8′
  • Cage  First Construction in Metal, 9′
  • Mussorgsky (arr. Howarth)  Pictures at an Exhibition, 30′

Our orchestra is made up of 83 extraordinary artists, and today they step into the limelight. The CBSO woodwinds share Strauss’s delightful Suite, and our strings play their hearts out in Shostakovich’s white-hot Chamber Symphony. Then the percussion section sets up a rhythm in two stunning contemporary classics – and a spectacular, all-brass version of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition proves that a great orchestra is the sum of some seriously impressive parts!
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Alpesh Chauhan to stay at CBSOarticle by Christopher Morley

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Support the CBSO

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Review by David Hart, Birmingham Post:

Click here for full review

…     “For the brass Elgar Howarth’s imaginative arrangement of Mussorgky’s Pictures at an Exhibition showed just what exciting sounds can be drawn from an expanded palette of brass colours (especially when played with such firm-of-lip panache) and a conductor alert to good balance.

The two percussion items were less rewarding. Steve Reich’s Music for Pieces of Wood might be an intriguing rhythmic exercise, but quickly outstays its 8-minute duration; and the huge array of instruments in John Cage’s First Construction (in Metal), which Chauhan conducted with military four-in-a-bar precision, certainly tickled the ears although, by today’s standards, its inventiveness seemed disappointingly limited.

Shostakovich’s Chamber Symphony for strings, however, was quite different. With its four-note motif an ever-present symbol of the composer’s torment and despair, and the cello solos of Eduardo Vassallo singing songs of forlorn memory, this was a stunningly moving performance, made even more so by the unobtrusive direction of concert master Laurence Jackson. When musicians listen so intently to each other who needs a conductor?”    

Borodin Quartet

Shostakovich and Beethoven

Part of Birmingham International Concert Season 2014/15 Concert Package,
SoundBite, Birmingham International Concert Season 2014/15 and Chamber Music

Tuesday 21st April

Town Hall

Borodin Quartet
Ruben Aharonian violin
Sergei Lomovsky violin
Igor Naidin viola
Vladimir Balshin cello

Shostakovich String Quartet No 11 17’
String Quartet No 9 26’
Beethoven String Quartet Op 59 No 2, Razumovsky 33’

Encore – Shostakovich – Elegy for String Quartet

To describe the Borodin Quartet as one of the greatest names in the history of modern string quartet playing is simply to state a bare fact – and on their 70th Anniversary World Tour, the Borodins are without equal as interpreters of Russian music. Their Shostakovich is self-recommending; but their Beethoven, too, comes with unparalleled insight and authority. http://www.THSH.co.uk

War and Revolution

ThumbnailCBSO 2020Raise the Roof

Sunday 15th February 2015 at 3.00pm

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

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Andris Nelsons  conductor
Eleanor Dennis  soprano
Simon Callow  speaker

Elgar: Polonia, Op.76 13′
Elgar: Sospiri, Op.70 5′
Elgar: Voix dans le Désert, Op. 77: for Speaker, Soprano, & Orchestra 11′
Shostakovich: Symphony No. 11 (The Year 1905) 60′

War, protest, and a great nation on the brink of revolution: officially, Shostakovich based his mighty Eleventh Symphony on the events of 1905 – but this roof-raising blockbuster of a symphony is still thrillingly relevant today. Back in England, Elgar did current affairs a little differently. Andris Nelsons explores some of the deeply moving music that Britain’s greatest composer wrote in response to the First World War.

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Review by John Quinn, SeenandHeard, MusicWeb:

Click here for full review

…     “This movement is all about tension and atmosphere; it’s a vast curtain-raiser to the tragedy that is to unfold. It’s essential that a mood of glacial stillness and tension is established from the outset and then maintained. Nelsons and his players succeeded in this, not least in maintaining the tension. In the second movement, ‘The Ninth of January’ the brutal dispersal of the crowd is depicted. Much of the music is vivid and graphic with Shostakovich calling on the large brass section and the substantial percussion battery – a timpanist and seven colleagues. After a vicious fugal passage for strings, bitingly articulated here, the music reaches a massive climax; quite rightly, Nelsons didn’t hold back on the decibel levels here This climax was a real assault on the ears but it made all the more effective the sudden cut-off where Shostakovich reverts to the glacial stillness of the symphony’s opening – except that now we hear an appalled stillness after the brutality.

 The third movement, ‘Eternal Memory’ is an extended lament for the fallen innocents. It begins with a long, poignant theme played by all the violas. The CBSO viola section excelled here, playing with great expression while Nelsons exerted great care over the moulding of the music. (Rightly, the viola section was singled out for applause en masse at the end of the performance.) This movement, an intense elegy, was played with great eloquence by the CBSO. There was driving urgency in the finale, ‘The Alarm Bell’. Nelsons inspired playing of tremendous bite. The decibel level is consistently high for much of this movement though I can’t help feeling that the composer’s invention is at its weakest here. Yet another immense climax gives way to what is arguably the most poignant moment in the work. Shostakovich returns once more to the material with which he’d begun the symphony nearly an hour ago and from it rises a long, deeply felt cor anglais solo. This horribly exposed solo was played with great distinction by Jane Marshall. As the music picks up once more in vehemence there’s a swirling undercurrent on the bass clarinet. I’ve never heard this brought out so strongly as it was here and the effect of hearing this threatening material along with pounding drums was to emphasise, for me, the darkness in the score. The symphony achieves a thunderous conclusion but the music is not celebratory in tone. Instead, enigmatic as ever, Shostakovich sets up a major-key/minor-key clash, emphasised by the dissonant clamour of two sets of tubular bells. No empty revolutionary triumph is depicted here.

One member of the audience, perhaps deceived, started to applaud immediately but, mercifully, stopped at once while Nelsons and the orchestra held the moment, allowing the bell tones to decay naturally. Then, and only then, was applause for this electrifying performance justified.

The applause was sustained and enthusiastic and that was as it should be for this was a concert hat reminded us once more what a fine partnership there is between Andris Nelsons and the CBSO. We should make the most of it while it lasts.”    

Shostakovich Uncovered

ThumbnailDiscover

Wednesday 11th February 2015 at 7.30pm

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

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Andris Nelsons  conductor
Alpesh Chauhan  conductor
Paul Rissmann  presenter

Shostakovich: An introduction to Shostakovich Symphony No. 11 40′
Shostakovich: Symphony No. 11 (The Year 1905) 60′
Listen on Spotify

Shostakovich’s Eleventh Symphony is an epic musical tale of tyranny and revolution – or is it? In this special concert, presenter Paul Rissmann uses illustrations, anecdotes and the full CBSO to explain Shostakovich’s hidden agenda – and unlock the story behind the music. Then Andris Nelsons conducts a full performance of this most gripping of 20th century symphonies.

6.15pm: Conservatoire Showcase Scriabin: The Poem of Ecstasy, Op.54 Birmingham Conservatoire Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Michael Seal, performs Scriabin’s spectacular fourth symphony.

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War and Revolution

ThumbnailRelax and Revitalise

Wednesday 19th November 2014 at 7.30pm

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

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Nicholas Collon  conductor
François Leleux  oboe

Britten: Four Sea Interludes from Peter Grimes 16′
Listen on Spotify

Copland: Appalachian Spring – Suite 24′
Listen on Spotify

Strauss: Oboe Concerto 26′
Listen on Spotify

Shostakovich: Symphony No. 9 27′

François Leleux’s encore (with the CBSO) – Gluck: Dance of the Blessed Spirits

1945: year zero. In the USSR, Shostakovich blew a raspberry at Uncle Joe Stalin. In America, Copland conjured a magical picture of lost innocence. In Germany, Richard Strauss was also retreating from the horrors of wartime into an idealised classical past. And in Wolverhampton, Benjamin Britten rehearsed an opera that would change the face of British music. A musical portrait of an extraordinary time – conducted by one of the most dynamic young conductors of our own day.

If you like this concert, you might also like:
MacMillan’s St Luke Passion, Thursday 4th December, 2014
Shostakovich Uncovered, Wednesday 11th February, 2015
War and Revolution, Sunday 15th February, 2015

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Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:

Click here for full review

“It’s asking for trouble when an agent puts out a biography describing its subject as “recognised throughout the world as the best oboist of his generation”; you can sense the hubris gleefully waiting to pounce.

But there were certainly wonders in Francois Leleux’ account with the CBSO of the autumnal, delicious Oboe Concerto by Richard Strauss. His phrasing was mellifluous, and as open-air as the composer’s beloved Bavarian Alps; interchanges with orchestral soloists were sparkling and well dovetailed (special plaudits to violist Chris Yates); flourishes danced as though from panpipes, and he painted piquant shades of colour.

And for once I welcomed the encore, Gluck’s Dance of the Blessed Spirits from Orpheus and Euridice, otherworldly and evocative.”      …

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Review by Richard Whitehouse, ClassicalSource:

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…     “After the interval, François Leleux played Richard Strauss’s Oboe Concerto. Still the seminal entity in an all too limited medium, it is also the pick from the several concertante works that this composer wrote during his ‘Indian Summer’. Chief among its attractions is the subtlety with which each of the three movements segues into the next, ensuring a continuous thematic transformation as reaches the deftest culmination in the coda. Leleux offered an encore, a limpid rendering of Gluck’s ‘Dance of the Blessed Spirits’.

Whereas Strauss recollects, Shostakovich in his Ninth Symphony provokes – though whether that was the intention in what is outwardly his most understated such piece remains unclear. Steering a vital course through the tensile opening Allegro, Collon brought out the wistful anxiety of the ensuing Moderato. A breezy Presto led, via the sombre pathos of a recitative-like Largo (with soulful bassoon playing from Johan Lammerse), to a final Allegretto whose laconic humour took on a much more aggressive demeanour in the breathless closing pages.

An alert and perceptive performance, then, of a work which also brought out the best from the CBSO. Nicholas Collon seems to have established a firm rapport with this orchestra, making one look forward to further appearances in comparably well-planned programmes.”

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Review by Christopher Thomas, MusicWeb, SeenandHeard:

Click here for full review

…     “By 1945 Benjamin Britten had reached a point in his career whereby he was redefining British opera, with Nicholas Collon and the CBSO heightening the still glorious originality of the Four Sea Interludes from Peter Grimes in a reading that displayed a deft sense of light and shade in the fragile light of the strings in the opening bars as a grey dawn awakes over the East Anglian scenery. The gentle movement of the water was beautifully captured by the orchestra, as was the subsequent atmosphere of Sunday Morning, its pealing bells set against a backdrop of glistening waves and being portrayed by the orchestra with a bustling sense of activity as the local villagers arrive at church. The final wind ravaged Storm was dispatched with a crushing and masterly paced power although it was the evocative image of moonlight dancing on the waves in the third movement, punctuated by telling interjections from flute that made the deepest impression.

If the troubled psychological backdrop to Peter Grimes found Collon and the orchestra at their most evocative, Copland’s Appalachian Spring was imbued with a sheer joy and wonder that made a very direct impression on the audience in Symphony Hall. From the wide open spaces of the plains to the driving dance rhythms as the happy couple at the heart of Copland’s most overtly popular ballet celebrate their wedding day (the broad grin on Nicholas Collon’s face spoke as clearly as the playing) the joy was beautifully counterbalanced by the aching tenderness of the third section (Moderato) and the prayer like peace and serenity of the closing passages. When played with the freshness that it was here, the infectious accessibility and subtleties of Copland’s score remain vivid seventy years on from its composers attempts to re-capture the attention of an American audience that had become increasingly divorced from artistic culture.”     …