Serenade to Music

Thursday 21st January, 7.30pm

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra


  • Grainger  In a Nutshell, 20′
  • Vaughan Williams  Serenade to Music †, 14′
  • Varese  Ionisation, 8′
  • Judith Weir Storm †, 18′
  • Grainger  The Warriors , 20′

Imagine warriors of all times and all lands, gathering in one place to drink and dance; imagine jazz breaks, three pianos, and a super-sized orchestra… and you’re starting to get some idea of Percy Grainger’s jaw-dropping The Warriors. Add Vaughan Williams’ ravishing, Shakespeare-inspired Serenade, 16 brilliant young soloists, a spirited showcase for the CBSO’s world-beating young choruses and a “Gum-Suckers’ March”, and…well, what can we say? You’ve simply got to hear it!

Available on BBC Radio 3 Live in Concert here for a month


Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:

Click here for full review

…     “And because of these forces we had a remarkable bonus, Edgard Varese’s Ionisation for 13 percussionists and piano, crisply, precisely directed by Seal, and beautifully phrased and coloured by the players.

By contrast, a tiny instrumental ensemble (including many of the flute family) accompanied the expert CBSO Youth and Children’s Choruses in a revival of Judith Weir’s Storm, keenly imagined and with a lovely serene ending. Under Simon Halsey the youngsters sang with confident projection and brilliant diction, and all from memory, to the delight of the composer, interviewed engagingly onstage, like the two conductors, by presenter Tom Redmond.

The texts came from The Tempest, this performance a contribution to the CBSO’s Shakespeare quatercentenary thread. And particularly heartwarming was the presentation of one of the most beautiful Shakespearean works ever penned, Vaughan Williams’ Serenade to Music.

This setting of the Belmont Scene from Act V of The Merchant of Venice requires 16 solo singers, and for its premiere celebrating Sir Henry Wood’s Golden Jubilee as a conductor in 1938, the composer specified 16 named soloists at the top of the professional tree.

Here Simon Halsey presented 16 students from Conservatoires UK-wide, and what a wonderful sound they created, both in their individual contributions and in their melding together as a choral group.”     …

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:

Click here for full review

“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:

Click here for full review

…     “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.”     …

Singalong with the CBSO: Mozart’s Requiem

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Sunday 25th January 2015 at 7.00pm

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

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Simon Halsey  conductor
Gwawr Edwards  soprano
Gaynor Keeble  alto
Alexander Sprague  tenor
Jeremy Huw Williams  baritone
CBSO Chorus

Mozart: Requiem 45′
Listen on Spotify

Ever wondered what it’s like to sing live at Symphony Hall with the full CBSO? Now’s your chance to find out, in this one-off performance from scratch of Mozart’s Requiem. And whether you’re a choral society veteran or have only ever sung in the shower, you’re welcome to rehearse and perform it today, under the CBSO’s world-famous chorus director Simon Halsey.

Singer information: rehearsals start at 1.30pm; details will be sent with singer tickets. Scores: we will be using the Novello edition. To hire a score with Simon Halsey’s rehearsal markings, purchase the Singer & Score Hire ticket when booking. NB If you’re not bringing your own score, pre-booking score hire is essential. Collect your pre-booked score on the day.

Britten 100: Centenary Concert

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Friday 22 November 2013 at 7.30pm

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

Simon Halsey  conductor

Nicholas Daniel  oboe

David Goode  organ

CBSO Chorus  

CBSO Youth Chorus  

CBSO Children’s Chorus  

Birmingham University Singers

Birmingham University Women’s Choir

Jubilate in C  3’

Six Metamorphoses after Ovid  12’

3 Two-Part Songs    7’

Friday Afternoons   20’

Hymn to St Cecilia   10’

Missa Brevis   10’

Prelude & Fugue on a Theme of Vittoria   5’

Rejoice in the Lamb 16′

“Blessed Cecilia, appear in visions to all musicians, appear and inspire.”   Britten’s originality never blazed more brightly than when it was most firmly   rooted in the English choral tradition. As the Orchestra tours to Japan, 100   years to the day since Britten’s birth, Simon Halsey directs the CBSO’s world-famous   choruses in some of Britten’s most striking choral inspirations – all interspersed   with his magical Six Metamorphoses for solo oboe. A universe in a grain   of sand: music to leave audiences stirred, beguiled and thoroughly entertained.

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

A taste of the CBSO’s celebrations of Britten in his centenary year

Britten 100


“Chorus of approval for CBSO stalwart    

Simon Halsey is celebrating 30 years as CBSO chorus director and an induction into the Hall of Fame.”

Birmingham Post Article by Roz Laws here.



Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:

Click here for full review

…     “Now, in this all-Britten programme, the many choirs Simon has inaugurated under the auspices of the CBSO Chorus (the Youth Chorus, the Children’s Chorus – as well as the Birmingham University Singers and University Women’s Choir) delivered a brilliantly-arranged sequence of the composer’s choral music.

Projection, diction and disciplined responsiveness are perennial watchwords illuminating the performances of all these ensembles, and Halsey calls on these factors with such relaxed, expressive direction. And throughout, all the excellent soloists were drawn from the ranks of the various choirs. What a heartwarming triumph for all concerned.”  


Duruflé’s Requiem

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Wednesday 22 February 2012 at 7.30pm

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

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Simon Halsey conductor
Karen Cargill mezzo-soprano
Benedict Nelson baritone
Robert Johnston harp
CBSO Youth Chorus

Ravel: Introduction and Allegro 11′
Fauré: Cantique de Jean Racine 5′
Satie (orch. Debussy): Gymnopédie No. 1 3′
Franck: Panis Angelicus 4′ Listen on Spotify
Satie (orch. Debussy): Gymnopédie No. 3 3′
Fauré: Pavane Op.50 6′
Debussy: Danse Sacrée et Danse Profane 9′
Duruflé: Requiem 41′ Listen on Spotify

Maurice Duruflé’s Requiem – written to console the living – is drenched in pastel colours and haunting melodies. If you like Fauré’s Requiem, we think you’ll fall in love with Duruflé’s exquisite homage. It’s the loveliest blossom in a perfumed bouquet of French miniatures: from the delicate grace of Fauré and Satie, to the sensuous beauty of Debussy and Ravel, this is an evening to savour.

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 David Hart, Birmingham Post:

Click here for full review

…     “Duruflé’s ‘Requiem’ was a challenging choice for these young singers, but one they rose to and accomplished with considerable aplomb. In fact, hearing this lovely work sung with such tonal openness and clarity of utterance made it sound almost newly minted.

It was certainly not a typical ‘youth choir’ performance, but an often beautiful one – the Agnus Dei, Domine Jesu Christe (Benedict Nelson the fine baritone soloist) and ascending-to-heaven In Paradisum were particularly memorable – with, in the Sanctus and ‘Dies illa, dies irae,’ moments of thrilling drama. And mezzo Karen Cargill (with cellist Ulrich Heinen) gave us a Pie Jesu as gorgeous and sensual as a love duet.”     …

The CBSO’s Great Big Choral Christmas

Friday 23 December 2011 at 7.30pm

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

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Simon Halsey conductor
Sue Perkins presenter
CBSO Choruses

We’d like to welcome you to join us for Christmas festivities with the whole CBSO family – a joyful celebration of seasonal music with the Orchestra and over 250 singers of the CBSO Choruses. Expect festive music a-plenty, from well-known favourites to some unusual treats, plus a generous helping of your favourite carols for all to sing. TV personality, panel-show regular – and winner of the BBC’s conducting series Maestro – Sue Perkins adds a dash of her trademark humour to proceedings, with her favourite Christmas stories and readings.

Download the CBSO charity Christmas card and share your Christmas wishes with your friends and family. Whilst doing this, you can help to support the CBSO by donating on JustGiving. It’s quick, easy and safe and all amounts will be gratefully received. Your donation will help to continue the fantastic work of our world-class orchestra on the concert platform and in our community




Review by Maggie Cotton, (same concert, different night) Birmingham Post:

…     “TV personality Sue Perkins presented the evening with wit and imaginative readings, adding greatly to the relaxed atmosphere. Her big moment came when, with baton in hand, she obviously enjoyed conducting the all-time favourite Sleigh Ride fronted by smiling instrumentalists dressed in every kind of festive head-gear, proving that the orchestra can also join in the fun!”     …

There Was A Child

Saturday 18 June 2011 at 7.00pm

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

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Simon Halsey conductor
Joan Rodgers soprano
Toby Spence tenor
CBSO Chorus
CBSO Youth Chorus
CBSO Children’s Chorus

Britten: Simple Symphony 16′
Whitacre: little man in a hurry 5′
Butterworth: Six Songs from A Shropshire Lad 14′
Dove: There Was a Child 50′

The land of lost content… For over a century, English literature has revelled in nostalgia for childhood; and where words lead, music follows. Jonathan Dove wrote There Was a Child as a tribute to a friend’s son who died tragically young. Filled with both joyous celebration and heartfelt emotion, it’s a big, warm-hearted modern masterpiece in the spirit of Britten and Vaughan Williams. And it follows in an evergreen English tradition, from the bittersweet songs that George Butterworth wrote five years before his death at the Somme, through Benjamin Britten’s feisty teenage symphony, right through to Eric Whitacre’s cheerful little gem.

Please note that Ailish Tynan has had to withdraw from this concert and will be replaced by Joan Rodgers CBE.

Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:

…      “The choral writing is totally effective, well-contoured and vibrant, the solo writing (soprano Joan Rodgers, tenor Toby Spence) equally so. Orchestral colours are expertly marshalled: Stravinsky, Britten and Adams are contributory influences, all adding to the approachability of the piece. This one is a winner.”     …

The Birmingham Mahler Cycle: Andris Nelsons Conducts Symphony No 5

Tuesday 23 November 2010 at 7.30pm

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

 City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Andris Nelsons  conductor
Simon Halsey  conductor
CBSO Youth Chorus   
CBSO Children’s Chorus   

Weir: Storm 20′
Mahler: Symphony No. 5 72′

Every Mahler symphony tells a life-or-death story – but none does it
with more romance, more melody or more epic sweep than the Fifth.
Opening with a desolate trumpet call and ending with a joyous hymn of
triumph, it’s one of music’s great emotional odysseys, taking in
Viennese waltzes, funeral marches, and – above all – the famous
Adagietto, Mahler’s tender love song to his young wife. It’s probably
Mahler’s most popular symphony – so Andris Nelsons’s interpretation,
part of our year-long Birmingham Mahler Cycle, is sure to be a high
point of the season. But first, choose from two very different musical
palate-cleansers – Bach’s masterly double violin concerto, or Judith
Weir’s Shakespeare-inspired Storm, performed by the very choir and
conductor who premiered it back in 1997.

Review by Andrew Clements, Guardian:

… ” -but once it settled down, the performance had perfect scale and perspective, with finely judged pianissimo playing from the CBSO strings in the Adagietto, and a firm sense of where the last movement was heading, and how the brass was going to lead it to that final, affirmative chorale.” …

Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:

… “Tuesday’s account in Symphony Hall was a genuine progress from darkness (launched by Jonathan Holland’s imperiously funereal trumpet summons) to light, in a finale where all involved danced skittishly and exuberantly under Nelsons’ baton, which seems to disappear more and more, as this conductor more talented than he knows relaxes into his role as music director of one of the world’s greatest orchestras.” …

Rating * * * * *

Andris Nelsons takes the CBSO to his Latvia home…

Read More…



Saturday 12 June 2010 at 4.30pm

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

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Andris Nelsons  conductor
Hillevi Martinpelto  Elsa
Lioba Braun  Ortrud
Eike Wilm Schulte  Telramund
Lance Ryan  Lohengrin
Gidon Saks  King
CBSO Chorus   
CBSO Youth Chorus   
Kostas Smoriginas  Herald

Wagner: Lohengrin (sung in German with English surtitles) 225′

A maiden in distress, a black-hearted count, a wicked sorceress and a mysterious knight in shining armour… no question, Wagner’s Lohengrin is the ultimate Romantic opera. But it’s not just a stirring tale of chivalry and romance in medieval Europe. Lohengrin is Wagner at his accessible best, filled with music of flamboyant colour and profound beauty. Just weeks before Andris Nelsons makes his hotly-awaited debut at Wagner’s own theatre in Bayreuth, Birmingham gets a one-off preview. With an all-star cast, the full CBSO and CBSO Chorus, and a conductor who loves Wagner above all other composers, this extraordinary evening will be one of the most talked-about concerts in Birmingham this year. Be sure to book early!


Review by Geoff Brown, Times:

…”The CBSO Chorus, CBSO Youth Chorus and gents from the London Symphony Chorus surged through the choral pages with vigour. None could beat Lioba Braun for fusing singing with acting: dressed in heinous black or jealous green, her Ortrud stayed resolutely villainous and wily. There was character even in the tilt of her head. Telramund, her partner in trouble, wasn’t far behind in authority, with the veteran Eike Wilm Schulte in astonishingly young and virile voice. Decibels rang out equally tellingly from the proclamations of Kostas Smoriginas’s Herald, while Gidon Saks easily supplied gravitas as King Henry.” …

Review by Patsy Fuller, Coventry Telegraph:

…”The young Latvian’s drive and passion were obvious – and infectious. He made it clear he had high expectations of his musicians, and CBSO followers in turn had high expectations of him.

Well, they haven’t been disappointed. Since then he has delivered many exciting concerts– but this concert performance of Wagner’s romantic epic has to go down as something truly special. Proof, as if it were still needed, that Nelsons is indeed the man of the moment.

From the opening spine-tingling notes of the prelude, the audience was enraptured.” …

…”Amid rapturous applause and a standing ovation, Nelsons looked drained – not surprising after 225 minutes of thrilling music making.” …

Rating * * * * *

Blog / Review by Onthepast:

…”Nelsons will take Bayreuth by storm, if he plays ‘Lohengrin’ there like he did in Birmingham. The man is a genius. He gives Wagner his romanticism back. ‘Lohengrin’ is full of mass get-togethers, and the music rises to the occasion each time, gaining in excitement, volume and choral power. Nelsons made of these scenes something unbelievably vibrant, colourful and ecstatic. There is no artifice in his style, or rather it is so well disguised that you feel you are getting pure music, as it was always meant to be heard – legend comes alive, and you believe it all for a few hours (as is clear from the above – only for a few hours…). The sheer enthusiasm he conveys is clearly felt and shared by the orchestra, who give their all, and the Birmingham audience clearly love him. Who wouldn’t?” …

Review by Rupert Christiansen, Telegraph:

“In less than expert hands, Lohengrin can prove a tedious affair – Wagner at his windiest – but in this magnificent concert performance presented by the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, it gathered an explosive momentum which finally brought the audience to its feet.” …

…”But the best singing of the evening came from Simon Halsey’s chorus, swelling majestically and making Wagner glow in Symphony Hall’s rich acoustic.     Rating: * * * * *     “

Review by Andrew Clements, Guardian:

…”Gidon Saks’s King was tremendously authoritative, Eike Wilm Schulte’s Telramund wonderfully judged and articulated. Lioba Braun’s sexy, scenery-chewing Ortrud threatened to steal the show, but in the end it was Nelsons’s vital control of every element that left the biggest impression.”

Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:

… “Rehearsals had been many and intensive, and the supple phrasing, bold articulation and depth of tone from the orchestra was even more apparent than when we hear these amazing players after normal rehearsal conditions. Choral projection was as forward and vivid, even in the most quietly articulated passages, as we have come to expect under Simon Halsey’s tutelage.

Lance Ryan’s Lohengrin was a little steely of tone, but totally engaging, not least in his great Act III revelations, Hillevi Martinpelto made much of the somewhat wan character of Elsa, Gidon Saks was a commanding, sympathetic King Henry, Eike Wilm Schulte an incisive Telramund, and Kostas Smoriginas rounded out the two-dimensional role of the Herald to engrossing effect.

But outstanding in this well-complemented team was mezzo-soprano Lioba Braun, her Ortrud a gripping model of evil conveyed by feminine wiles, the strength of her singing in no danger of suffering in this accommodating acoustic.” …

Blog / Review by Intermezzo:

…”Andris Nelsons scored an early winner for Birmingham with a prelude of exquisitely tensile beauty. Unlike Rob Green he let nothing slip from his grasp all evening.  Semyon Bychkov’s brisk, Italianate Lohengrin at Covent Garden last year cast an eye back at the work’s influences. Nelsons instead looked forward to the merged space-time of Parsifal. Lohengrin is one of the least action-packed three and a half hours ever, and Nelsons didn’t try to impose any notion of dramatic momentum. His contemplative tempos explored the music rather than driving it, yet paradoxically it was perhaps the most enthralling, dramatically absorbing rendition I’ve ever heard.” …

Review by Michael Tanner, Spectator:

“In the centre of Birmingham, in Symphony Hall, there was a tremendous performance of Lohengrin last Saturday, with minimal acting, apart from the wonderful imprecations and insinuations of Ortrud. So yet again the most memorable performance of any opera for a long time was not staged at all, and left the audience to do its own interpreting — a sheer blessing.  …

The CBSO covered itself with glory from start to finish, but even more the CBSO Chorus and Youth Chorus sang their mainly glorious music to overpowering effect.” …

Alfie Boe with the CBSO

Tuesday 30 March 2010 at 7.30pm

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

Simon Halsey  conductor
Natasha Marsh  soprano
Alfie Boe  tenor
William Berger  baritone
CBSO Youth Chorus  

Holst: Choral Hymns from the Rig Veda 12′
Finzi: Dies Natalis 25′
Howard Goodall: Eternal Light (Requiem) 45′

Whether as the composer of theme tunes from Blackadder to The Vicar of Dibley, or as a wonderfully accessible TV champion of classical music in all its forms, Howard Goodall is one of Britain’s best-loved composers. And his new tuneful and deeply moving Requiem, Eternal Light, has already become a bestseller. This performance, with star soloists Alfie Boe and Natasha Marsh, will show you why. Alfie Boe also sings Finzi’s radiant masterpiece.

Review by Norman Stinchcombe, Birmingham Post:

…”The CBSO Youth Chorus sang splendidly obviously relishing the lively Carl Orff-inspired Revelation movement. Natasha Marsh sang sweetly and baritone William Berger was firm and dignified in Do not stand at my grave and weep, which sounds like a first rate West End musical number.”…