Steven Osborne: Beethoven

Symphony Hall, Birmingham
Thursday 22nd September, 2016, 7.30pm

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra


  • Beethoven Egmont: Overture, 8′
  • Beethoven  Piano Concerto No. 1, 37′
  • Butterworth  A Shropshire Lad , 11′
  • Walton Symphony No. 2, 27′

Steven Osborne’s encore – Beethoven Bagatelle op.

No-one conducts British music with more eloquence and flair than Edward Gardner, who tonight rediscovers two very different twentieth century masterpieces: Walton’s sparkling, neglected Second Symphony and – 100 years since Butterworth’s death on the Somme – the heartbreaking A Shropshire Lad. First though, another treasure of British music, pianist and CBSO Artist in Residence Steven Osborne, brings all his poetry and power to Beethoven’s exuberant First Concerto.



Review by Richard Ely, Bachtrack:

Click here for full review

…    Even in as fine a performance as this one under Edward Gardner, it was easy to hear why this relatively brief (under half an hour) but richly textured work has struggled to be heard. Although displaying all Walton’s acknowledged gifts for orchestration, the absence of instantly memorable themes (‘pop’ music, if you like) and a passacaglia finale that seems merely repetitious on first hearing can make the symphony seem more a virtuoso exercise in style than a work of depth and feeling. But for anyone familiar with the piece, there was no doubting that Gardner had the measure of it. This was a performance that galvanised all sections of the CBSO, reaching a peak of expressiveness in the central Lento assai movement – considered by Michael Kennedy to be a character study of Cressida, the mercenary courtesan from Walton’s contemporaneous opera Troilus and Cressida – where the violins and the woodwind created an inspired body of sound that was both seductive and sinister. Anyone with more than a glancing acquaintance with this score would have been delighted by such an exciting performance. Judging from their faces at the end, both conductor and orchestra felt they’d pulled off quite a coup!

Dating from immediately before the First World War, Butterworth’s ‘rhapsody for orchestra’ A Shropshire Lad is an altogether more approachable work, an evocation of the English countryside of the kind we are perhaps over-familiar with from the contemporaneous likes of Moeran and Delius. But this was a fine, sensitive performance of a difficult to programme piece, an evocation of the Housman cycle of poems which Butterworth had earlier set to music. Most of the burden of the work falls on the strings and woodwinds, whose reiteration of the rhapsody’s defining Dorian motif was powerfully expressive.”     …


Review by Ivan Hewitt, Telegraph:

Click here for full review (scroll down)

…     “The conductor was Ed Gardner, a longtime favourite guest conductor of the orchestra, who has a way of bringing out the best in the players. The opening chords of Egmont were brusque as well as stern, and the answering plaintive phrases in the woodwind were beautifully shaped. One had the sense of the music labouring under a massive weight, eventually thrown off in the joyous final minutes, where it seems as though tyranny has been banished for ever.

Steven Osborne, pianist in Beethoven’s first piano concerto, gave a similar sense of throwing caution to the wind. He can be the most fastidious and careful of pianists, and what made this performance so thrilling was that these qualities lived side-by-side with reckless daring-do. The cadenza of the first movement (that’s the moment where the soloist gets a chance to spin some virtuoso solo fantasies on the melodies) was especially telling. With ostentatious cleverness, it combined things we’d already heard, then seemed to invite the orchestra to join back in, and then unexpectedly went back to the first melody but in the wrong key. It was gruffly humorous in a properly Beethovenian way, but who composed it? I suspect it was Osborne himself.

After all that blazing Enlightenment optimism and Olympian laughter, the gentle nostalgia of George Butterworth’s Rhapsody on his own A Shropshire Lad might have seemed a terrible come-down. In fact the performance was so beautifully shaped, the lovely opening phrase from clarinetists Oliver Janes and Joanna Paton so tenderly evocative of a long-lost summer afternoon, that one didn’t mind the lowering of the emotional temperature.”     …


Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:

Click here for full review

…     “Steven Osborne, this season’s CBSO artist-in-residence, was soloist, bringing a Mozartean clarity of articulation combined with well-coloured pedalling, and there was a wonderful fluidity of phrasing from all concerned. Particularly memorable were the magical soundworld of the Largo, with the pearly elaboration of Osborne’s filigree, and the twilit conclusion of the finale, spoilt only by Beethoven’s own noisy shooting himself in the foot.

George Butterworth’s Rhapsody: A Shropshire Lad was a poignant reminder that a century ago the Battle of the Somme was raging, and that indeed the composer himself had been killed during its course. During his tragically short life Butterworth made quite a mark on the English musical scene, and this account revealed how much parts of Holst’s Planets owe to the composer, with Oliver Janes’s solo clarinet singing regretfully over the shimmering nostalgia of the strings, aching and yearning.

The zippy urgency with which Walton’s Second Symphony opens provided quite a contrast under Gardner’s energising conducting, sympathetic as well to the dappled, sunlit timbres which link the work to the contemporaneous Cello Concerto.

In the Lento Assai Walton gives us one of the greatest slow movements ever penned by an Englishman in any format, its gorgeous outpouring of melody caressed so fervently by a willing, alert CBSO responding to this remarkable conductor.”



Shostakovich’s Piano Quintet

CBSO Centre, Birmingham
Friday 20th May, 2016,  1.10pm


  • Beethoven String Trio in C minor, O.9 No 3
  • Shostakovich Piano Quintet in G minor, Op.57

Having played Ravel’s Piano Concerto for the left hand at Symphony Hall on 19 May, acclaimed pianist Steven Osborne follows up his full orchestra appearance with a more intimate concert at CBSO Centre. He’ll be joined by a cohort of equally brilliant CBSO Musicians for Shostakovich’s sparkling Piano Quintet.

Become Ocean

Symphony Hall, Birmingham

Thursday 19th May, 2016, 7:30pm

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra


  • Sibelius  The Tempest – Prelude , 7′
  • Ravel  Piano Concerto in G major , 21′
  • Sibelius  The Oceanides, Op. 73 , 9′
  • Ravel  Piano Concerto for the left hand , 19′
  • John Luther Adams  Become Ocean (UK premiere), 42′

Steven Osborne’s encore – Ravel – Oiseaux Tristes from MiroirsIt’s been called “the loveliest apocalypse in musical history” and John Luther Adams’ haunting, Pulitzer Prize-winning Become Ocean is fast becoming one of this decade’s most talked-about pieces of new classical music. We’re thrilled to be giving the first UK performance, with the conductor who gave its world premiere. Be there as we make history, in a concert that also features master-pianist Steven Osborne in both of Ravel’s magical concertos.

CBSO+ 6.15pm Hear CBSO Chief Executive Stephen Maddock talk about tonight’s programme.


Review by Andrew Clements, Guardian:

Click here for full review

…     “For 40 years now, Adams’ work as a composer has been inextricably linked with his involvement in environmental issues, but Become Ocean is the biggest, most overwhelming expression of those concerns so far. The score bears his stark epigraph: “Life on this earth first emerged from the sea. As the polar ice melts and sea level rises, we humans find ourselves facing the prospect that once again we may quite literally become ocean.”

Yet the music itself is anything but stark or bleak. It’s rich, deeply textured and all-encompassing, and the three massive climaxes that articulate the huge span – moments when the pulsing sequences that Adams assigns to his groups of strings, woodwind and brass come exactly into phase – seem more celebratory than apocalyptic. The presence of the musical processes underpinning this glorious, constantly changing stasis is impossible to ignore – there are precisely planned symmetries everywhere, and the work itself is one gigantic palindrome – but the orchestral beauties and the tonal harmonies never seem contrived.”     …



Review by Richard Whitehouse, ClassicalSource:

Click here for full review

…     “All credit to the CBSO for enabling Ludovic Morlot (who gave the premiere in Seattle almost two years ago) to schedule a piece that justifiably won the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Music, and deserves its place within the (not too crowded) orchestral repertoire of the early-21st century. The performance left little to be desired, not least because this is music ideally suited to the acoustic of Symphony Hall – filling the auditorium to a degree that even a ‘surround sound’ recording would be hard-pressed to emulate. Rarely have 42 minutes proved so immersive.

 The hour-long first half was almost a concert in itself. Continuing his exploration of Ravel, Steven Osborne played both Piano Concertos – (rightly) tackling the G-major first and getting to the heart of the opening movement as it alternates between brittle humour and bluesy longing. The Adagio was hardly less impressive, Osborne setting off with a discreet purposefulness that Morlot picked up on to ideal accord, and if the Presto felt at all calculated, its interplay of ingenuity and nonchalance held good through to the brusque closing gesture.

Even finer overall was the Left-Hand Piano Concerto, its three-movements-in-one format seamlessly and cumulatively negotiated so that intensity never flagged. Nor was Osborne fazed by its conception, playing with a clarity and definition as did not preclude a searching eloquence in the limpid theme whose heightened return in the coda crystallizes the expressive depth of this work overall. Morlot secured orchestral playing of real impact, while Osborne returned for an ‘Oiseaux tristes’ (second piece from Miroirs) interpreted with ineffable poise.

Each Concerto was prefaced with music by Sibelius. It is surprising the ‘Prelude’ from his music for The Tempest does not regularly open proceedings, given its surging impetus and sense of imminent catastrophe – both vividly conveyed here – make for a curtain-raiser like no other. If The Oceanides felt a little impassive near the outset, its swirling textures merged effortlessly towards the climax – a double helix of giddying immensity prior to the pensive close. Such evocations of immutable forces added cohesion to an already impressive concert.”    


Review by Richard Ely, BachTrack:

Click here for full review

…     “The concertos apart, these works are not often programmed, so it was good to have a such a convenient ‘hook’ to hang them on. The Tempest, composed by Sibelius for a production of Shakespeare’s play, takes the form of a series of orchestral crescendos, replicating the rages of a storm at sea which finally subsides, exhausted. All sections of the orchestra enjoyed themselves in creating what could, in less assured hands, have been a shapeless cacaphony. Daringly, that first production substituted Sibelius’ work for Shakespeare’s introductory scene, which describes a shipwreck. On balance, and in a convincing performance like this one, I think Sibelius makes the point more eloquently than the Bard, even if this is one of the Finnish master’s minor works.

The same composer’s The Oceanides is a major work, though one seldom heard in the concert hall, so it was a pleasure to encounter a performance as auspicious as this. Beginning with a vivid impression of clearing mists, superbly played by violins and timpani, the piece progressed through other lifelike impressions of birdsong and the push of the sea to the central section, leading to the orchestral climax and the ‘appearance’ of the Oceanides – daughters of the sea god, Neptune. This was a wonderfully spotlit moment, before the piece settled back into the troubled stillness of the sea after a very different storm to the one that blew through The Tempest.

Since the programme placed the Sibelius works adjacent to the Ravel concertos, we were better able to appreciate the contrasting sound worlds of these two contemporaries, with the weighty orchestrations of the Finn meeting the pellucid textures of the Frenchman. They may not be the most searching works for piano and orchestra but they have an elusive charm, stopping just the right side of whimsy, that quickly gains and holds the attention if you’re in the mood. Perhaps the shift in mood required was too extreme, but in these performances by the increasingly impressive Steven Osborne, it was impossible not to surrender to Ravel’s introverted milieu, where even the ‘jolly little tune’ that kicks off the G major concerto has an air of abstraction hinting that tears are never far away. Although real depth of feeling threatens to intrude in the Adagio assai, the jazz-derived rhythms of the outer movements preclude too much introspection and the work finishes leaving the listener agreeably puzzled. As so often with Ravel, ambiguity is the key and Osborne had the measure of the solo part, which he despatched with unshowy virtuosity. Here and in the left-hand concerto, he showed himself to be a master of Ravel’s diffident art, as he did in a penetrating encore of Oiseaux tristes.”     …


Review by Rebecca Franks, The Times (££):

Click here for full review (££)

…      “Steven Osborne was the truly superlative soloist: refined, direct, intelligent and instinctive. Every note was exactly in its place; the music sparkled and flowed. Glossy strings brought Hollywood glamour to the Left Hand Concerto, while the G major Concerto was a sunny riot of colourful detail.

And then it was the UK premiere of Become Ocean, Adams’s 42-minute, Pulitzer prize-winning orchestral soundscape. It is, explained Morlot, a meditation to be experienced rather than heard. I put away my notebook and let the music take over. Imagine staring at the ocean, noticing the surface ripples, then the short chop of waves, the roll of the swell, and – if you sit there long enough – the powerful pull of the tides. That’s what Adams translates into music; despite its meticulous construction there’s a complete lack of artifice. This isn’t music that “goes” anywhere, yet it is profoundly transformative. The ocean rises and falls. We sit and observe. My neighbour walked out, visibly riled. But I loved it.”


(fab) Blog Post by Dave Fawbert, ShortList:

Click here for full post

…     “Imagine this popping up on your Facebook page.

Become Ocean


Just look at it. It’s absolutely ridiculous. It looks like a sea of worker ants hauling miniature bridges across a page. And then you read the accompanying comment – it goes on for 42 minutes? There’s nearly 18,000 notes? What the hell is this piece? How would you go about composing such a thing? How on earth would you play it?

I had to hear it.     […]


It was utterly glorious.

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

The City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, shortly before beginning the piece

The orchestra was split into three sections: full-sized strings, woodwind and brass with each given slowly-moving passages of sound which rise and fall at different paces, while Ben’s piano, a celesta and several percussionists maintained the constant, underlying rippling effect, without pause. At three points in the performance, the peaks coincided. As a bonus trick, the entire piece was palindromic – so 21 minutes in, the whole thing was played in reverse.

It was staggeringly beautiful. As someone who has only dabbled in the ambient genre, this, to my limited knowledge, seemed to evoke the feelings of the very best: the gentle waves of sound of Jonsi & Alex’s Riceboy Sleeps, the patience of Brian Eno’s Ambient 1: Music For Airports and – I realise this is slightly specific – a constant reminder of the feel of the beautiful horn section toward the end of DJ Shadow’s Stem/Long Stem (the section around six minutes in).

It was surprisingly consonant: notes moved around but never clashed. Suspensions were left hanging gorgeously as other notes slowly moved to join them, never rushing. The passages unwound at a slow pace, yet Ben’s piano and his xylophone friends either side maintained a constant feeling of movement.

Fascinatingly, you would never have guessed the palindromic nature of the piece; the second half felt new and different. Moreover, for a piece 42 minutes long, it was over in what seemed a flash. Truly, this was transcendental stuff.

Afterwards, I asked Ben – fresh from playing 18,000 notes in 2,500 seconds (that’s a constant 7.2 notes per second, maths fans) – if it would be performed again soon. Sadly, due to the rather niche nature of the piece, he replied that it was unlikely.

What a shame. For I’m telling you now: they should put this stuff on the NHS. Forget Prozac, this is the only high you need in your life.”     …

Brahms and Beethoven

ThumbnailRelax and Revitalise

Saturday 28th March 2015 at 7.00pm

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

Concert Packages

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Andrew Manze  conductor

Steven Osborne  piano

Vaughan Williams: Five Variants of Dives and Lazarus 13′

Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 2 28′ Listen on Spotify

Brahms: Symphony No. 2 45′

Steven Osborne’s encore –

Beethoven – ‘Hammerklavier’ Sonata 29 – Second Movement

When Brahms went on holiday, all his troubles fell away – and that’s exactly the effect of his lovely second symphony, 45 minutes of glowing landscapes, jubilant trumpets and tunes that never seem to end. The very English serenity of Ralph Vaughan Williams is a gentle prelude to Beethoven’s most brilliant piano concerto, played today by one of Britain’s brightest keyboard stars.

Support the CBSO


Review by , BachTrack (for matinee of the same programme)

Click here for full review

…     “As it rose again, it was for a remarkable rendition of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto no. 2 in B flat major. Whether it was actually Beethoven’s first, strongly influenced by Mozart’s style, or whether it was his second, showing the composer looking back to his hero, Steven Osborne captivated the personalities of both great composers in a sheer magical way. At no point were we aware that active interpretation was taking place, it was as if the music streamed from him in a natural flow, and only long afterwards did you notice how unobtrusively sophisticated phrasing was, or the shaping of dynamics.

Introduced with a strongly textured orchestral sound, Manze virtually threw little dynamic accents that the orchestra eagerly caught. Then Osborne entered with such a pleasantly soft attack I hadn’t thought possible on Symphony Hall’s terribly hard piano (which, it has to be said, also has its merits: Beethoven’s strong bass lines came out beautifully and carried well through the orchestra without becoming muddy). Osborne’s playing was simple, calm and thoughtful, matching Manze’s laid-back movements, making the dialogue-like alternating passages of piano and orchestra in the second movement so intensely focused you didn’t dare to breathe.

His noble reserve also suited the playful Rondo very well: no exaggerated mannerisms distracted from this pure performance, no dramatic movements accompanied those scales of notes like gleaming beads on strings that still threatened to burst with virtuosity. Even though the solo passages, especially in the beginning, struggled to connect seamlessly with the much richer and softer orchestral tissue (I blame it on the piano), the dynamic agility of both soloist and the orchestra made for an arresting last few bars, and the strong connection between conductor and soloist was tangible and gave the concerto developed a simple and natural charm so strong that not even several untidy cues in the orchestra could break its spell.”     …


Review by David Hart, Birmingham Post (for matinee of the same programme)

Click here for full review

…     “One can look past the Mozartian elements of the Adagio (easily done when there are no clarinets) and the hovering spirit of Haydn; in the right hands it’s a gem of a concerto by Beethoven at his most romantic.

At least that’s how Steven Osborne played it last Wednesday afternoon, in a performance that, while demonstrating many aspects of an historically informed reading in its elegant phrasing (conductor Andrew Manze engaged all his period-instrument experience to give appropriate weight and articulation of the orchestral support), allowed dynamic contrasts, especially crescendos and diminuendos, to sing with emotional meaning rather than just change volume.

The finale was a particular delight, its humour gently pointed with an almost tongue-in-cheek reticence, and a total avoidance of affectation or posturing (Lang Lang and others please note).”     …

Australian Chamber Orchestra

and Steven Osborne

Part of Birmingham International Concert Season 2014/15 Concert Package,

SoundBite, Birmingham International Concert Season 2014/15, Orchestral Music and Piano Music

Sunday 5th October

Symphony Hall

Australian Chamber Orchestra
Richard Tognetti director/violin
Steven Osborne piano

Haydn Symphony No 83, La Poule 24’
Mozart Piano Concerto No 27 32’
Jonny Greenwood Water
Tchaikovsky Souvenir de Florence 35’

The Australian Chamber Orchestra is a byword for freshness and energy, and from Haydn’s explosive Parisian Symphony to Tchaikovsky’s sun-drenched postcard from Italy, this is a programme that plays to their strengths.

Richard Tognetti* directs a striking new work that Jonny Greenwood wrote especially for the ACO, and Steven Osborne finds new depths in Mozart’s Piano Concerto No 27.



Review by Norman Stinchcombe, Birmingham Post:

Click here for full review

…     “Steven Osborne never gets in the music’s way. He sits at the piano stool – but the composer is always in the driving seat. In Mozart’s piano concerto No 27, for example, the central movement’s sublime melody was wonderfully shaped without resorting to prettification or excessive rubato and was never slowed down from its specified larghetto. The cadenzas didn’t obtrude with seams showing, and the allegro finale absolutely sparkled supported by excellent work from the ACO.

Tchaikovsky’s Souvenir of Florence was originally for string sextet but while the ACO used triple those forces the gain in sonority didn’t mean a sacrifice in transparency. The adagio’s interplay between first violin and cello had the ardour of an operatic duet – marvellous! In Jonny Greenwood’s Water the composer played with the band on one of two tanpura, a fretless lute. There are tinkling piano ostinatos, a little eerie nachtmusik and some Psycho­-style abrasive strings – 17 minutes of movie music sans film.”




Review by Rian Evans, Guardian:

Click here for full review

…     “The Radiohead guitarist had clearly drawn on their fluidity of movement for the piece that emerged. That movement was reflected, too, in the final title, Water, from Philip Larkin’s poem in The Whitsun Weddings. The effects of light bouncing off water created a distinct aura. Once again, strings were wrapped around pivotal instruments: two flutes and two Indian tanpura, the smaller of which was played by Greenwood himself, with Tognetti leaning in to deliver concertante violin lines. The tanpuras’ low, gently plucked droning gave the piece – in five interconnected sections – a constant deep resonance. Featuring amplified upright piano and keyboard, synthesising the sound of glockenspiel and celeste (nodding to the soundworld of Messiaen, yet without the use of ondes martenot), Greenwood’s soundscape was organic and persuasive. The rhythmic ostinati and the shimmering rise and cascade of scales, with rippling chromatic colour, created a more dynamic effect. Greenwood bowed as modestly as a novice; in fact, he is anything but.”     …

Mozart and Elgar

Thumbnail  Relax and Revitalise

Thursday 20 February 2014 at 7.30pm

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

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Edward Gardner  conductor

Steven Osborne  piano

Mozart: The Magic Flute – Overture 7′

Mozart: Piano Concerto No. 24 in C minor K491 31′

Elgar: Symphony No. 1 52′ Listen on Spotify Watch on YouTube

Steven Osborne’s encore – Beethoven – Bagatelle

At  the premiere of Elgar’s First Symphony in 1908, the audience rose to its feet  and simply yelled with excitement. So prepare yourself for raw emotion, desperate  beauty, and of course, one of the greatest tunes ever written by an Englishman.  The CBSO has a special relationship with Elgar; today, Edward Gardner writes a  new chapter. Mozart’s darkest piano concerto makes a wonderfully apt prelude,  played by the incomparable Steven Osborne.


Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post: (for matinee of same programme)

Click here for full review

“I have heard countless performances of Elgar’s First Symphony over nearly half a century, with conductors including Boult, Elder, and that great Elgar advocate Sakari Oramo. But none of those could match what a packed Symphony Hall heard on Wednesday afternoon from Gardner and his willing orchestra.

Here was structural cogency and expressive communication; dark soul-searching and pastoral escapism; passing detail melded by Gardner into a wonderful arch of musical line. In other words, an account which thrust to the heart of this complex music and revealed every aspect of its message.

The orchestral sound leapt at us, basses ranged across the back underpinning all of Elgar’s textures, and building an almost organ-like sonority for the big tune on its first airing.”     …


A Boy Was Born : Osborne Plays Britten’s Piano Concerto

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  • CBSO 2020

Wednesday 6 February 2013 at 7.30pm

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

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Ilan Volkov conductor
Steven Osborne piano

Sibelius: The Bard 6′ Listen on Spotify
Britten: Piano Concerto 34′
Oswald: B9 part 1 (World premiere of the orchestral version) 15′
Sibelius: Symphony No. 6 27′

Steven Osborne’s encore – Ravel – extract Mother Goose suite

“Other composers mix cocktails,” said Jean Sibelius, “but I serve pure, cool water.” And he never served anything purer or more beautiful than his radiant Sixth Symphony, or more mysterious than The Bard. A question, and a deeply moving answer: guest conductor Ilan Volkov gives us both, and joins pianist Steven Osborne in Britten’s sparky pre-war Piano Concerto. And John Oswald remixes Beethoven’s first five symphonies in fifteen minutes, flat. New music simply isn’t meant to be this much fun!

Explore Birmingham’s celebrations of Britten’s centenary here.

pre-concert talk at 6.15pm
Conservatoire Showcase!
Britten: Sinfonia da Requiem
Birmingham Conservatoire Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Michael Seal, performs Britten’s powerful orchestral showpiece.



Review by Andrew Clements, Guardian:

Click here for full review

…     “The concert ended with another of Sibelius’s most beautiful and enigmatic works, the Sixth Symphony, in which Volkov seized on the few moments when its poise and tranquillity are ruffled to extract what drama he could. Yet the perfectly seamless unfolding was never threatened, and the CBSO played with a fabulous attention to every detail and harmonic nuance. They were equally impressive in Britten’s concerto, sometimes the adversary to soloist Steven Osborne, sometimes his partner in crime. Osborne has absolutely nailed the work’s mixture of heartless exhibitionism and brittle ebullience, and he played it with glittering panache and awesome brilliance.”



Review by Peter Marks, BachTrack:

Click here for full review

…     “The concerto demonstrates the clear influences of Ravel on the British composer in its gleaming orchestration. Elsewhere, we feel the influence of Prokofiev in elements such as the sardonic waltz second movement and its somewhat cheeky ending. Osborne’s virtuosity was matched by a more serious and reflective mood in the slow third movement, which segued into the grimly comical march of the finale. In the closing pages Osborne’s hands became a blur in a jaw-dropping display of rapid-fire double octaves. Osborne gave a nod of acknowledgement to Ravel in his sweet encore from the Mother Goose suite.

The concert closed with an astonishing performance of Sibelius’ Symphony no. 6, lesser known by audiences than some of his more popular symphonies. This orchestra has an impeccable Sibelius pedigree, having undertaken complete cycles of the symphonies with both Sir Simon Rattle and Sakari Oramo.”     …




Review by David Hart, Birmingham Post:

Click here for full review

…     “And for those who attended the pre-concert performance by the Birmingham Conservatoire Symphony Orchestra the best came first.

Under the empowering direction of Michael Seal, this remarkably accomplished orchestra gave an account of Britten’s Sinfonia da Requiem that went far beyond being just a free taster. From the broodingly anguished first movement (so like Shostakovich) and blisteringly exciting, demonic Dies irae scherzo, to a finale in which all tensions were released in its consolatory fulfilment, this was a fully formed and terrifically well executed reading.

So was Britten’s Piano Concerto, which provided the centrepiece of the main CBSO concert with conductor Ilan Volkov. This is Britten at his most high-spirited and extrovert (echoes of Prokofiev and Malcolm Arnold abound), who takes no prisoners and forces the soloist – here the wonderfully muscular, no holds-barred Steven Osborne – to jump over many finger shredding hurdles.”




Review by Hilary Finch, Times:  ££

Click here for full review

Rachmaninov by Candlelight


Sun 2 Oct 6:00pm at Symphony Hall

Ex Cathedra
Jeffrey Skidmore director
Steven Osborne piano

Rachmaninov Vespers
Piano Preludes Op 23 Nos 6 in E flat, 10 in G flat, 3 in D minor, 4 in D, 7 in C minor
Op 32 Nos 5 in G, 7 in F, 9 in A, 1 in C

This concert has a running time of c. 2 hours including one interval.

The soaring voices of Ex Cathedra bring Rachmaninov’s choral masterpiece to life by candlelight. Glowing with radiant Russian Orthodox spirituality, the Vespers are interspersed with a selection of the composer’s much-loved piano preludes performed by Steven Osborne.

In the words of The Times, ‘the brilliant Scottish pianist… scales the preludes… with passion and authority… Sorrow and sunlight, death and life: all Rachmaninov is here’.

Classic FM’s Anne-Marie Minhall, says of tonight’s recommended concert: “Rachmaninov’s Vespers is some of the Russian composer’s most profound and moving music; the All-Night Vigil remains one of the most atmospheric musical creations. On what’s likely to be a chilly, autumnal evening, Ex Cathedra will be bringing music to warm your very soul.”

Review by John Quinn, SeenandHeard -MusicWeb:

…     “Not for the first time – and surely not for the last – Jeffrey Skidmore had devised an imaginative and illuminating programme and he conducted the choir superbly, drawing from them singing that was, according to the demands of the music, exquisitely poised or powerfully sonorous and which always rang with conviction.

Experiencing Rachmaninov by candlelight in this way made for a memorable concert. It was one which, for me – and with apologies for the pun – shed new light on Rachmaninov’s music in two different genres.”

Review by David Hart, Birmingham Post:

…     “From first note to last this was a powerfully atmospheric and often hypnotic account, with Jeffrey Skidmore and his singers (Jeremy Budd and Martha McLorinan the gloriously idiomatic soloists) going beyond melody and harmony to explore a rich choral tapestry where inner-part textures and movements were of equal importance and, especially in the basses, awesomely sonorous.

In such a finely judged musical environment, Steven Osborne transcended the role of solo pianist to become an additional member of the ensemble.”    […] Rating * * * * *

Dancing in the Streets

Tuesday 1 March 2011 at 7.30pm

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

 City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Carlos Kalmar  conductor
Steven Osborne  piano

Adams: The Chairman Dances 12′
Bernstein: West Side Story – Symphonic Dances 23′
Falla: Nights in the Gardens of Spain 23′
Gershwin: An American in Paris 17′

From Gershwin tapping through the streets of jazz-age Paris, to John
Adams imagining Mao Zedong and Madame Mao in a show-stopping
foxtrot – there’s no denying that American composers have got rhythm!
South American-born conductor Carlos Kalmar knows all about that,
and tonight he leads the CBSO on a high-kicking celebration of the
American way of dance. Expect some serious Latin flair in Bernstein’s
West Side Story dances, the smokiest of blues in An American in
Paris, and – at the heart of the programme – something completely
different. The superb British pianist Steven Osborne should bring just
the right mixture of poetry and panache to Falla’s enchanted,
shimmering Nights in the Gardens of Spain begun in 1911. 

Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:

“Anyone who says they “don’t like 20th-century music” should have been at Tuesday’s CBSO concert, from which they would have emerged smiling in acquiescence at its sheer approachability.

This was a programme to die for, beginning with a tautly driven account of John Adams’ The Chairman Dances under the decisive baton of Carlos Kalmar.”   …


Review for this programme at Bridgewater Hall, by Michael Cookson, MusicWeb:

Jurowski Conducts Mahler 4

Birmingham International Concert Season 2010/11

Thu 2 Dec 7:30pm at Symphony Hall

London Philharmonic Orchestra
Vladimir Jurowski conductor
Steven Osborne piano
Christine Schäfer soprano

Beethoven Piano Concerto No 4 32’
Mahler Symphony No 4 54’

Few conductors have received the plaudits that have been awarded to Vladimir Jurowski, Chief Conductor of the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Described as ‘the most creative force in London’s orchestral life’ (Financial Times), his concert contains Mahler’s Fourth Symphony, one of the composer’s most relaxed works – classical, song-like and culminating in a representation of a child’s view of heaven. Steven Osborne is the soloist in the gentle lyrical poetry of Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto.

6:15pm Pre-concert talk with Lyndon Jenkins and Vladimir Jurowski.

Part of The Birmingham Mahler Cycle 

Review by Geoff Read, MusicWebInternational:

… “Jurowski wonderfully recreated Mahler’s marking of Restful in the third Poco adagio movement, the emotional heart of the symphony. The heart-rending strains from the orchestra recalled the vision that had motivated the composer – the carved image of the departed atop a tombstone, a child asleep in death. The ebb and flow of the strings was indeed poignant and distinctively Mahlerian. I thought the role of second violins here was crucial, admirably led by Clare Duckworth. But this was a real team effort: subtle changes in pace were expertly handled by Jurowski; the autumnal colours of the woodwind were vividly set against the lilting strings; the surge in anticipation that led to the climactic depiction of the opening of heaven’s gates was fabulous. After the exultations of the horn and timpani, the tranquil runs on the harp in the coda produced the ‘My Mahler’ moment of the evening (see THSH’s website”   …

Review by Elmley De La Cour, Birmingham Post:

… “Soloist, Stephen Osborne gave an effectively understated performance of the delicate work, conjuring subtle tones of pinpoint clarity from the piano. Against this, the orchestra provided a superb backdrop of velvety strings and sensitive wind. […]

[…] Mahler’s symphony, however, presented a dilemma. The orchestra played extremely well, creating the symphony’s nostalgic and almost haunting character from the very opening. The first movement’s passages of pizzicato and col legno were also given a spatial twist with the double basses positioned behind the woodwind. Soprano Christine Schafer was excellent, too, […]   Rating * * * *    “