The Year 1913: Ballets Russes

Saturday 16 February 2013 at 7.00pm

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

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Simone Young conductor
James Ehnes violin

Mussorgsky: Khovanshchina – Prelude 6′
Sibelius: Violin Concerto 33′ Listen on Spotify
Debussy: Jeux 19′ Listen on Spotify
Stravinsky: The Firebird – Suite (1911) 26′

 James Ehnes’ encore – Bach – Sonata 3 – Largo

Paris, 1913: and a radical team of composers, artists and dancers ignites a revolution. Welcome to the fabulous world of the Ballets Russes, where Stravinsky paints Russian fairytales in rainbow colours, and Debussy sets a game of tennis to the music of seduction. The inspirational Australian conductor Simone Young makes her Birmingham debut in this gorgeous programme, which begins with Mussorgsky’s serene Moscow dawn and features Birmingham favourite James Ehnes in the fire and ice of Sibelius’s popular Violin Concerto.



Review by John Quinn, MusicWeb, SeenandHeard:

Click here for full review

…     “The Mussorgsky, with its rarified, delicate ambience, proved a shrewd choice as a prelude to the Sibelius Violin Concerto. The Canadian virtuoso, James Ehnes impressed from the start. He has a very natural platform presence, completely devoid of showiness, and his seemingly effortless technique put him in full command of this demanding concerto. So, for example, he was able to bring both dazzle and poetry to the first movement cadenza. His singing tone, especially rich on the G string, was a delight in the wonderful slow movement. Ehnes plays on a 1715 Stradivarius, the so-called ‘Marsick’ violin, and it’s clearly a glorious instrument, especially in his hands. He projected his sound wonderfully, even in the quietest of passages. This account of the slow movement was enthralling from start to finish. Soloist and conductor were at one throughout the concerto but nowhere more so than in the finale, which was given an urgent and exciting reading. As in the first movement, Simone Young made one realise how close to the sound world of the composer’s first two symphonies many of the tutti passages are. Ehnes was superb once again and the contribution of the CBSO was memorable. As an encore Mr Ehnes gave us the Largo from Bach’s Third Violin Sonata. Here sovereign purity of tone was allied to simplicity of style in a marvellous performance that was an ideal foil to the preceding concerto.”     …




Review by David Hart, Birmingham Post:

Click here for full review

…     “With the Sibelius Violin Concerto she was no less considerate, providing a coolly refined opening to the Adagio that contrasted perfectly with the richly enunciated discourse of soloist James Ehnes. For his part Ehnes brought to this much-loved work a finely contoured combination of sweetness and steel, presenting the opening theme as a fully formed entity rather than exploratory quest, and adopting a measured approach to the finale that avoided histrionics and focused on musical integrity – a commendably thoughtful approach.”       *****

Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring – 3D Performance

Thursday 21 April 2011 at 6.30pm

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

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Ilan Volkov conductor
Julia Mach dancer
Klaus Obermaier concept, artistic direction, choreography
Ars Electronica Futurelab interactive design & technical development
Alois Hummer sound design
Wolfgang Friedlinger lighting design

Varèse:  Tuning Up (sketch, completed by Chou Wen-Chung)

Ligeti: Lontano

Stravinsky: The Rite of Spring

Any live performance of Stravinsky’s infamous Rite of Spring is a mind-blowing experience – the music alone is brim-full of raw emotion and ritualistic frenzy. Tonight, experience an astonishing interplay between reality and fantasy, as dancer Julia Mach’s live performance interacts with real-time computer-generated stereoscopic projections, translated into virtual reality with the aid of 3D spectacles for the audience. Digital wizardry meets the primeval world of Stravinsky’s ballet score!

Blog posts / review by Zyls:

…     “Tonight’s performance was very, very clever – the technology, commitment and work put into creating such a feast was impressive – the CBSO are truly world class, the dancer incredible and the capability of the technology – a brave mix of classical music, art and dance – hugely inspiring.”     …

Review by Roger Clarke, BehindtheArras:

“ANY visit to a theatre or concert is an experience but this is a theatrical experience that really means it. I defy anyone to leave at the end unscathed. Once in your mind you will never forget it.   […]

[…]  This takes 3D into whole new realms though, way beyond the fun and novelty stages. This 3D is a thing of art and beauty, of disturbing images, of despair and darkness, light and hope.Emotions and fears distilled on an electronic matrix.

It is astounding, fascinating, enthralling, stunning stuff – a new art form has been discovered. Classical music and ballet meets virtual reality.”     …

Review by Andrew Clements, Guardian:

…     “It is the account of the music, though, that proves to be the show’s saving grace. It is quite superbly played by the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra under Ilan Volkov, and their hour-long programme begins – thankfully without glasses or choreography – with two more 20th-century classics. ”      …

Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:

…     “This extraordinary presentation of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring was a total triumph, from the confident orchestral opening by the CBSO under the clear direction of Ilan Volkov (what fabulous delivery by Gretha Tuls of that notorious high bassoon solo!), through the mesmerically controlled movements of dancer Julia Mach, and the brilliant realisation of his own choreography by the concept-designer and artistic director Klaus Obermaier.”     …

Review by Geoff Read, MusicWeb:

…     “The swaying sensations of Spring Rounds were emphasised by the visions of Obermaier: the compulsive rhythm was synchronised to an undulating floor. Mach reminded me of a gymnast trying to keep her balance on a trampoline bed that’s been given a life of its own. This particular effect together with the computer enhancement as the dancer arms become elongated may be seen on Weird enough in two dimensions, the addition of the third made it even more mind-boggling. It was a magic carpet-ride on which Volkov wound up the CBSO strings and brass players to engage in the lethal blitz that followed, strains of Stravinsky that foreshadowed World War I. The flying 3D shapes returned, penetrating missiles akin to a game of paintballing, such was the suggestive power of Obermaier. I emerged unscathed from the battering.”     …

Ballets Russes

Thursday 14 April 2011 at 7.30pm

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

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Andris Nelsons conductor
CBSO Chorus

Stravinsky: Petrushka 34′
Ravel: Daphnis et Chloé 50′

Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes launched twentieth-century art in a blaze of energy. As part of the CBSO’s ten-year 2020 project, we celebrate that astonishing moment with two of the revolutionary scores that Diaghilev commissioned from the most brilliant composers of the age. Stravinsky’s Petrushka tells a fantastic story of love and death amidst the marionettes at Russian spring fair; Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloé, meanwhile, is a love story of Ancient Greece, set to some of the most sensuous music ever written for the stage. It’s rarely heard in its entirety, and almost never in an acoustic as perfect as Symphony Hall. Prepare to be dazzled.

Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:

…     “Tattooing drums welded the scenes together (the phalanx of percussionists playing like a one-man drumkit), cornets and trumpets deployed both showmanship and sinister supernaturalism, solo woodwind evoked magic, and concertmaster Laurence Jackson added piquant violin solos.

This was a wonderfully colourful account of a score which demands so much in terms of melodic cell-nurturing and rhythmic cohesion.”   …..

The Planets: An HD Odyssey

(European Premiere)

Birmingham International Concert Season 2010/11

Friday 8 October 7:30pm at Symphony Hall, Birmingham

Houston Symphony
Hans Graf conductor
Ladies of the City of Birmingham Choir

Stravinsky Fireworks 5’
Adams Dr Atomic Symphony 25’
Holst The Planets 65’

Sponsored by University of Birmingham.

Encores –  Liadov? –  “Baba Yaga” and Mozart – ?

“The images . . . were often astonishing. Photographs from rovers and satellites, radar images and computer-generated graphics were combined to give the audience the impression of circling individual planets and sometimes flying over their awesomely barren landscapes.”  New York Times Holst’s The Planets was inspired by his interest in astrology. Nearly one hundred years later he would have been astounded by the state-of-the-art, high definition images from NASA’s exploration of the solar system. For tonight’s European Premiere, Producer Duncan Copp has brought these images together with a commentary by the world’s leading planetary scientists, all projected on a large screen above the orchestra.

Classic FM’s Anne-Marie Minhall, says of tonight’s recommended concert:
“Classical music reaches for the stars in this unique project between the Houston Symphony and NASA no less. Premiered in the Space Agency and Orchestra’s home city in January 2010, this will be your chance to watch some extraordinary images of our solar system alongside Holst’s astrological masterpiece”.

Part of the Sounds of Space weekend at Town hall and Symphony Hall.

Houston Symphony UK Tour blog:

Review by Elmley de la Cour, Birmingham Post:

…”Conductor Hans Graf, undoubtedly an instrumentalist’s dream, directed with pin-point clarity. His beat was one of the aspects of the concert that certainly was in high-definition. His tempos were also refreshingly brisk, ensuring that no automaticity crept into the Holst classic.” …

Review by Simon Thompson, MusicWeb International: (for same concert, different location!)

…Their “HD Odyssey” brought not just the music but stunning photography care of NASA, giving us a virtual tour of each planet as we hear Holst’s music. Producer/Director Duncan Copp’s images are truly breathtaking […]

…Jupiter works best – it’s so well done that it’s like watching choreography – with Mars and Neptune particularly striking too. Venus works less well and the serene images of Uranus are positively anachronistic viewed alongside Holst’s music until, that is, a virtual eclipse seems to fit the final bars beautifully.” …



CBSO, Andris Nelsons, Igor Stravinsky CD

Stravinsky – The Firebird and Symphony of Psalms

CD released 26th April 2010

Stravinsky - The Firebird & Symphony of Psalms

Review by Geoffrey Norris, Telegraph:

“The vibrant Russian colouring of The Firebird and the austerity of the Symphony of Psalms make for an uncommon coupling, but Nelsons and his Birmingham forces are wise to the marked differences of style. The volatility of The Firebird, Stravinsky’s first ballet for Diaghilev, is excitingly airborne in Nelsons’s hands, with plenty of the luminous orchestral detail that reveals Stravinsky as the direct heir to Rimsky-Korsakov.” …..

buy online:

Review by Nicholas Kenyon, The Observer: