Symphony Hall, Birmingham

Friday 6th January, 2017, 7:30pm

Artists

National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain

John Wilsonconductor

Tamara Stefanovichpiano

Programme

Lauren Marshall – Suspended Between Earth and Air (conducted by Joshua Mock)

Brett DeanKomarov’s Fall

SzymanowskiSymphony No 4 (Sinfonia Concertante)

RachmaninovSymphony No 2

It’s cold outside. But step inside the concert hall and the world’s greatest orchestra of teenagers is fired up and ready to put on a show of orchestral brilliance.

The journey begins in the chilly isolation of outer space, lands in the middle of a lively Polish party and ends in the radiant warmth of a showstopping Russian symphony. Your guide for the evening is John Wilson, charismatic conductor and conjurer of musical magic.

Brett Dean’s Komarov’s Fall is music that sharpens the senses. Its eerie opening requires precise and fearless playing as sparse, icy strings and woodwind glisten in the silence of space. As the tragic drama unfolds, jagged percussion and urgent brass take over the story of the Russian cosmonaut who became a hapless victim of the ruthless 1960’s space race.

For a fun-filled feast of toe-tapping rhythms, joyful dances and cheerful marches look no further than Szymanowski’s Symphonie Concertante. It is a cross between a symphony and a piano concerto and was one of the composer’s favourite pieces. With playful banter between the orchestra and piano, it is energetic and spirited, just like a stage-full of teenage musicians.

The finale of the evening is Rachmaninov’s Symphony No. 2, the ultimate Russian Romantic symphony. With big, bold melodies and lush, glowing harmonies, this music will smoulder and blaze in a performance of irresistible sparkle and flamboyance.

Totally teenage orchestral brilliance. Come and hear it.

BBC Radio 3 Live Broadcast –

Available on BBC Radio iPlayer here until 5th February 2017

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Review by Roderic Dunnett, MusicWeb, SeenandHeard:

Click here for full review

…     “This is an orchestra of marvellous flair and panache, profoundly intelligent, miraculously accurate, immensely responsive to scores of different hues, romantic and modern, producing a thrilling overall sound that is sheer joy to listen to. “Aurally volcanic” was how The Observer dubbed these breathtakingly talented young players. And indeed there were plenty of full-blooded explosions throughout this concert.

The chief surprise was an unexpected opener, Suspended between earth and air, by Lauren Marshall. She studied at the Purcell School and is currently NYO’s Principal Composer. This work turned out to be a miracle of inspiration. To behold at the outset eight trombones and a mass of horns arrayed in front of us, with a vast, possibly quadruple, spread of woodwind and strings, was in itself pretty astonishing, even if the NYO has more than 160 players to call upon.

But the impression made by Marshall’s largescale yet compact, beautifully argued piece and its use of a bigger-than-Wagner sized orchestra was astonishing: so atmospheric, indeed, that it actually managed to upstage Brett Dean’s Komarov’s Fall, a piece with which it had affinities both in subject matter (the might of the universe) and deployment of thickly massed orchestral sections. The start alone made a wondrous impact: low tympani, growling soft trombone, yielding to a striking early string build-up and some vivid chattering — almost a conversation — from the percussion. Some of the birdlike chirruping in the strings sounded uncannily like Szymanowski (the opening of his Violin Concerto No.2), which was especially appropriate given what was to come.     […]

[…]    There followed another piece of inspired programming by the NYO: one of the very rare live performances one can hear of Szymanowski’s Sinfonia Concertante (Symphony No.4). It is the work the Polish composer sketched late in life in an attempt to keep alive his performing on the platform when tuberculosis was beginning to play havoc with his health. Though the composer attempted to keep the solo part restrained, it is in fact a pretty full-blooded concerto, with a great deal of virtuosity which calls for an able soloist. Tamara Stefanovich brought colour and life and vivacity to the solo role, ably supported by the orchestra as a whole.

It is too unwieldy a task to elaborate on every detail of this work, which responded so well to the Symphony Hall acoustic. The start was mysterious and quizzical as it should be, with pizzicato cellos and basses, later a hinterland of flutes and clarinets, and the piano part characterised by the octaves and other parallellings that form part of its identity. The violins’ delayed entry was wonderfully robust, and they led in the falling-third patterns which become so essential to the argument. After a faultless surge from horns and trombones — I did not hear a single hint of a brass fluff all evening, which is a rare treat — the timpanist ushers in the cadenza, a great medley of material from the movement’s themes. Finely performed as that was, the orchestra’s scampering to a sudden, rather Ravel-like close, was yet more brilliant.     […]

[…]     The final movement gained equal impact thanks to the enduring quality of the NYO’s playing. The swellings and subsidings, all meticulously measured out, continued from earlier movements, the sensitive violas again supplied a plangent link, and the horn flutters — all eight of them beautifully synchronised — sounded like something out of Wagner. The movement, like the others, contains some tricky junctures calling for total attention and excellent conducting, which Wilson, nursing each section with intimacy and encouragement, and an unerring twinkle in his eye, dutifully supplied. In fact it was the links throughout the Rachmaninov, as in the Szymanowski, which showed off to great satisfaction the intelligence and attentiveness of these player en masse. The explosion of timpani and bass drum, and cymbals too, at the close, perfectly engineered, demonstrated with a final burst the magnificent effort put in by all their fellow players. Only occasionally one sensed the massed violin sound could be a little edgy, a mite domineering. But all in all, this was a concert to die for.”

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Review by Andrew Clements, Guardian:

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…     “Wilson energised and balanced everything very precisely, but even in Symphony Hall, which can probably clarify such massive textures better than anywhere else in Britain, there were moments in both works that suffered from problems of scale. Tamara Stefanovich’s fabulously secure solo playing tended to disappear altogether at the climaxes of the Szymanowski, while, though played with enormous verve and skill, the outer movements of the Rachmaninov seemed glutinous and flabby. Even the beautifully sculpted clarinet solo in the slow movement sounded oddly out of place in such a larger-than-life performance.

The published programme began with Brett Dean’s Komarov’s Fall – his short, touching memorial to the first astronaut to die in space – but before it one of the orchestra’s cellists, Joshua Mock, had conducted a beautifully paced account of Suspended Between Earth and Air, by NYOGB’s principal composer scholar, 16-year-old Lauren Marshall, which unfolds a sequence of striking musical images – fluttering woodwind, dense packed clusters and a final, enigmatic chorale – in a wonderfully assured way.”

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Review by Vincent Coster, Blog:

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…     “Tonight they played another concert that is a testimony to the fine work of this orchestra and proudly supports the fact that their ethos is a noble and worthy one. It was evident from the very beginning when we were treated to a surprise piece not originally listed. One that was written by the orchestra’s principal composer Lauren Marshall called Suspended Between Earth and Air. The piece itself was one of those typical modern compositions, which oscillate sharply, jagged and sharp in their contortions, and this too was wonderfully constructed in that mode. It was a treat and fitted in with the direction of the concert, setting us up perfectly for the next piece which was Dean’s piece Komarov’s Fall. So well blended where these two pieces that one thought they had stumbled into the film score of a futuristic nightmare set deep in the cold wastes of space. I for one hope we hear more of this young composer in the future, and that this piece gets performed more often.

Hardly had one time to breathe or recover from the modernistic style which begun this concert when the Orchestra took us backwards to an earlier part of the modern period with Karol Szymanowski’s Symphony No 4 (Sinfonia Concertante), this time joined on stage by Tamara Stefanovich. Together they treated the audience to such a wonderful rendition of a difficult and strikingly beautiful symphony.”     …

 

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Baiba Skride: Szymanowski

Thursday 4th February, 7.30pm

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

 

Programme

  • Mendelssohn  A Midsummer Night’s Dream – Overture, 11′
  • Szymanowski  Violin Concerto No.1, 23′
  • Shostakovich  Symphony No. 10 , 52′

Baiba Skride’s encore – Bach – Sarabande from Partita 2 in D Minor

The Soviet authorities called Shostakovich’s 10th Symphony an “optimistic tragedy”. But we can hear it as one of the mightiest symphonies of the 20th century: huge, dark, and driven by blazing emotion. It’s all a long way from the moonlit enchantment of Mendelssohn’s Shakespearean overture – or Szymanowski’s gorgeous, shimmering First Violin Concerto, played tonight by this season’s artist in residence, the wonderful Baiba Skride.

CBSO+ 6.15pm Conservatoire Showcase Birmingham Conservatoire Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Michael Seal, performs Respighi’s majestic Pines of Rome and Mattei, a World Premiere by Conservatoire Composer Ryan Probert.

 

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Review by Richard Bratby, Birmingham Post:

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…    ” He went on to sculpt Shostakovich’s Tenth Symphony in big, sweeping gestures and a positively lurid palette of orchestral colours. True, it was alive with detail: Julian Roberts’s plangent bassoon solos, Rainer Gibbons’s oboe twisting palely in the gloom at the start of the finale, and pizzicato that ranged from fat and pungent to bitterly wry. But this was broad-brush Shostakovich, thrillingly physical and reeking of vodka and boot-leather. The ending drew cheers.      […]

[…]     Earlier, the Birmingham Conservatoire Symphony Orchestra gave a pre-concert performance under Michael Seal. Mattei , by Conservatoire composer Ryan Probert, created huge Technicolor sonorities (extra brass plus organ) from the slightest of musical ideas. Respighi’s Pines of Rome put the same forces to suitably roof-raising use; but it was the eloquence and sense of atmosphere in the quiet music (beautifully poised trumpet and clarinet solos, supported by ravishing string phrasing) that showed just what heights these students can attain under Seal’s direction. “

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Nicola Benedetti: Szymanowski

Wednesday 27th January, 7.30pm

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Programme

  • Haydn  Symphony No. 92 (Oxford), 28′
  • Szymanowski Violin Concerto No. 2, 20′
  • Brahms  Symphony No. 4, 40′

Nicola Benedetti’s encore – Bach – Sarabande from Partita 2 in D Minor


Brahms said that he wanted his Fifth Symphony to sound like Haydn. He never got that far – because his magnificent Fourth Symphony said all he wanted to say! Lahav Shani brings out all its tragedy and triumph, but only after he’s shown you exactly what Brahms was talking about, in Haydn’s joyous “Oxford” Symphony. Nicola Benedetti, meanwhile, begins our mini-cycle of Szymanowski violin concertos with the ravishing, fantastical Second.Support the CBSO

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Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:

Click here for full review

…     “Benedetti was here for the first episode in the orchestra’s survey of both Szymanowski Violin Concertos (perversely, here we were hearing the Second; the First comes on February 4, Baiba Skride playing).

Her bright-toned Strad weaved a sweetly melancholic thread, allied to biting bow-work which reinforced the music’s strong similarities to the two violin concertos of Prokofiev. She even managed a squinge of discreet re-tuning during the impressive central cadenza before moving towards the wonderfully exhilarating ending. After this her encore (the Sarabande from Bach’s D minor Partita) grounded us perfectly.

Shani drew sumptuous sounds from the CBSO, an orchestra well versed in Szymanowski, thanks to the long-term advocacy of Sir Simon Rattle.

We had begun with the music of another Rattle protege, Haydn, no less, and his Symphony no.92. Its nickname “the Oxford” alerts the listener to its many learned winks and nudges, but all the time it fizzes with energy, and charms with smiling melodies.”   …

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Review by Peter Marks, Bachtrack:

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…    “The concerto is scored for a remarkably large orchestra, including five percussionists, a tuba, contrabassoon and orchestral piano. Szymanowski’s use of the latter in his violin concertos is particularly notable as few composers, even in the twentieth century, employed the orchestral piano in their concertos. Whilst the composer’s first concerto tends towards the impressionistic, the second is more assertive. It opens with a grumbling in that orchestral piano in an almost bluesy style. Benedetti adopted a suitably sultry tone in this first movement, managing to be heard even against the fullest orchestral accompaniment.

The movements in the concerto are contiguous but clearly distinct. The first two and last two movements are punctuated by a jaw-dropping cadenza almost entirely consisting of double-stopping. Benedetti traversed this with astonishing assuredness, even calmly tweaking her tuning along the way. The cadenza concludes, startlingly, with a huge crash from the orchestra, which conductor Lahav Shani timed to perfection. The third movement is rather militaristic and Benedetti was visibly enjoying the orchestral mayhem going on around her. She also noticeably engaged with her orchestral colleagues, particularly the leader. Benedetti was in total command of this concerto, as were Shani and the orchestra. ”     …

 

Benedetti plays Szymanowski

Wednesday 28 November 2012 at 7.30pm

Symphony Hall, Birmingham +44 (0)121 345 0603

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Kazushi Ono conductor
Nicola Benedetti violin

Dvořák: The Wood Dove 19′
Szymanowski: Violin Concerto No. 1 23′ Listen on Spotify
Bartók: Concerto for Orchestra 35′ Listen on Spotify

Nicola Benedetti is surely one of Britain’s best-loved violinists – and no player is closer to Karol Szymanowski’s glittering First Violin Concerto, the piece with which she won BBC Young Musician of the Year in 2004. That’s the magic spell at the centre of this enchanted programme from guest conductor Kazushi Ono. First, though, there’s something scary in the woods in Dvorák’s sinister musical fairytale; then the whole CBSO takes the spotlight in Bartók’s life-affirming Concerto for Orchestra – music that wrings the heart even while it dazzles the ear.

Get a taste for the music here and watch Nicola Benedetti backstage at the Edinburgh Festival where she discusses her love of Polish composer Szymanowski. She will perform his Violin Concerto No. 1 with the London Symphony Orchestra as part of their series of Szymanowski concerts.    http://www.cbso.co.uk

Nicola Benedetti’s Encore – Bach – Sarabande from Partita D Minor

 

 

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Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:

Click here for full review

…     “Nicola Benedetti brought impeccable intonation to the solo line of Szymanowski’s First Violin Concerto, a crucial element in such a crystalline work teeming with nocturnal imagery, perfumed with the aura of fin-de-siecle decay.

Gently oscillating melodic lines were matched by more energetic passages, Benedetti’s bowing so chippingly effective. But she was also able to command a persuasive stillness, always supported by the CBSO’s expressive collaboration. Her Sarabande from Bach’s D minor Partita made a welcome palate-cleanser of an encore – the best music we heard all evening.”     …