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:

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…     “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.”     …

MacMillan’s St Luke Passion


Thursday 4th December 2014 at 7.30pm

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

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

James MacMillan  conductor
Toby Spence  tenor
Richard Watkins  horn
CBSO Chorus  
CBSO Youth Chorus  

Britten: Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings 26′
Listen on Spotify

MacMillan: St Luke Passion (UK premiere) 73′ Watch on YouTube

James MacMillan has been called the greatest British composer since Britten, and his music is urgent, melodious, and burning to communicate. The UK premiere of his St Luke Passion – co-commissioned for the 40th anniversary of the CBSO Chorus – is a major event, and with the composer himself conducting our famous choruses, this is a chance to experience musical history in the making.


Review by Rian Evans, Guardian:

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…     “MacMillan sets the Lucan gospel in the English of the Catholic version but, unusually, he dispenses with soloists and indeed with the role of the evangelist. Instead, he gives the words of the gospel to the full chorus, and the words of Christ to young voices, sung here by the remarkable CBSO youth chorus. Their freshness and purity of sound was symbolic both of the sacrificial lamb of God and of the hope of the Christian gospel.

The simplicity of the word-setting, sometimes just monodic, and the clarity of MacMillan’s choral writing, notably in the unaccompanied sections, ensured a touching directness of expression. The instrumentation – small orchestra with double wind – also realised some striking effects, notably in the brass and timpani, with their occasional resonances of Verdi and Britten, and the Messiaen-like organ outbursts. Duetting oboes also recalled Bach’s passions, as did the emerging strain of the chorale O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden towards the end.

Like their younger counterparts, the CBSO chorus sang out beautifully.”


Review by John Quinn, MusicWeb, SeenandHeard:

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…     “One very interesting feature of this score is that the words of Christ are sung by a children’s choir, often singing in unison but sometimes in up to three parts. MacMillan explains that he took this step because he wanted to “examine [Christ’s] otherness, sanctity and mystery. Employing a children’s choir grants a measure of innocence to Christ as the sacrificial lamb.” I thought this approach worked extremely well and the confidence, discipline, freshness of tone, commitment and maturity with which the young singers of the CBSO Youth Chorus carried out this testing assignment is beyond praise. Clearly Julian Wilkins, who played the crucial organ part in this performance, had trained them scrupulously, not just in the notes but in the spirit of the music

The adult choir carries the main burden of the music and I wondered how this would work in practice as compared to the more conventional approach of having a soloist narrator. I think MacMillan’s decision was completely vindicated, not least because, shrewdly, he varies the choral textures. So some passages are sung by either male or female voices – or a section of the respective voices, such as the tenors – while elsewhere the full choir is deployed, sometimes singing homophonically and at others in more complex polyphony. The music, while far from impossible, I judge, is by no means easy and there are a number of passages where the need for rhythmic precision is especially demanding. On just one occasion, when telling of how Simon of Cyrene was obliged to help carry the cross, the tenors were not quite unanimous in articulating the difficult rhythms but this was an isolated blemish in what was a hugely impressive performance by the CBSO Chorus. Trained as usual by Simon Halsey, the choir seemed to be in complete command of the music and they sang with great commitment as well as accomplishment. In short, this was a typical CBSO Chorus performance.”     …


Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:

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…      “Under the composer’s fluent and encouraging direction, Simon Halsey’s chorus sang with all its legendary attack, projection and clarity of diction, well-balanced and controlled, taut with urgency, and partnered by a CBSO which did full justice to the resourceful imaginativeness of MacMillan’s modest scoring.

The 73-minute work (what a convenient length for a CD!) is sure in its dramatic pacing, and the restless stirrings in the orchestral bass line as Christ ascends into heaven are particularly effective, underpinning the ancient chant melody which the Chorus intones.”     …

Nelsons Conducts Beethoven’s 9th

Thursday 23 August 2012 at 7.30pm

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

 City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Andris Nelsons conductor
CBSO Chorus
Lucy Crowe soprano
Mihoko Fujimura mezzo-soprano
Toby Spence tenor
Georg Zeppenfeld bass

Brahms: Nänie 15′
Beethoven: Symphony No. 9 (Choral) 67′ Listen on Spotify

From tragic opening to climactic, world-embracing “Ode to Joy”, Beethoven’s Ninth has never been just another symphony – it’s an emotional experience with the power to change lives. Every performance is a special occasion, but Andris Nelsons’ first Birmingham performance of the Ninth promises to be in a class of its own, and a landmark in his artistic partnership with the CBSO. This isn’t only an extraordinary upbeat to our new season, it should be one of Birmingham’s musical events of the year. Be sure to book early.

Review by Diane Parkes, BehindtheArras:

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…     “Also known as the Choral Symphony, the Ninth is powerfully life affirming, with its music echoing and enriching the message of Schiller’s Ode to Joy which is the climax of the work.

And there was no doubt this was a joyous performance. CBSO music director Andris Nelsons, conducting the Ninth in Birmingham for the first time, seemed to love every minute, egging the orchestra on to rise to the challenge of the piece.”     …

Review by Norman Stinchcombe, Birmingham Post:

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…     “When the long arching string melody was interrupted by fierce timpani and brass the shock was palpable, as if we were being peremptorily summoned back from delightful dream to mundane reality.

This performance was filled with many such memorable moments, in the opening movement of immense power and a scherzo both sinister and bucolic.

 The finale surged and thundered, helped by four excellent soloists – Lucy Crowe (soprano), Mihoko Fujimura (mezzo-soprano), Toby Spence (tenor) and Georg Zeppenfeld (bass) – and the hundred-strong CBSO Chorus. Hearing this chorus in full cry is a tonic for the soul – they really did deliver a “kiss for the whole world” as Schiller’s text requests.”     …     ***** 
Blog post by Alex Jones:
Click here for full post
…     ” Nelsons is a brilliant conductor, I couldn’t take my eyes off him; he conducted the orchestra with his whole body: his face was bright with emotion, expressions changing with each bar, sometimes stern, sometimes pleading, sometimes joyous, often he would clench his baton in his fist and literally jump up and down like a mad general, the next moment he would be leaning over his score reaching into the string section as if he was pulling the music out of the instruments himself; energetic and personal summed him up – he was living the score, feeling the nuances, experiencing them and translating them into sublime sounds – amazing.”     …

The Royal Opera: Die Meistersinger

Wednesday 11th January 2012 – 4:30pm

Wagner Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg

This concert has a running time of c. 5 hours 45 minutes including two intervals.

Royal Opera Chorus
Renato Balsadonna Chorus Director
Orchestra of the Royal Opera House
Sergey Levitin Co-concert Master

Sir Antonio Pappano conductor
Wolfgang Koch Hans Sachs
Emma Bell Eva
Simon O’Neill Walther
Toby Spence David
Peter Coleman-Wright Sixtus Beckmesser
Sir John Tomlinson Veit Pogner
Heather Shipp Magdalene
Pablo Bemsch Augustin Moser
Nicholas Folwell Konrad Nachtigall
Martyn Hill Balthazar Zorn
Colin Judson Kunz Vogelgesang
Jihoon Kim Hermann Ortel
Robert Lloyd Nightwatchman
Donald Maxwell Fritz Kothner
Andrew Rees Ulrich Eisslinger
Jeremy White Hans Foltz
Richard Wiegold Hans Schwarz

Symphony Hall’s 21st Anniversary Festival opens with an unmissable event: The Royal Opera makes its much-anticipated return to Birmingham to launch a sequence of Wagner’s four greatest music dramas. Hear an outstanding cast in Wagner’s epic comedy about the power and glory of song, under the inspired baton of Sir Antonio Pappano.

BBC Music magazine’s Editor, Oliver Condy, recommends tonight’s concert:

Here’s a chance to catch the composer at his more light-hearted, performed by a world-class bunch of musicians. Wagner’s greatest tunes coupled with a touching storyline will ensure the time will fly by.

Bryn Terfel has regrettably had to withdraw from the role of Hans Sachs due to a chest infection. We are pleased to be able to announce that the role will be taken by German bass-baritone Wolfgang Koch, who has been delivering outstanding performances as Sachs in the current staged production at the Royal Opera House. Koch has previously triumphed as Hans Sachs at the Vienna Staatsoper, and his highly praised Wagnerian roles also include Alberich (Das Rheingold, Siegfried) and Amfortas (Parsifal). All other casting remains as before.

If you are a ticket holder for this performance and you have any queries, please contact the Box Office on 0121 345 0600.

Concert performance sung in German with English surtitles. Please note surtitles may not be visible from every seat. Please check when booking.

One of a series of Wagner’s greatest operas, performed in the space of 6 months as part of Symphony Hall’s 21st Anniversary Festival.
Tristan und Isolde – Saturday 3 March
Good Friday: Gergiev conducts Parsifal – Friday 6 April
Wagner’s Ring: Die Walküre – Saturday 30 June

Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:

Click here for full review

...     “The principals were uniformly magnificent, headed by Wolfgang Koch as Hans Sachs: the indisposed Bryn Terfel was not missed here, Koch displaying all the intricacies of Sachs’ maverick yet wise character, and with a huge range of emotion in evidence.

Simon O’Neill was a sturdy, ringing Walther von Stolzing, rising superbly to Wagner’s cruel Prize Song challenge at the end of a long sing; John Tomlinson brought an endearing sense of bewilderment to Veit Pogner, wondering if he’s done the right thing in offering his daughter’s hand to the Prize Songwinner; that daughter, Eva, was sung and acted by Emma Bell with more personality than we sometimes see in the role, and her companion Magdalena was portrayed again far more roundly than usual by Heather Shipp.

And everyone’s hearts were captured by the David of Toby Spence, open-voiced and despatching his apprentice duties so appealingly.”

Review by Rohan Shotton, Bachtrack:

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…     “The soloists were largely superb in both voice and character, none more so than Sir John Tomlinson, whose Pogner exuded a glorious mix of power and grace: he was not the stale, daughter-selling fool he could be, but noble and commanding, and hinting at wistfulness in announcing the gift of his daughter. His presence filled the hall from the moment of his entry to his bow (greeted by the largest cheer of the evening), and he sang faultlessly with a magnificently full tone. His dialogue with Emma Bell as Eva early in Act II was touchingly gentle from both parties. Bell sang beautifully, mustering broad, lengthy lines with barely an effort. She switched from haughtiness with Sachs to radiant glow at the sight of Walther with fine command of both moods, and her vocal control was very impressive.”     …

Review by Geoff Read, SeenandHeard:

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…     “The star of Scene 2, and indeed the singer who throughout was the perfect fit for his role, was Toby Spence as David. Both his interaction with the other apprentices (twelve on this instance and constituting the front row of the centre choir stalls) and his instruction of Walther in the ways of the Nürnberg singing contest were exemplary. Seeing David later taking up his indentures from Sachs, made me wonder how long it might be before Spence himself plays the noble cobbler. His Der Meister Tone und Weisen was full of beautiful tone and melody, loud notes and soft, short ones and long, a contrasting range of colour, a diversity of flora and animal sounds; David knew the endless list of rules and Spence delivered them all.”     …

Comment by SCO Helen at the Guardian:

Link here

“Your reviewers have missed a treat – Birmingham Symphony Hall last night was the place to be! The concert performance of the Royal Opera House’s production of Die Meistersinger von Nurnburg was absolutely wonderful. Although Bryn Terfel was ill and could not take the role of Hans Sachs, he was admirably replaced by Wolfgang Koch, who played the role at the ROH. This meant that we were seeing the whole ROH cast, and they were very relaxed and natural with each other, acting far more than in usual in concert performances and thus giving us a very near approximation of the staged production. This was complemented by excellent surtitles, so that the dialogue was easy to follow. It was admirably and clearly sung in every case, with Sir John Tomlinson outstanding as Pogner and Toby Spence radiant as David.
The acoustics of Symphony Hall made the effect of the orchestral highlights and, particularly, of the chorus ‘Wach Auf’ in the final act absolutely overwhelming. And – a delight for a Guardian reader – Hans Sachs was reading yesterday’s copy of The Guardian onstage in Act 3 !

I should also have mentioned the magnificent orchestra under Antonio Pappano, who clearly has many Birmingham fans – he was greeted with cheers as soon as he walked onstage. Die Meistersinger is an incredible marathon for the orchestra and conductor – almost 5 hours of playing, with the final act lasting two hours without a break. They were superb throughout.”

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.”     …

Haydn 200 : The Creation

Thursday 3 December 2009 at 7.30pm

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

Andris Nelsons  conductor
Ailish Tynan  soprano
Toby Spence  tenor
Vuyani Mlinde  bass
CBSO Chorus  

Haydn: The Creation (sung in English) 109′

“When I think of God, I can’t help writing cheerful music,” admitted Joseph Haydn. So it’s no wonder that his great oratorio The Creation is one of the freshest, happiest and most unstuffy pieces of religious music ever written. Fizzy operatic arias, blockbuster choruses and a visionary musical depiction of the birth of the Universe itself – they’re all part of Haydn’s shamelessly tuneful version of the Book of Genesis. Adam and Eve even get their own love-duet! There’s no more enjoyable way to celebrate the 200th anniversary of Haydn’s death – and to hear the CBSO’s magnificent chorus in full, resplendent

Tonight’s concert is supported by the Tolkien Trust.

Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:

“…The result is irresistible in the right hands, and Nelsons’ were certainly those.

In addition to the sprightly orchestral playing (Peter Hill’s timpani looked modern but sounded so authentic) and vivid choral contributions, the continuo-playing of fortepianist Alistair Young and cellist Ulrich Heinen was alert and deliciously seasoned. …”