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Andris Nelsons

Photo: Adrian Burrows

As the 2009/10 CBSO season gets underway, Steve Beauchampé selects some highlights (all performances are at Symphony Hall unless otherwise stated).

Andris Nelsons’ second season as Music Director of the CBSO gets off to a pulsating start this week as the orchestra tackles the most famous of all symphonies, Beethoven’s Fifth (The Perfect Fifth, Wednesday, 7:30pm; Thursday, 2:15pm). After an acclaimed inaugural twelve months, Nelsons has raised the bar as far as the expectations of Birmingham audiences are concerned, and the orchestra’s interpretation of this majestic work (along with that of Brahms’ dreamy Piano Concerto No. 2, which accompanies it) should make for a brace of memorable performances.

There’ll also be two performances by Russian conductor Valery Giegiev and the legendary Mariinsky Theatre, who join forces with the CBSO for Prokofiev’s Cantata for the Twentieth Anniversery of the October Revolution and Berlioz’s Requiem (Wednesday October 14th; Thursday October 15th, both 7:30pm). An unmissable occasion, (featuring two orchestras and choruses on stage together!) under the direction of a conductor The Times described as being “so highly charged you could run the National Grid from a cable attached to his baton”.

November kicks off with the CBSO Youth Orchestra tackling another Prokofiev work (Symphony No. 5 ; Sunday November 1st, 7:00pm) and a world premiere of a piece written specifically for the CBSO YO from rising young composer Luke Bedford. Danish maestro Thomas Søndergård conducts.

With Nelsons away for most of October and November, there’s a raft of guest conductors to offer new interpretations of old favourites. Worth serious consideration is Ilan Volkov’s contribution Jansen plays Sibelius (Saturday, November 7th, 7:00pm), featuring the hugely talented Janine Jansen playing Sibelius’s Violin Concerto, alongside Brahms’ Symphony No.2. Later, Corsican-born Jean Christophe Spinosi takes charge for an evening of Hayden and Rossini (Town Hall, November 18th, 7:30pm). The month ends with Nelsons back at the helm for Bruckner’s stirring Symphony No 3 (Wednesday November 25th, 7:30pm).

More Hayden (it’s the 200th anniversary of his death) on Thursday December 3rd (7:30pm) as his shamelessly tuneful version of the Book of Genesis, the 109-minute Creation, is sung in English by the CBSO Chorus and guest soprano Ailish Tynan.

The orchestra’s traditional Christmas and New Year programme is followed by the start of a decade-long CBSO retrospectiv;. Elgar’s Enigma (Wednesday January 29th, 7:30pm, Saturday January 23rd, 7pm) launches CBSO 2020, whereby the music from each decade of the CBSO’s existence will be chronologically celebrated in the run-up to its’ centenary.

Richard Strauss’ vast, panoramic Alpine Symphony features alongside two Mozart pieces (Symphony No. 33 and Piano Concerto No. 24, K491) on Thursday, January 28th and Tuesday, February 2nd (both 7:30pm). Rarely played, Strauss’ epic is a particular favourite of Nelsons and its’ breathtaking power should bring out the passion and drama in him and his charges.

The dual pianos of twins Katia and Marielle Labèque are in town for A Soireé with the Labéques (Thursday, February 18th, 7:30pm) followed by more CBSO YO (Sunday, February 21st, 7pm), where William Walton’s First Symphony should be the highlight.

The shows on Saturday March 6th and Sunday, March 7th (both 7pm) will definately be highlights. Rattle’s Bach features the former CBSO Music Director conducting the St. Matthew Passion (sung in German with English surtitles), Bach’s retelling of the events of Holy Week. Weighing in at 131 minutes it’s a colossal piece. In the right hands it’s an overwhelming experience, under Sir Simon it certainly will be.

Outstanding German violinest Frank Peter Zimmermann performs Bartok’s Violin Concerto No. 2 (Tuesday, April 27th, 7:30pm), though Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 4 may be the evening’s highlight (especially from an show entitled Nelsons conducts Shostakovich). An ambitious and at times terrifyiing piece, the composer withdrew the work prior to its first public outing in fear of his life after a performance of his Lady MacBeth had greatly annoyed Josef Stalin. Decades later Symphony No. 4 resurfaced and is now regarded as a masterpiece. Expect an evening of full-on performances from all concerned.

South African trumpeter Hugh Masekela showcases songs and instrumentals from his homeland (Masekela and the CBSO, Friday, May 7th) before Nelson’s love of opera in general and Richard Wagner in particular features in the CBSO’s interpretation of Lohengrin (sung in German with English subtitles), arguably the ultimate romantic opera (Saturday, June 12th, 4:30pm, though at nearly 4 hours and with 20 minute interval following Act 1 and a 90-minute dinner interval after Act 2, the performance will not conclude until around 10:15pm).

Full details of all of the CBSO’s 2009/10 season, along with ticket prices and booking information, can be found on the CBSO website: or by telephoning the Town Hall/Symphony Hall box office on 0121-780 3333.



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