C.B.S.O 2018 - 19 Season by Christopher Morley
Major events announced in the recently-revealed CBSO 2018-19 season bring memories of previous principal conductors of the orchestra, not least Sir Simon Rattle.
He returns to the Symphony Hall podium built for him and the CBSO in 1991, conducting a fund-raising concert to celebrate his creation with Simon Halsey 25 years ago of the CBSO Youth and Children's Choruses. This concert on March 28, all artists giving their services free of charge, begins with a showcase of the youngsters' talents, and concludes with Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, featuring the renowned CBSO Chorus created 45 years ago by Rattle's predecessor, the great Louis Fremaux.
Another mighty choral work indelibly associated with Rattle is Mahler's Second Symphony, of which he made an award-winning EMI recording with the CBSO and its then still-fledgling Chorus. Next June, Mirga Grazinyte-Tyla, the latest incumbent of Sir Simon's role as CBSO music director, conducts two performances of this visionary piece.
But before then, on November 21 she returns to the orchestra after maternity leave to conduct the UK premiere of the CBSO's co-commission with the Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra of Faithful Journey -- a Mass for Poland, by Roxanna Panufnik, daughter of the composer Andrzej Panufnik, principal conductor of the CBSO after his escape from communist Poland during the 1950s.
And there are principal guest conductors, past and present, in the mix, too. Edward Gardner, always a popular returner here from his Bergen Philharmonic base, wraps up the season with concerts at the end of June next year. The first begins with Tippett's exuberant Concerto for Double String Orchestra (we remember Gardner's brilliant Tippett Second Symphony with the CBSO, and I fully expect at some point A Child of our Time from these forces), and continues with polymath Stephen Hough as soloist in Beethoven's intellectually searching Fourth Piano Concerto. Gardner's second concert brings Berlioz' vivid cantata The Damnation of Faust, featuring the CBSO's family of choruses.
Moving from a past principal guest conductor to the current incumbent whose appointment has just been announced, Kazuki Yamada, who recently toured with the orchestra to his native Japan (where they really know their western classical music), directs three concerts during the forthcoming season.
His first appearance comes early in October, with a programme of Ravel, Korngold (CBSO favourite Baiba Skride the soloist in this lovely Violin Concerto) and Bernstein. He returns in February for a Byronic programme cunningly bookended by Schumann's Manfred Overture and Tchaikovsky's disgracefully-neglected, utterly heart-wrenching Manfred Symphony, and early in June he presides over a programme of Mozart, Liszt and Schumann.
Another scion of the CBSO family is Alpesh Chauhan, once a cellist in the Birmingham Schools' Symphony Orchestra, and later in the CBSO Youth Orchestra, and now a conductor with his own orchestra in Parma, Italy. Appropriately, he conducts an Italian-themed concert early in the season, when there is even a link with that country with Rachmaninov's Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, Pavel Kolesnikov the piano soloist.
And mention of the CBSO Youth Orchestra draws attention to an absolutely unmissable concert from that remarkable body of youngsters, performing Britten's searing, ultimately consolatory Sinfonia da Requiem and Shostakovich's emotionally battering Leningrad Symphony, both wartime works, on November 4, a week ahead of Armistice Day, Michael Seal conducting.
Seal brings so many threads together: onetime second violin in the CBSO, recently-retired conductor of BSSO, and with a huge ongoing input into the CBSO Youth Orchestra and its hand-picked Academy. In the forthcoming season he conducts a Friday Night Classics programme of Harry Potter music, a Classic fM "Hall of Fame" concert, John Suchet narrating, an exhilarating juxtaposition of Sibelius' Third Symphony and Nielsen's Fifth, with a Movie Classics and Travels Through Time family concert to complete his busy season at Symphony Hall.
Some favourite conductors are returning to guest on the CBSO podium: Vassily Sinaisky (with Benjamin Grosvenor in Mozart's 21st Piano Concerto); Alexander Vedernikov (with Paul Watkins in Dvorak's Cello Concerto), plus Shostakovich's rarely-heard Sixth Symphony; Daniele Rustioni, much-admired here for his performances conducting Welsh National Opera; Karl-Heinz Steffens, joined by Christian Tetzlaff for the Sibelius Violin Concerto; the much-loved Jac van Steen with Steven Osborne in the Shostakovich Second Piano Concerto; Ilan Volkov in Mahler's Ninth Symphony; and, mouth-wateringly, John Wilson conducting Vaughan Williams' Fifth Symphony and Walton's Belshazzar's Feast, with the CBSO Chorus and Birmingham University Singers (I'm already slavering at the thought of the jazzmatazz march-past of the God of Silver).
But of course thoughts turn to Mirga, and this, her third season with the CBSO. Much of the programming is devoted to the music of composers from her native Baltic region, and a celebration of the various countries' creation a century ago and liberation from Soviet domination thirty years ago.
Reinforcing the concept of "Baltic Way"is the welcoming of Latvian violinist Gidon Kremer as artist-in-residence. After opening the new season with Bartok's Violin Concerto no.1, Omar Meir Wellber conducting, Kremer brings his Kremarata Baltica chamber orchestra to join him in an exploration of the music of the Polish-Russian composer Mieczyslaw Weinberg. Shostakovich rated this composer, still little-known in this country, very highly, and the concert on November 24, brings them both together under Mirga's baton, with Shostakovich's enigmatic last symphony, the Fifteenth, preceded by the UK premiere of Weinberg's 21st and final symphony.
A very special highlight of Mirga's Baltic exploration comes on February 16, when she conducts the UK premiere of The Sea, by her Lithuanian compatriot Mikalojus Konstantinas Ciurlionis. A couple of months ago Mirga introduced his music to Birmingham with a stunning account of his tone-poem In the Forest, performed at the Royal Gala opening concert of the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire, and accompanied by back-projections of the composer's own atmospheric paintings.
The Sea will also have a strong visual element, this time provided by Birmingham-born artist Norman Perryman, painting live as the performance unfolds. No-one who has visited Symphony Hall can fail to have been amazed by Perryman's kinetic evocations of Mahler's Second Symphony and Elgar's Dream of Gerontius in the foyer, plus his paintings elsewhere in the building of musical personalities associated with the venue.
Perryman's Mahler picture centres upon a tousle-haired young Simon Rattle. Which is where this article began.
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