Kazuki Yamada and the CBSO

Christopher Morley

As a 24-year-old student a young Japanese music student based in Germany decided to take himself over to London for a few days' sight-seeing.
"I arrived at the Royal Albert Hall, this magnificent building, and I was just gripped! I saw there was a BBC Henry Wood Promenade Concert happening there that evening, so I queued for hours and finally got into the arena, second row from the front, and all for five pounds!
"It was then that I realised my ambition was to conduct a Prom, and now it's about to happen! What an amazing thrill! Wow!"
This is Kazuki Yamada, incoming Principal Conductor of the CBSO in succession to Mirga Grazinyte-Tyla, who is about to take the podium in front of the orchestra for the BBC Prom on Monday July 25.
"It's like a dream come true," he tells me during a post-concert reception in Symphony Hall's welcoming new Jane How room. He has just conducted the CBSO in a magnificent, evocative account of Mendelssohn's Scottish Symphony, preceded by a balletic Prokofiev "Classical" Symphony and a wonderful Bruch G minor Violin Concerto from Daishin Kashimoto, and the atmosphere in this gathering is so excited that I can barely make out his answers to my interview on my little Dictaphone.
There is such a buzz about Kazuki's appointment, coming after several magical concerts from him and the CBSO. Perhaps the most significant of those was a performance of Mendelssohn's Elijah a few years ago (2019), bringing this magnificent oratorio back to the city in which the composer had premiered it in 1846.
Poignantly, a week earlier Kazuki had taken the CBSO Chorus for a performance of Elijah in Monaco, with the Monte Carlo Orchestra, of which he remains Principal Conductor until 2024. He will bring the Chorus back to Monaco next year, for a performance of Carl Orff's Carmina Burana. CBSO veterans will not have been unaware of the charming link with the CBSO's great Principal Conductor half a century ago, Louis Fremaux, whom Prince Rainer had bought and brought out of the French Foreign Legion to conduct his Monte Carlo Orchestra and Opera for him.
Kazuki tells me how his relationship with the CBSO developed.
"I conducted the orchestra in 2012 and 2014, each time one rehearsal, one concert! Then in 2016 I had the joy of welcoming them to Japan, where we did a two-week tour. We developed a beautifully close relationship!"
The CBSO appointed him Principal Guest Conductor in October 2018.
He also tells me about the character of the different orchestras he has worked with extensively, in Japan, in Germany, and here in England "Here in England the players concentrate so hard, as there are so few rehearsals!".
The programme for Kazuki's inaugural season as CBSO Principal Conductor (he actually takes up his appointment next April) is already tempting with goodies, including Elgar's First Symphony, Rachmaninov's Second Symphony, and Holst's The Planets – "which I have conducted once before!", Kazuki enthuses proudly.
Following on from the Elgar and the Holst, Kazuki is looking forward to the challenge of exploring more English music, "Little by little," as he smiles.
He is also keen to reforge the CBSO's links with Royal Birmingham Conservatoire. Next day after this interview he was off to Eastside to take a conducting class at the RBC.
Kazuki's Prom programme with the CBSO at the Royal Albert Hall next Monday includes Erhel Smyth's Concerto for Violin and Horn, concluding with the Rachmaninov Second Symphony.
He launches the CBSO's 1922-23 season on September 20 with a programme including the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto (soloist Nicola Benedetti) and the "New World" Symphony by Dvorak – both composers who loved visiting Birmingham.

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