A triumphant night for the CBSO’s ‘King Kazuki’

CBSO at Symphony Hall ★★★★★

I doubt if the forthcoming coronation of King Charles III will be greeted with such spontaneous joy or the wholehearted embrace which greeted Kazuki Yamada as he was crowned as the CBSO’s new Chief Conductor and Artistic Advisor. The packed Symphony Hall audience overflowed with warmth towards the vibrant, bouncing good humoured man whom they have held in great affection since he became Principal Guest Conductor in 2018. At the end of an exhilarating concert we were engulfed in hundreds of black and white “CBSO” embossed balloons released from the ceiling – general genial mayhem ensued. The madcap bacchanalian atmosphere was entirely fitting following a dynamic performance of Carl Orff’s choral blockbuster ‘Carmina Burana’.

This was a triumph for the talented choirs and their Chorus Master Julian Wilkins. Just as a sight they were impressive – I gave up counting at around the 200 mark – with the CBSO Chorus and University of Birmingham Voices arrayed in the Choir seats while the CBSO Youth Chorus and CBSO Children’s Chorus were placed antiphonally in the circle ledges. In full song they seduced the senses, from the overwhelming power of the opening and closing ‘O Fortuna’, their rumbustious chorus of ale-house imbibers and randy peasants to the sweetly-toned trebles innocently extolling the virtues of love. The Australian baritone Morgan Pearse’s rich and fruity voice was ideal for the frolics of the tavern and longings of lust and love, equally adept at fast-paced patter or languishing ennui in head-voice. Jennifer France used her sweet lyric soprano to heart-rending effect in the ‘Courtyard of Loves’ sequence, floating airily above the stave in her ecstatic ‘Dulcissime!’ submission to seduction. I’ve heard funnier roast swans than tenor Matthias Rexroth but Nikolaj Henriques’ bassoon accompaniment was irresistible. The CBSO orchestral forces packed an almighty wallop all the while cajoled and charmed by their new chief who still found time to dance along to the score and choreograph the audience applause. Long may King Kazuki reign.

This magnificent mayhem was prefaced by a stirring and sensitive performance of Andrzej Panufnik ‘Sinfonia Sacra’. A quartet of trumpets perched high above the platform opened the work, like a group of annunciating angels. The ensuing orchestral sections move through restive glacial strings, turbulence, anger and doubt to a final warm and noble conclusion with the trumpets returning triumphantly. Panufnik was, briefly, the CBSO’s chief conductor and the work was premiered by Louis Fremaux, another CBSO alumnus, who was then in charge at Monte Carlo where Yamada is now in place. And so we have come full circle, as Yamada noted in his opening address to the audience.

(Christopher Morley adds a footnote): And yet there is a new beginning, too. This triumphant concert signalled the departure of Stephen Maddock after 24 years as Chief Executive of the CBSO, moving across the city to become Principal of Royal Birmingham Conservatoire. During his time with the orchestra he has presided over the spectacular Principal Conductorships of Sakari Oramo, Andris Nelsons, Mirga Grazinyte-Tyla, and tonight he was present at the birth of Kazuki Yamada's exciting induction as Principal Conductor.

Stephen's successor at the CBSO was present at this emotional send-off, with so many beloved old faces present to say "Farewell and thank you," to Stephen and to welcome Emma Stenning who, hand-in-hand with Yamada will guide the CBSO into an even more glittering future.


Norman Stinchcombe

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