It’s easy to predict what will be the biggest musical event here in the West Midlands in 2015. That’s going to be the long-awaited announcement of who has been chosen to follow Andris Nelsons as principal conductor and music director of the CBSO.
The management has kept its cards very close to its chest as it scours the world for a talent which will nurture the flame tended and quickened so spectacularly by Louis Fremaux, Simon Rattle, Sakari Oramo and Andris himself.
Meanwhile, however, there is still much to look forward to from Andris himself, not least the Parsifal this already great Wagner conductor will bring to Symphony Hall on May 17.
This five-hour blockbuster features the CBSO Chorus and Youth Chorus, and among the cast of principals is James Rutherford as the terminally suffering Amfortas and Mihoko Fujimura as the tormented, Mary Magdalene-like Kundry.
Before then, however, here are just a couple of exciting programmes to be given under the baton we will miss so much:
War and Revolution at Symphony Hall on Sunday, February 15
During the first half Nelsons explores some of the patriotic, fund-raising works Elgar composed during the First World War (of which we are currently so much aware), following them with Shostakovich’s Symphony no.11, marking the gruesome suppression of a revolutionary uprising in St Petersburg in January 1905.
The last time I heard the CBSO perform this gripping work was with the Russian conductor Alexander Anissimov on the podium, and the result was authentically chilling. It will be revealing to hear how Nelsons, a conductor born when his Latvian birthplace was still under the resulting Soviet yoke, will approach it.
And little more than a week later Nelsons conducts the greatest symphony of the 20th century, Mahler’s Sixth Symphony (February 26 and 28), so taut, so classically-structured, so controlled in its immense emotional content, so resourceful in its orchestration.
This work was one of huge influence, not least on Berg’s Three Pieces for Orchestra, which precede it on February 26, the Mahler alone two days later.
We can also enjoy Mahler’s First Symphony (February 22) delivered by the amazing CBSO Youth Orchestra.
The programme begins with Lutoslawski’s exploratory Fourth Symphony, and continues with Prokofiev’s angry-young-man brilliant Piano Concerto no.1, Denis Kozhukhin the soloist.
Edward Gardner conducts, as the end of his final season as CBSO principal guest conductor approaches. And what a rewarding tenure this has been, not least with his exploration of Birmingham’s own Mendelssohn, performances of all five symphonies captured on the Chandos CD label.
Other Gardner-led concerts bring a programme pairing Berlioz and Janacek (Janacek's Glagolitic Mass on March 5, featuring the CBSO Chorus and city organist Thomas Trotter, an all-Mendelssohn affair including the Midsummer Night’s Dream music featuring the CBSO Youth Chorus on April 16 and 18, and an all-English programme with Elgar and Frank Bridge followed by Tippett’s Second Symphony on April 23.
Famously, that symphony broke down during its premiere by the BBC Symphony Orchestra under Sir Adrian Boult.
Tippett all but disappeared from the schedules following his death late last century, and it is heartening to see a revival of interest in his fascinating music, not least the fact that Birmingham Opera Company has announced a production of his opera The Ice Break for later this year.
But back to Wagner. Following the immense success of its annually-accumulated Ring cycle (of which we are tempted with the promise of a week-long complete presentation in the future), Opera North brings the composer’s uncharacteristically concise Flying Dutchman to Symphony Hall on July 5. This, along with the CBSO Parsifal, will probably be the unmissable event of the year.
But before then we have an evening of premieres at the end of January.
As though the UK premiere of his St Luke Passion by the CBSO last month weren’t enough, the composer James MacMillan will hear another of his major works in its first hearing when Jeffrey Skidmore’s Ex Cathedra gives the first performance of Seven Angels in its Birmingham Town Hall concert New Jerusalem on January 31.
Based on the Last Judgment, the oratorio, as the composer suggests, “takes up where Elgar’s The Kingdom leaves off”.
As though one premiere by one of our major and approachable composers wouldn’t do, Ex Cathedra also include in this Birmingham Town Hall programme Since we Parted by Roxanna Panufnik, daughter of Andrzej Panufnik, principal conductor of the CBSO for too short a time during the 1950s.
And just up the road from the Town Hall, the newly-refurbished CBSO Centre is the venue for Birmingham Contemporary Music Group’s UK Firsts programme on January 31, almost every one of the performances here a world or UK premiere, and some of them fruits of BCMG’s amazingly fertile and fecund Sound Investment commissioning scheme.
Visit www.thsh.co.uk and www.cbso.co.uk for more details