whats on

Could CBSO get its first female musical director?

A hastily arranged concert has prompted rumours a replacement to Andris Nelsons is imminent

Mirga Grazinyte-Tyla

Has the CBSO found a new principal conductor? Christopher Morley says a hastily arranged concert has prompted rumours a replacement to Andris Nelsons is imminent.


The hottest orchestral date in Birmingham during the second half of the current concert season just has to be January 10 at Symphony Hall, when the CBSO give a hastily-arranged concert featuring the young Lithuanian conductor Mirga Grazinyte-Tyla, now a strong tip for the currently vacant position of principal conductor and music director to the orchestra.

Her debut in Birmingham (itself a surprise concert at the July tail-end of last season) had a sensational reception.

She had begun with a quirky suite of excerpts drawn from Tchaikovsky’s Sleeping Beauty, Samuel Barber’s Knoxville 1915 somehow interleaved, and had concluded with an amazing Beethoven Seventh Symphony. Even the most hard-boiled players, still looking for a successor on the podium to Simon Rattle, Sakari Oramo and Andris Nelsons, were mightily impressed.

As a result of the ensuing buzz, this Sunday matinee on January 10 (3pm) has been set up, and of course the jungle drums are going berserk. Though there are other conductors clearly still in the frame, some with CBSO concerts to come, might Mirga, currently assistant conductor at Gustavo Dudamel’s Los Angeles Philharmonic, be the new Messiah?

It’s a shrewdly-chosen programme, calculated to put the microscope on a variety of conducting skills. We begin with Debussy’s Prelude a l’Apres-midi d’un Faune, continue with the Schumann Piano Concerto (soloist Beatrice Rana), and conclude with Sibelius’ Lemminkainen Suite - possibly sealing a hat-trick of CBSO principal conductors from the Baltic.

But, stop the presses, another concert has hurriedly been added to the orchestra’s schedule, featuring the return of another conductor who has recently graced the CBSO podium for the first time.

This time it’s Omer Meir Wellber, whose programme on Bonfire Night began with a well-balanced, gently cascading Prelude to Wagner’s Lohengrin Act One, a generally empathetic accompaniment to audience favourite Baiba Skride in Schumann’s Violin Concerto, and a poundingly purposeful Brahms First Symphony.

His programme on January 16 consists of Schubert’s Third Symphony and the Sixth of Shostakovich, two works so very different in so many respects. This hour-long, interval-less concert at Symphony Hall begins at 7pm, and admission is restricted to invited supporters, plus bookers of that day’s CBSO matinee concert conducted by Andrew Gourlay.

Opera-goers will remember Gourlay for his conducting of the CBSO in Birmingham Opera Company’s award-winning presentation of Graham Vick’s production of Tippett’s The Ice Break. Plots thickening?

Symphony Hall is also the venue for another highly important concert,(March 6, 3pm), this time rightly celebrating past achievement instead of looking forward to whatever the future might bring. 2016 marks the 75th birthday of the Birmingham Philharmonic Orchestra, founded in one of the city’s southern suburbs to raise money for war charities, and now acclaimed as one of the country’s top amateur ensembles.

Under its onetime conductor Kenneth Page, the BPO tucked a complete cycle of all the Mahler symphonies under its belt long before the CBSO ever did, including a visit to the Royal Albert Hall in 1981 to perform the Eighth (there was no professional location in Birmingham at that time capable of hosting it).

Now for its 75th anniversary the BPO returns to this Symphony of a Thousand, joined by the City of Birmingham Choir, the University of Birmingham Chorus, the Choir of St Peter’s Collegiate Church Wolverhampton and a glittering octet of soloists. The conductor is the popular Michael Lloyd, former staff conductor at ENO, recent Music Director of the West End’s Sound of Music, and a regular guest with opera and ballet companies in Europe and further afield.

More Mahler can be heard at Symphony Hall on March 12, when Vasily Petrenko brings his Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra for the Fifth Symphony. The highly-generous evening also includes Grieg’s Lyric Suite and Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto no.2. Simon Trpceski, such a favourite with Birmingham audiences, is the soloist.

Another much-loved pianist, Sir Andras Schiff, presides over an all-Mendelssohn programme from the Chamber Orchestra of Europe on May 23. Both the piano concertos are included during this evening at Symphony Hall, but a trick has surely been missed here: why on earth isn’t this concert being given across Centenary Square in Birmingham Town Hall, where Mendelssohn himself premiered his Triennial Festival-commissioned Second Concerto in 1837?

Moving out of Birmingham, the charming 18th-century chapel which is Worcester’s Huntingdon Hall hosts a mouthwatering all-English programme from the Stratford-based Orchestra of the Swan on April 6: Vaughan Williams’ Dives and Lazarus, Finzi’s Clarinet Concerto with Emma Johnson, Ireland’s Downland Suite and Britten’s Simple Symphony. David Curtis conducts.

Finally a whizz back to Symphony Hall for the CBSO’s “Seven Ages of Shakespeare” on June 1. Nicholas McGegan guides the band and Chorus through a headily eclectic programme, Kiss Me, Kate rubbing shoulders with Purcell’s Fairy Queen, brushing against Nicolai, Sullivan, Arne, Vaughan Williams and Berlioz along the way. This lean and slipper’d pantaloon will be there.

View full mobile page