Pianists feature hugely during the early weeks of the 2014/15 Birmingham International Concert Season at Town Hall and Symphony Hall.
Things kick off on October 1 with a recital by one of the keyboard’s hottest properties, the young Russian pianist Daniil Trifonov, who has had so much praise lavished upon him by many of his luminary peers. His programme will include Bach, Beethoven and Liszt.
Just a few days later comes a welcome return visit from the Australian Chamber Orchestra, directed from the violin by the charismatic Richard Tognetti, and joined by Steven Osborne for Mozart’s valedictory Piano Concerto no.27. But there’s more pianistic riches towards the end of the month, when Marc-Andre Hamelin brings a generously varied recital which has at its centre his own Variations on a Theme of Paganini.
The Russians take over at the end of October, beginning with a visit from the renowned St Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra, when the legendary Yuri Temirkanov conducts Tchaikovsky’s Pathetique Symphony along with the same composer’s Violin Concerto, the sensational Leticia Moreno the soloist.
Also from St Petersburg, ensembles from that city’s wonderful Mariinsky Theatre take time off from the Ring cycle they’re bringing to Birmingham Hippodrome early in November to give a couple of enthralling concerts in Birmingham Town Hall.
The Mariinsky Stradivarius Ensemble, every member playing on a superlative instrument, is conducted by the matchless Valery Gergiev in Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings, the heartbreaking Metamorphosen by Richard Strauss, and, most interestingly of all, Elgar’s Introduction and Allegro, when Russia visits the Malverns and the Welsh hillsides.
They are followed next day by the Mariinsky Chorus, singing the timelessly evocative Rachmaninov Vespers (the “All-Night Vigil”) under the direction of Andrei Petrenko.
Later in November comes a very special Sunday afternoon recital when one of our greatest tenors (Mark Padmore) and one of our greatest pianists (Paul Lewis) join for the world’s greatest song-cycle, Schubert’s Winterreise, at Birmingham Town Hall, built only a few years after that masterpiece was composed.
Pianists return in the middle of the season, Igor Levit delivering a fascinating programme at Birmingham Town Hall of Bach, Beethoven and Rachmaninov, with at its heart the Peter Grimes Fantasy by Ronald Stevenson. And one of our most exciting young pianists, Benjamin Grosvenor, brings to the Town Hall an absolutely enthralling menu of Rameau, Bach, Cesar Franck (the unmissable Prelude, Chorale et Fugue), Chopin and Granados.
Into the new year, the Academy of Ancient Music is conducted by Christopher Hogwood in a wonderful all-Mozart programme. Well, not quite all-Mozart, because pianist Robert Levin will be improvising before performing the 24th and 25th Piano Concertos, topped and tailed by the Marriage of Figaro Overture and the Haffner Symphony.
Vivaldi fans will relish an entire evening in the middle of February devoted to that composer from Europa Galante at Birmingham Town Hall, ending of course with the Four Seasons.
Soon afterwards comes a jaw-dropping recital from Alexander Panfilov, winner of the 2013 Brant International Piano Competition held at Symphony Hall, and laying before his audience Debussy’s Estampes, the searching Schumann Etudes Symphoniques, Ravel’s technically awesome Gaspard de la Nuit and Stravinsky’s solo transcription of his own colourful Petrushka.
From the intimacy of solo piano recitals to opera, so comfortably accommodated on both stages at Town Hall and Symphony Hall. Town Hall will be the venue for Handel’s Hercules, Harry Bicket conducting the English Concert and a cast starring Alice Coote and James Gilchrist.
And at Symphony Hall the Leeds-based Opera North will bring its latest Wagnerian triumph down to Birmingham, The Flying Dutchman following upon the heels of its wonderful Ring cycle which we have relished year by year.
Orchestrally we can look forward to the first-ever visit to Birmingham by the renowned Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra, Jaap van Sweden conducting Dvorak’s New World Symphony and collaborating with soloist Ning Feng in Beethoven’s Violin Concerto. Nicola Benedetti, a violinist perhaps better known to us, is soloist in Mozart’s A major Violin Concerto when Shropshire-born Ben Gernon, alumnus of the CBSO Youth Orchestra, conducts the Camerata Salzburg in a highly-attractive programme of Mozart, Bruckner and Schoenberg. And then there’s a concert featuring Symphony Hall’s signature-tune, Mahler’s Symphony no.2, the Resurrection, ex-BBC Symphony Orchestra chief conductor Jiri Belohlavek bringing his Czech Philharmonic Orchestra, a band with such an awesome track-record in that composer, to join the CBSO Chorus, who themselves have no mean history in this particular work.
Equally fascinating is a concert in which Barbara Hannigan is both soprano soloist and conductor of the Britten Sinfonia in a programme of Mozart, Stravinsky and Haydn. Unmissable is a word I don’t like, but I think it’s justified on this occasion.
So many more goodies, including a kaleidoscopic recital from the mercurial pianist Helene Grimaud, a visit from the elegant Dresden Philharmonic Orchestra, and Peter Phillips’ Tallis Scholars combining choral music of the high renaissance with Arvo Part.
But this is the best: in August 2015 Sir Mark Elder brings the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain to Symphony Hall for a performance of Mahler’s Sixth Symphony, and it won’t get any better than that. I wonder which youngster will be chosen to wield the finale’s sledgehammer?
* For further details visit www.thsh.co.uk