The CBSO will stage a complete cycle of Beethoven symphonies for the first time in many years. But there's also much more on offer in their mouth-watering 2012-13 season, reports Christopher Morley.
Anniversary pegs upon which to hang a celebration of the work of a composer are all well and good, but how refreshing it is to see important organisations showcasing someone even when there’s no anniversary in sight.
In this case it is Beethoven, who scarcely needs any excuse, whose music plays a major part in the CBSO’s programming (as well as that of Symphony Hall Town Hall’s International Concert Season) during 2012-13; no hint of a major anniversary there, though one wonders what’s up the sleeve for 2020, the composer’s 250th birthday.
Preceding what must be one of the most exciting CBSO seasons ever, Andris Nelsons conducts Beethoven’s Symphony no.9, the CBSO Chorus adding its remarkable expertise, at Symphony Hall on August 23, prior to taking the masterpiece to the Lucerne Festival, and, most significantly, to the composer’s Bonn birthplace as the opening offering of that city’s BeethovenFest early in September.
Returning to Birmingham, the same forces launch the season proper with Mahler’s ‘Resurrection’ Symphony, probably the CBSO’s signature work from Simon Rattle onwards through Sakari Oramo and now on to Andris Nelsons, on September 15. The concert beginning in downbeat mood with the elegiac ‘Metamorphosen’ by Richard Strauss.
Beethoven is one thread running through the 2012-13 season, with the CBSO giving a complete cycle of the symphonies for the first time in many years (and Nelsons’ first), culminating in repeat performances of the ‘Choral’ Symphony on June 27 and 29.
Along the way we will also hear the Mass in C (pity there’s no room for the ‘Missa Solemnis’ as well), the tempestuous “Ah, Perfido!” scena and aria, Carolyn Sampson (fondly remembered from her Ex Cathedra days ) the soloist, the Triple Concerto, the two exquisite Violin Romances from concertmaster Laurence Jackson, and chamber music from CBSO Players CentreStage at the CBSO Centre.
Ex Cathedra itself appears on February 17 (a rare Sunday subscription concert for the CBSO), when Jeffrey Skidmore conducts an all-French programme, ending with the ineffable Faure Requiem, which is a part of a mini PoulencFest.
Here we have the wartime ‘Figure Humaine’ and the gripping Organ Concerto (David Briggs the soloist), with an earlier CBSO concert bringing Poulenc’s ‘Suite Francaise’ and his fascinating Concerto for Two Pianos, following on from Mozart’s equally exhilarating Double Concerto. The Labeque Sisters are the soloists, and the versatile and genial Nicholas McGegan conducts (January 30).
There is a major strand of Benjamin Britten when the season hits 2013, marking the centenary of the composer’s birth -- it brings you up with a jolt just to realise that this creator of music which still sounds so fresh and young was born so long ago.
Principal Guest Conductor Edward Gardner conducts the CBSO and various of its Choruses in the life-enhancing yet rarely-heard ‘Spring Symphony’ on January 17 and 19, Elgar’s ‘Sea Pictures’ and ‘The Sea’ by Britten’s teacher Frank Bridge introducing the evening.
Steven Osborne is soloist in Britten’s turbulent Piano Concerto, Ilan Volkov conducting, on February 6, in a programme which itself nods to Beethoven with the world premiere of the orchestral version of John Oswald’s ‘B9 part1’, a 15-minute remix of Beethoven’s first five symphonies. March 6 brings masterly tenor Ian Bostridge in Britten’s vibrant Rimbaud song-cycle ‘Les Illuminations’, followed by the rarely-heard ‘Prelude and Fugue’ for multiple solos strings; Michael Seal’s programme is framed by Elgar, the fizzing ‘In the South’ Overture and the ‘Enigma’ Variations (about the solution of which I have my own theory, which appeared in these pages many years ago).
Britten’s Rossini-derived ‘Soirees Musicales’ forms part of a “British Classics” concert on April 24, with John Wilson presiding, the second of two visits during the season by this much-loved conductor (it’s preceded by a “Hollywood’s Leading Ladies” evening on April 19, with the incomparable Broadway diva Kim Criswell).
And the Britten biggie comes on May 28, when Andris Nelsons, the CBSO and CBSO Choruses replicate the performance of the composer’s iconic ‘War Requiem’ which they are shortly to give on May 30 this year in Coventry Cathedral. Andris’ wife Kristine Opolais is among the international soloists in this account which will later be taken on tour.
Away from recurring composer-themes, there are also too many other mouthwatering offerings to be mentioned individually, but here follow just a few of the highlights that stand out.
Walter Weller, the veteran conductor who’s been such a favourite with the CBSO and its audiences since the 1980s (his Chandos recordings from that period of the complete Beethoven symphonies and piano concertos -- with soloist John Lill -- are still greatly admired) returns at the end of September with a programme culminating in Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony. More Tchaikovsky comes at the end of October, when the CBSO Youth Orchestra ends its autumn half-term course with a complete ‘Nutcracker’, joined by the CBSO Youth Chorus and conducted by former Bolshoi music director Alexander Vedernikov.
A few days later Vedernikov conducts Rachmaninov’s early Symphony no.1 (with its ‘Panorama’ quote for us golden oldies), preceded by the magisterial Elisabeth Leonskaya as soloist in the Grieg piano concerto.
The CBSO continues its year-by-year centenary retrospective building towards its own centenary by looking back at 1912 and two mammoth works premiered in that year, Schoenberg’s ‘Five Pieces for Orchestra’ and Mahler’s Symphony no.7 (a symphony the CBSO and Simon Rattle did so much to help rehabilitate). The urbane Jac van Steen conducts this November 14 concert.
Another huge symphony comes early in December, when Andris Nelsons conducts Bruckner’s monumental Eighth (his interpretation of the composer’s Wagnerian Third Symphony still lives in the memory, preserved for all time as the cover disc on a recent issue of the BBC Music Magazine).
The evening ends with a late-night bonus from Birmingham Contemporary Music Group joined by soprano Claire Booth for Schoenberg’s twitchy ‘Pierrot Lunaire’.
Early in February 2013 the CBSO looks back to 1913 with a performance of Debussy’s enigmatic score for the Ballets Russes ‘Jeux’. The Australian conductor Simone Young makes her CBSO debut here.
Later in February a well-loved figure returns to the podium, Andrew Litton conducting Elgar’s rubicund ‘Falstaff’ and joined by the thoughtful Freddy Kempf in Prokofiev’s finger-crunching Piano Concerto no.2, Respighi’s extravagant ‘Pines of Rome’ completing the programme.
Litton partners a different pianist a few days later, when he and Jean-Efflam Bavouzet are joined by the CBSO Youth Orchestra in Ravel’s Concerto for the Left Hand.
This brooding, haunting piece is followed by Mahler’s darkness-to-light Fifth Symphony, and more Mahler follows almost immediately when the CBSO itself is conducted by Andres Orozco-Estrada in the celestial Fourth Symphony. Klara Ek is the soprano soloist, also delivering a sequence of Mozart arias.
There are still more great pianists up the CBSO’s sleeve as the season nears its end: Cedric Tiberghien is soloist in the world’s greatest piano concerto (Brahms 2), Edward Gardner conducting, in mid-April, and early in May Mitsuko Uchida plays Mozart’s heart-easing Piano Concerto no.17, with its finale setting the song of the composer’s pet starling. The concert is completed with Andris Nelsons conducting works by Webern, Messiaen and Scriabin.
And Andris conducts what just has to be the headline event of the entire season on March 16. Having dropped our jaws with ‘Lohengrin’ and ‘Tristan und Isolde’, his Wagner odyssey with the CBSO now moves on to the tightly-constructed and dramatic ‘Flying Dutchman’, with the commanding James Rutherford in the title role.
I just wonder if this Wagner exploration might be moving towards something truly spectacular to mark the CBSO’s 2020 centenary?
I’d be happy to throw my guess into the ring.
* Bookings for the CBSO’s 2012-13 season will open very shortly. Box office: 0121 780 3333