There are a number of fine companies around the world that I wish were within an evening's easy travelling time of Edinburgh. Many of them, such as Deutsche Oper or the Chicago Symphony are quite some way away. Others are a little closer, though would still require an overnight stay and lack conveniently situated friends or relations to stay with. The City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra falls into the latter category and their newly announced season has many tantalising items.
I was rather surprised to learn this will be Andris Nelsons' sixth season with the orchestra. How time flies. Since I will be unlikely to partake of much if any of the season, this will not be as detailed a roundup as the local bands get, just a few highlights I'm most jealous of.
First up, one of my favourite works, Mendelssohn's 2nd symphony, Hymn of Praise, gets a rare and well deserved outing under Edward Gardner as part of a complete cycle. This joyful choral work is notable for one of the finest trombone themes in music, indeed it opens with a trombone solo, and also has a claim to very little fame as the only piece of music I have arranged (very slightly) for public performance (or really at all).
Then there is the always exciting and engaging Pekka Kuusisto with a programme of Reich, Bach and Adams (the concert is given the rather predictable punning title of Bach to the Future, but I can't blame them for succumbing to that). I wish one of the orchestras up here would get him to come and do something similar.
As if one of my favourite soloists wasn't enough, they also have Benjamin Grosvenor on hand for Saint-Saëns' 2nd piano concerto. If you haven't heard Grosvenor's recent recording, you should. It comes together with Tchaikovsky's Pathetique under Andrew Litton. And for the hattrick, towards the end of the season there is Paul Lewis for the Emperor concerto. Lewis, Nelsons and the CBSO did an excellent job with Beethoven's 2nd at the Proms a few years ago. In the second half comes Strauss's Symphonia Domestica.
As regular readers will know, I am a fan of concert opera and wish we got more of it up here. In fairness we have had two this season: Cosi from the SCO and a Tristan in instalments from the man himself at the BBC (you can listen to the latter on Radio 3 this week). Next year we have just Beatrice et Benedict from the SCO; the CBSO alone are providing double that. Nelsons brings Rosenkavalier with a cast that includes Soile Isokoski as the Marschallin, then at the end of the season Gardner conducts Bluebeard's Castle. (I'm not bitter, honest).
I feel Haydn is undervalued as a symphonist, so it's nice to see a couple on the menu, even if they are among the more obvious choices. I'd be interested to hear what Nelsons does with them, though I've recently been extremely impressed with Ticciati's efforts.
Soprano Erin Wall has wowed festival audiences up here in recent years, so the prospect of her performing Strauss's Four Last Songs is a tempting one indeed, especially when it comes with Don Juan and a good chunk of Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet (again with Nelsons). The final concert that particularly catches my eye is Gardner's Elgar 1st symphony, the more so as it comes with Steven Osborne playing Mozart's 24th concerto.
I'll also mention that, particular with comparison to some offerings elsewhere, it feels very nicely curated (though you don't get the full sense of that from this brief selection). I realise this makes for quite a long post given I started by saying just a few highlights.... All in all, Birmingham is very lucky.
Re. the Rosenkavalier - It would be interesting to see how Isokoski is in the role in concert. Saw her perform it at ROH where she sang beautifully but as a whole her performance left me emotionally cold.
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