City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra unveils 2011/12 season

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra unveils 2011/12 season

The City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra usually manages to put on varied and interesting programmes for each season. However, the 2011/12 season, just announced, contains so many exciting events that one scarcely knows where to begin.

So, in the words of the song “let’s start at the very beginning; a very good place to start.” CBSO Music Director, Andris Nelsons, opens the season with a key work in the choral repertoire, Verdi’s Requiem (22 and 24 September) in which the CBSO Chorus also will take part. This isn’t the only choral masterpiece that will be given under Nelsons’ baton. In April 2012 he conducts Elgar’s Dream of Gerontius (12 April). I’ve heard Sarah Connolly sing The Angel several times and am looking forward to hearing her in the role again. Equally exciting is the prospect of the fine young British tenor, Toby Spence, as Gerontius.  Completing a triptych of key choral works, Nelsons takes the CBSO and their chorus to Coventry Cathedral to perform Britten’s War Requiem, fifty years to the day since its première in the cathedral. Among the soloists will be Mark Padmore and Thomas Quastoff (30 May)

Nelsons will also be conducting opera. Following his acclaimed performance of Wagner’s Lohengrin a couple of years ago, he’ll lead a concert performance of Tristan und Isolde (3 March). Torsten Kerl and Lioba Braun sing the roles of the two lovers. Tristan is one of the most demanding tenor roles and just four nights later Nelsons is on the podium again with one of the world’s leading tenors, who has yet to essay the role of Tristan, I think, but will surely do so one day. Jonas Kaufmann is one of the most exciting voices currently before the public and the opportunity to hear him sing songs by Mahler and Richard Strauss is not to be missed (7 March)

Nelsons teams up with another leading singer to celebrate the twenty-first anniversary of the opening of Symphony Hall (12 & 13 June). Bryn Terfel will be on hand to sing in a selection of operatic arias and choruses. The programme also offers Elgar’s The Music Makers, a work written for Birmingham a century earlier, and the Second Suite from Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloé, which was heard in the very first Symphony Hall concert in 1991.

Among symphonies that Nelsons will be conducting are Bruckner’s Seventh (7 & 10 December), Shostakovich’s Seventh, the ‘Leningrad’ (10 & 12 November) and Tenth (7 & 9 June).

A thread which will run through CBSO programmes for the next few years starts in this season. In 2020 the orchestra will celebrate its centenary. In the years leading up to that the orchestra will feature works composed one hundred years previously. The concept has echoes of Sir Simon Rattle’s decade-long  ‘Towards the Millennium’ festival in the 1990s. This autumn there’ll be some works composed in 1911 including Elgar’s Second Symphony under Vassily Sinaisky – a fine Russian advocate for English music (20 & 22 October). The noted American conductor Robert Spano includes two Nordic masterpieces, Sibelius’ Fourth Symphony and the Third by Nielsen (1 December). With the turn of the year the focus shifts to 1912 and contributions from the CBSO’s recently-appointed Principal Guest Conductor, Edward Gardner. He offers Debussy’s Images and Bartók’s Four Orchestral Pieces (9 February) and a few nights later he leads what is, if anything, an even more enticing programme that couples Szymanowski’s wonderful Stabat Mater and that great favourite, The Planets, by Holst (15 & 18 February). During the remaining months of the season there’ll be further 1912-related programmes directed by Oliver Knussen (3 May) and Andrew Litton (24 May).

There’s just time to mention two more events. Sir Mark Elder and the Hallé make a guest appearance (14 March) and it will be a great opportunity to hear this fine partnership that has established such a strong reputation for performing English music in Vaughan Williams’ ‘A London Symphony’. Right at the end of the season the CBSO and Choruses open the Olympics-related London 2012 Festival, giving the first performance of a huge (90 minute) work by Jonathan Harvey. Edward Gardner leads the première of Weltethos, described as “an epic choral work [which] is inspired by the shared spiritual heritage of humanity.” The piece is said to be “expansive, visionary and awe-inspiringly beautiful”; it’s an intriguing prospect.

I’ve only scratched the surface of a wonderful set of programmes in this preview but I hope I’ve whetted your appetite. There’s much, much more on offer from the CBSO in the 2011/12 season. With the exception of the War Requiem performance in Coventry, all concerts take place in Symphony Hall.  Full details of the entire season are available at and bookings can be made either online, at the Symphony Hall box office or by calling 0121 780 3333

John Quinn