The Birmingham International Concert Season, 2013/14

United KingdomUnited Kingdom  Preview: The Birmingham International Concert Season, 2013/14 (JQ)

Music lovers in Birmingham are fed a consistently rich diet between the concerts by the CBSO and those put on under the banner of the International Concert Season at Symphony Hall (SH) and Town Hall (TH). We wait to find out what the CBSO will be offering next season but the International Concert Season has been announced and, as usual, there is a stellar list of artists and some mouth-watering music in prospect.

As is usual with concert series nowadays, notable anniversaries will be observed, though perhaps 2013 is a more fruitful year for musical anniversaries than 2014. Birmingham’s celebrations of the centenary of the birth of Benjamin Britten will continue under the banner A Boy Was Born. Pride of place must go to a concert performance of Peter Grimes by Vladimir Jurowski and the LPO with Stuart Skelton in the title role. A strong cast includes Pamela Armstrong, Alan Opie and Pamela Helen Stephen (26 September, SH). On the actual day of Britten’s centenary the various CBSO choruses will join forces under the baton of Simon Halsey in a celebratory programme focused on, but not confined to, his choral music (22 November, SH).

Peter Grimes is the first of several important operatic offerings in this season. Music Theatre Wales presents Mark-Anthony Turnage’s Greek (4 October, TH). 2014 will see the culmination of the Opera North Ring Cycle with a performance of Götterdämmerung (21 June, SH) and the Royal Opera brings Strauss’s Ariadne auf Naxos with Karita Mattila in the title role (6 July, SH). That will be conducted by Sir Antonio Pappano and he brings his other ensemble, the Orchestra and Chorus of Rome’s Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia to give a performance of Verdi’s Requiem. Anyone who has heard Pappano’s recording of this work (review) will need no second bidding to book seats (16 May, SH).

The Roman choir and orchestra are not the only overseas ensemble due to visit Birmingham, though is it my imagination or are there slightly fewer such visitors this season? Top of the list, surely, must be the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra and Michael Tilson Thomas, who offer a fascinating juxtaposition of Ives, John Adams and Berlioz (14 March, SH). Rather more conventional fare is offered by the Moscow Philharmonic and Yuri Simonov in a programme mainly devoted to Tchaikovsky, though the chance to hear a Russian orchestra in this music is always attractive (6 May, SH). The Vienna Tonkünstler Orchestra and Andrés Orozco-Estrada bring a Beethoven programme with John Lill playing the Fourth Piano Concerto (2 March, SH) and the Polish Chamber Orchestra’s concert allows us to experience the great violinist Maxim Vengerov as both conductor and soloist (17 November, SH).

One of the season’s hot tickets is bound to be the appearance of Gustavo Dudamel with the Philharmonia in Mahler’s Seventh Symphony (15 November, SH). On a completely different scale the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge present a programme of Christmas music by Britten (26 November, SH). It will be interesting to hear Joshua Bell direct and play the Brahms Violin Concerto with the Academy of St Martin in the Fields; Bell also conducts the ‘Eroica’ Symphony (18 January, SH).

There’s a good helping of chamber music including appearances by the Pavel Haas Quartet (13 November, 23 March & 4 May, all TH). Adrian Brendel (cello) and Imogen Cooper (piano) give a joint recital (25 November, TH) and Paul Lewis’s recital programme includes Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition (12 January TH). There’s also a recital by Lang Lang but, uniquely among the artists in this concert series, he hasn’t yet announced his programme (4 April, SH).

The series includes the third in the biennial series Bach: A Beautiful Mind spread over a weekend. Events include András Schiff playing the Goldberg Variations (12 April, TH), an organ recital by David Goode (13 April, SH) and orchestral music from the Academy of Ancient Music directed by Richard Egarr (13 April, TH). Following close behind that weekend, and still under the Beautiful Mind banner comes the annual Good Friday performance of a Bach Passion by Ex Cathedra. This year it’s the turn of the St. John Passion (18 April, SH)

Birmingham-based Ex Cathedra make several other contributions to the season, including Beethoven’s magnificent if daunting Missa Solemnis (12 October, SH) and a fascinating prospect: Brazilian Baroque: A Musical Eldorado (1 March, TH). With enterprising programming such as this it’s no wonder that Ex Cathedra has just been shortlisted as one of three nominees in the Ensembles category for the highly prestigious RPS Music Awards.

And finally…. The International Concert Season is paying tribute to another artist who has enriched Birmingham’s musical life over many years. Thomas Trotter has served as the City Organist for no less than thirty years and he celebrates his anniversary with a wide-ranging recital on the excellent Town Hall Organ (6 October, TH).

Full programme information of all the concerts, including many not mentioned above, and booking details can be found online here. Alternatively, telephone bookings can be made on 0121 345 0601 and, of course, bookings can also be made by post or in person at the box office.

Once again, Birmingham offers a rich and varied programme of events and some of the world’s leading musicians.


John Quinn