NEW! The City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra’s 2017/18 Season


The City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra has announced details of its 2017-18 season, the second of Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla’s tenure as Osborn Music Director

Photo Credit Frans Jansen

Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla (c) Frans Jansen.

In 2016/17 her appearances with the orchestra were somewhat limited – from memory just 8 were scheduled in Birmingham. However, that was clearly a transitional phase: she would have had diary commitments made prior to accepting the Birmingham post and, I suppose, the orchestra would also have had to engage well in advance quite a number of guest conductors. The 2017/18 season properly shows how committed she is to the post for she will conduct 22 concerts in Birmingham alone.

One feature that caught my eye is the involvement of the CBSO choruses. On taking up her appointment Miss Gražinytė-Tyla, who comes from Lithuania where there is such a strong singing tradition, made clear how excited she was at the opportunity to work with the CBSO’s renowned choirs. They’ll be firmly in the spotlight, starting with the opening concert when she’ll conduct the CBSO Chorus and a fine trio of soloists in Haydn’s perennially fresh The Creation (21 & 23 September). Later in the season the choirs will feature in the orchestra’s celebration of the Debussy centenary, of which more in a moment, and they’ll also be involved in a most enticing programme that includes the Fauré Requiem and four works by Lili Boulanger who died tragically young in 1918, the same year as Debussy (31 May 2018). The choirs will be kept busy singing for other conductors as well. Among other commitments they are scheduled for Verdi’s Requiem with Edward Gardner (25 October) and Orff’s Carmina Burana with Michael Seal (17 February 2018).

Perhaps the most exciting feature of the forthcoming season will be Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla’s focus on the music of Debussy, marking the centenary of his death in 2018. It’s become something of a CBSO tradition to put on a concert performance of an opera towards the end of each season and so, happily and inevitably, the choice this time will be Pelléas et Mélisande. A strong cast will include Jacques Imbrailo and Katja Stuber in the title roles with Laurent Naouri as Golaud (23 June 2018). Before that there will be a Debussy Festival spread over two weekends in May with four concerts each weekend. Miss Gražinytė-Tyla will conduct six concerts and two will be given by the Birmingham Contemporary Music Group. There’ll be plenty of music by the French master as well as works by many composers influenced by him, including George Benjamin, Boulez, Messiaen, Tristan Murail and Toru Takemitsu. This will be a major celebration of one of the most influential composers of the twentieth century (17-18 March, 24-25 March 2018).

Among Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla’s other offerings will be two symphonies by Mahler: the Fourth (27 & 28 September) and the First – a work she played in the 2016/17 season too (29 March 2018). She’ll also put the CBSO through their collective paces in Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra (17 & 20 January 2018). She’ll close the season with a blockbuster programme including the Shostakovich First Violin Concerto (Nicola Benedetti) and two works by Stravinsky: Le Sacre du Printemps and his recently re-discovered Funeral Song (27 & 28 June 2018).

She’ll also be on the rostrum early in the season for two concerts in which Jörg Widmann plays the Mozart Clarinet Concerto (4 & 5 October). These concerts are significant because they’re the first in which Widmann appears as the orchestra’s artist-in-residence for the season. At various times he’ll be featured as clarinettist, conductor and composer – his Babylon Suite receives its UK premiere in the 5 October concert. Widmann returns later in the season for a concert in which he features in all three capacities: three of his works will be played, he’ll be the soloist/director in Weber’s First Clarinet Concerto and he will conduct Mozart’s ‘Jupiter’ Symphony (6 June 2018).

Among the appearances by guest conductors two programmes pair the Brahms Piano Concertos with ballet music by Prokofiev. Martin Helmchen plays the Second Concerto as part of a programme in which Alexander Verdernikov conducts excerpts from Cinderella (6 & 7 December). Romeo and Juliet, an even greater score, comes under the spotlight in a programme conducted by Leo McFall when Paul Lewis will do the honours in the D minor concerto (22 February 2018). Another great Prokofiev score features towards the end of the season: Ludovic Morlot will conduct the Fifth Symphony. In that same programme Tasmin Little will play Bernstein’s Serenade, a piece we don’t often get a chance to hear (24 May 2018).

That performance of the Serenade is presumably a nod to the fact that 2018 marks the centenary of Lennie’s birth. A different facet of his work will be celebrated when John Wilson leads the CBSO in a concert entitled Bernstein: Stage and Screen. The renowned vocalist Kim Criswell will be on hand too as excerpts from such Bernstein hits as West Side Story, Candide and On the Town are performed. It should be quite a party! (24 January 2018)

Classical and pre-Classical repertoire will be well-served too. In that context it’s particularly good to anticipate two occasions when the CBSO will join forces with Jeffrey Skidmore and his excellent Ex Cathedra choir. One programme is devoted to Bach, including the superb Magnificat (14 October). Later in the season Mozart is to the fore in a programme entitled Mozart and his Women. The composer’s love for the soprano voice will be celebrated and a bevy of soprano soloists will be led by Carolyn Sampson (4 February 2018).

Last, but emphatically not least, mention should be made of the CBSO Youth Orchestra, whose concerts rightly form part of the CBSO’s season. Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla will conduct then for the first time – that should be an energising experience for the young players – in a programme entitled Spanish Fiesta. Debussy’s Images will be on the menu as well as works by Bizet and Falla (29 October). Later in the season the orchestra plays Mahler’s massive Sixth Symphony in which they’ll be conducted by Jac van Steen, always a welcome guest in Birmingham (25 February, 2018).

This really is a season with something to suit all tastes: there are, for example, a good number of concerts of lighter music and programmes aimed at families. This preview only scratches the surface of what will be on offer from the CBSO. Full details of the orchestra’s 2017/18 season can be found here. Public booking commences on 22 May 2017, either online or by calling 0121 780 3333.

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