Birmingham is sinking into post-Nelsons blues

Birmingham is sinking into post-Nelsons blues


norman lebrecht

May 22, 2014

A Birmingham Post report by veteran music critic Christopher Morley suggests that all is not well at the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. Music director Andris Nelsons is leaving and there is no replacement in sight.


Andris Nelsons conducting


There are 14 vacant seats in the orchestra, some of them long unoccupied. Two trumpet players have left, along with a harpist and ‘the greatest tympanist in the country’ (according to Simon Rattle, himself a specialist timp).

Morale is poor, says Morley, adrenaline low.

There is also the possibility – unmentioned – that chief executive Stephen Maddocks may be lured back to the BBC.

Gloom all round. Read Morley here.



  • sdReader says:

    They need a strong executive who will move boldly in appointing a new music director. The other problems will take care of themselves.

  • Wally Francis says:

    Considering Simon Rattle claimed that the CBSO sounded better than ever only a week ago this all seems a bit of an over reaction to one concert the redoubtable Mr. Morley just didn’t like. Yes there is a search going on for a new Music Director, and there are a number of vacancies in the orchestra.. As Rattle made clear in his wonderful speech last week orchestral playing at world class level is a hazardous business, and sadly the CBSO has had some unfortunate cases just lately. In Birmingham these things take time – an no we don’t have “management” dealing with these matters – artistic decisions are taken by the players. The process might be a bit slow [it always is in a democracy] but when this band pick a player they always get the best and their track record on conductors is the envy of the world! With past incumbents Rattle, Oramo [now transforming the BBCSO] and eventually Nelsons all popping back from time to time the CBSO is hardly short of top quality guest sticks! The musical world watches for who is next at the helm of the CBSO – but also be prepared for something different! What the CBSO does today, is usually followed by others!!! For from being down in the mouth the whole organisation is excited by the thrill of the chase! I guarantee it will continue to be world class!

  • Tim Walton says:

    I went to the concert that the critic complained about & it was excellent. I have been to well over 2000 concerts at Symphony Hall, far more than this critic has & I thought it was one of the silliest (the only polite word I will use) reviews that I have ever read.

    I said so in a letter to the Birmingham Post which was published the following week.

    Having spoken to quite a few people at Symphony Hall & within the CBSO there are quite a few people that have a VERY low opinion of this latest article.

    Musicians have to have time off for sickness, holidays & pregnancies, tow at least of these cannot be planned to fit in around the likes & wants of silly critics.

  • Halldor says:

    Tim, with respect, Chris Morley has followed that orchestra for 4 decades; he knows most of the players and staff personally and has done more than any other journalist – possibly than any journalist ever – to support and champion the CBSO. He doesn’t write anything lightly, and he’s personally responsible for the fact that the Birmingham Post still has a larger (and often better-written) classical music review section than any national paper.
    His opinion carries genuine weight. You don’t have to agree with it, but you should respect his right to express it. He might be wrong here; but he emphatically is not ‘silly’.

    • Tim Walton says:

      With respect, I did not say that Chris was silly in his original review, I said this particular comment was silly. There is a difference, however slight. Yes, everyone is entitled to their opinion as I am, but the many people I have spoken to, do, on this occasion, agree with me more than the reviewer.

  • Stephen Maddock says:

    I’m not going to comment on the original article but your readers might be interested to learn that the CBSO’s latest concert – a performance of Der Rosenkavalier – had five star reviews from every critic who attended, including those of the Times, Guardian and indeed Chris Morley in the Post.

    • Nigel Harris says:

      I didn’t attend the concert that seems to have caused the controversy, but have attended about ten CBSO concerts this year (not all with Nelsons). Having been a supporter of the orchestra for not very many fewer years now than Christopher Morley, I can honestly say I’ve never heard them play better. I too have been worried at times at the lack of permanence in the woodwind; but up to a point it may be no more than the law of averages (recent incumbent principlals on the oboe, clarinet and bassoon must have put in a century of service between them). And the point is – the playing doesn’t seem to have suffered. Whoever succeeds Nelsons will still have a fantastic body of musicians to work with.