A different woman takes the Birmingham baton

A different woman takes the Birmingham baton


norman lebrecht

October 30, 2019

Our latest exclusive review from the CBSO100 season, feturing the UK debut of a rising conductor:

CBSO at Symphony Hall ★★★★

Bizet’s Carmen has an abundance of great melodies, the sort of tunes the milkman could whistle – when he had milkmen. So catchy and firmly embedded in our musical consciousness, that we don’t even require the singers, as the orchestral Suite No.2 showed. German conductor Anja Bihlmaier (pictured) has worked extensively in the opera house and was right at home here, coaxing some sparkling playing from the orchestra in the sultry Habanera and the whirling bacchanal of the Danse bohème. Alan Thomas’s cornet gave us the swaggering toreador Escamillo and guest leader Tamas Kocsis, a chaste but tenderly beautiful Micaela.

Gypsy music, of Hungary rather than Spain, was also the inspiration for Ravel’s Tzigane. What a performance from Renaud Capuçon. Dazzling, scintillating, coruscating – add further adjectives as required. The double stops whizzed by and the pizzicatos pinged as the Frenchman, supported with some lovely piquant orchestral touches, brought the fiddling wizardry of a bygone era back for ten minutes. Before the fireworks came Chausson’s Poème with Capuçon’s shimmering tone perfectly gauged for this study in silver-grey melancholy and restrained ardour.

Bihlmaier conducted a lively, colourful but oddly superficial performance of Dvořák mighty Symphony No. 7. Like a hasty charabanc trip through Bohemia we saw the sights – the woods and fields, a bit of folkloric dancing – but always glimpsed through a window. There was little of the symphony’s dark D minor depths. Bihlmaier needs to note that the furiant dance in Dvorak’s scherzo needs as much idiomatic rubato as does a Strauss waltz.

Norman Stinchcombe


  • Aaron Herschel says:

    “Bihlmaier conducted a lively, colourful but oddly superficial performance of Dvořák mighty Symphony No. 7.”
    One would have thought it is no longer possible to criticise female conductors in such a negative way.
    Typical chauvinistic white male attitude.

    • C Porumbescu says:

      Anything intelligent to say? If not, have you considered that silence might be preferable?

      • Bruce says:

        From an article where the author learned about animal-training techniques for an article she was writing, and decided to try them on her husband.

        “I followed the students to SeaWorld San Diego, where a dolphin trainer introduced me to least reinforcing syndrome (L.R.S.). When a dolphin does something wrong, the trainer doesn’t respond in any way. He stands still for a few beats, careful not to look at the dolphin, and then returns to work. The idea is that any response, positive or negative, fuels a behavior. If a behavior provokes no response, it typically dies away.

        “In the margins of my notes I wrote ‘Try on Scott!’ ”

        (The experiment was successful, by the way.)

        • Derek says:

          An entertaining post and good advice.

          Let’s hope the dolphin didn’t go to social media to cause mischief and get attention!

    • Karl says:

      It is no longer possible to criticize female conductors in such a negative way without being accused of having a chauvinistic white male attitude by someone. There’s always someone out there sex-baiting or race-baiting.

      • C Porumbescu says:

        Maybe in the USA. This is Europe, and we still judge on what it actually sounds like. There are some fine musicians out there; quit the self-pity and start listening.

  • Karl says:

    I’ve even heard great conductors do flat Dvorak 7ths. Dohnanyi’s recording of it is pretty dull and I heard a dispassionate radio broadcast of Dutiot’s.