100 years on, an orchestra repeats its opening concert

100 years on, an orchestra repeats its opening concert


norman lebrecht

November 20, 2020

Christopher Morley in Birmingham reviews for Slipedisc the centenary concert of the CBSO.

BBC Radio 3 and online stream *****

Between them the CBSO’s technical wizards and BBC Radio 3 brought about a remarkable example of triumph over adversity in their relaying of the orchestra’s celebratory centenary concert, necessarily disfigured behind the pandemic’s shielding mask.
This concert, filmed and recorded in a deserted Symphony Hall (just imagine how full the joyous auditorium would have been in “normal” circumstances) on the exact date when Elgar conducted the City of Birmingham Orchestra resident in Birmingham Town Hall for the first time one hundred years ago, was packed with joyous affirmation.

The Radio 3 broadcast a couple of days ago allowed us to concentrate on the quality of the music-making from players who have had so little ensemble contact for so many months, and brought us too a wonderfully evocative early history of the CBSO from my colleague Richard Bratby, author of Forward!, a compelling chronicle of the orchestra’s achievements. The streamed relay focussed our attention on the body-language of the musicians, bursting with adrenaline despite the absence of any pumping from the audience.
We eavesdropped on the players assembling in rehearsal mufti, and on contributions from conductor Mirga Grazinyte-Tyla (her long blonde locks now cropped a la Marin Alsop and even a la the CBSO’s own principal flautist Marie-Christine Zupancic, object of a lot of camera attention), cor anglais soloist Rachael Pankhurst, a discussion between CBSO cellists Eduardo Vassallo (how good to see him restored to health after a serious battle with Covid-19) and Jackie Tyler and Sheku Kanneh-Mason, soloist in the Elgar Cello Concerto. There was also a most touching and perceptive introduction from the Earl of Wessex, genuinely hands-on Patron of the orchestra and of other Birmingham musical institutions.

And the performances? Two of Sibelius’ Kalevala-inspired tone-poems, Lemminkainen’s Return and the Swan of Tuonela brought dark shadings, timbres judiciously balanced and co-ordinated, Pankhurst plaintively eloquent in the Swan’s extended solos.
Kanneh-Mason played the Elgar (which had featured in that inaugural concert a century ago) with an astonishing maturity, already with a sense of a life already long led, and reminding us of the even younger Yehudi Menuhin’s equally mature response to the Elgar Violin Concerto. It was so revealing to see the facial expressions of the cellist’s immersion into what is actually elusive, evanescent music (he will never diminish it into a mere repertoire war-horse).

Deliberately chosen or not, Beethoven’s Leonore no.3 Overture, a 14-minute opera as Mirga described it, is the quintessential expression of liberation after lockdown, and it was so exhilaratingly given here. The offstage trumpet fanfares melted into the visual images of the CBSO busily rejoicing as this concert moved towards it conclusion, triumphant against all the odds.
Christopher Morley



  • Firing Back says:

    This is now getting surreal re SD and CBSO reviews/propaganda pieces:

    “Mirga Grazinyte-Tyla (her long blonde locks now cropped a la Marin Alsop and even a la the CBSO’s own principal flautist Marie-Christine Zupancic, object of a lot of camera attention)”

    It’s 2020 – Christopher Morley would never have written an equivalent statement about male players. He should be squirming in shame.

    No one will ever get a sense of the music-making from that saccharine ‘review’ – it’s like something a written by a teen in English class, demonstrating overuse of pleasant adjectives . However seasoned said reviewer may be, this ain’t a review – it’s a propaganda piece.



    (Please click thumbs down)

    • CarlD says:

      I agree the hair comments are overdone (and the review a bit fawning), but it’s not quite true to say male conductors never attract such comments. Gustavo Dudamel certainly has, and there is the occasional comment regarding Yannic Neget-Seguin’s palate and even his athletic fitness.

    • John F Kelly says:

      I had exactly the same reaction. The “reviewer” belongs in Public Relations or Marketing

    • Patrick says:

      Firing Back. Totally agree. An amateur review, (forgetting about the sexist etc…undertones)and shame on SD for allowing such articles to be published. Cronyism is everywhere, nowadays in the UK.

  • Guest says:

    Why do female conductors still need to attract comments about their appearance??

    • John F Kelly says:

      Just like the violinists and pianists (e.g. Mutter, Wang etc). Can you imagine if male performers were tagged with adjectives in the same vein. Granted, Franco Corelli was, but, then again, he was a demi-God.

  • Alan Overton says:

    “(her long blonde locks now cropped a la Marin Alsop and even a la the CBSO’s own principal flautist Marie-Christine Zupancic, object of a lot of camera attention)”

    Good grief. Why do you publish this badly written, embarrassing, condescending crap? And he has NOTHING to say about the music.

  • Concertgoer says:

    Did this Sheku Kanneh-Mason ever make up his cancellation at the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra (when a certain Windsor wedding offer came along)?

    • Pam says:

      I wouldn’t know Concertgoer – but Sheku certainly doesn’t disappoint with the Elgar concerto, having heard and seen him play this with the CBSO pre-Covid. A stunning player.

  • Firing Back says:

    Bit of intel : someone at the CBSO, not mentioning any names (unless you want me to), is in meltdown over this review and the reactions here on SD.
    It backfired big time. Fawning cronyism usually does. Sexism, even more so.

    The review even uses the word ‘OBJECT’ in relation to the flautist.

    Don’t anyone say I didn’t predict this coming.

    Cue Derek and Maddock et al to do some damage limitation… Unless they’re all too busy on the phones right now.


    • Stephen Maddock says:

      This is a complete fabrication.
      Happy weekend everyone!

    • Simply a concertgoer says:

      Who are you exactly to the CBSO and to the general orchestral scene? A player, a manager or concertgoer? Why do you enjoy stirring the pot?

      • Firing Back says:

        By ‘stirring the pot’ – you mean ‘highlighting the truth’ about the industry, or did you mean ‘daring to question the status quo’?

        And I don’t ‘enjoy’ it. It’s a crying shame that such things need to be highlighted or questioned.


        • Calm Down says:

          What have you highlighted specifically?
          Thousands of people go to concerts and enjoy performances of great music.

          So what’s YOUR problem?

          • Firing Back says:

            In relation to your middle sentence, your two questions are misplaced, rendering your post nonsensical, alas.

            Want to try again? I’ll do my best to help.


          • Calm Down says:

            What have you highlighted specifically?

            What is YOUR problem exactly?

          • Firing Back says:

            ‘What have you highlighted specifically?’ – – I said I’d help, but I’m not doing your homework for you.
            Just read back through my past comments on this blog.
            In relation to this post – regarding the review – it’s perfectly clear what I’ve highlighted, and most people in the comments above concur me.

            ‘What is YOUR problem exactly?’ – – I’m afraid you’ll have to be more precise. It seems to be a loaded question – you’ve used major caps on ‘YOUR’ twice – why?

            If you want to give it another shot, maybe it’ll be third time lucky for you 🙂


          • Calm Down says:

            I am not surprised that you didn’t answer. You are just using diversion and avoiding the question.

            I doubt whether you know the answer yourself or that the issues are personal to you and you don’t feel able to share them.

            To jump from a flawed review to –
            ‘Don’t anyone say that I didn’t predict this coming’ about an unknown person’s meltdown is a bit of a stretch.

            Simply stating that you are highlighting the truth about the industry without providing any facts anywhere, but just hyperbole and fantasy is not good enough.

            May I suggest that you calm down, drop the hyperbole and playing games and consider which issues in the industry really are a problem (as you see it) and what specific changes you believe would improve the situation.

            Then, you will really be able to address the question, which I suspect would be as good for you as for anyone else.

            I wish you well.

          • Firing Back says:

            Ah, you’re gaslighting me. Well, of course you are.

            Thanks so much for your attempt at amateur psychology. Your previous disjointed, loaded questions were the prelude to your already-prepared set piece – a set piece designed to distract people from a blatantly sexist, inappropriate and damaging (for CBSO cronies) review.

            Most of this blog is actually about delivering the ‘facts’ to which you refer – on which I comment and expand – and my previous comments are there for all to see.

            Had you done the homework I suggested, you’d have seen that my comments regarding the review tied-in perfectly with those I made re the last glowing CBSO review here (their concert immediately prior to lockdown).

            This site is all about rustling grapevines – so, my delivering of reliable intel on meltdown by a person at the CBSO was completely apt – more so because the evidence shows (do try looking) that their chief exec is addicted to, and frequently triggered by, this blog.

            You may wish to turn some of those amateur psychology ‘skills’ inward and reflect on what you have become.
            Like many people who, as cronies, ‘defend’ the industry, what you have become is probably the thing you once vowed you would never become. I suspect that is the case with you. It’s very sad.


          • Calm Down says:

            Suit yourself. You still haven’t answered a straight forward question with any facts to support your generalised, unsubstantiated opinions about the industry that you call sick.

            your response is not in touch with reality.

          • Firing Back says:

            I realise you’re trying to deflect from the damaging CBSO review – and I’m sure someone will give you points for trying.

            As I said before, I’m not doing your homework – I don’t spoon-feed people who can’t be bothered to research or flick-through this very blog and past posts here.

            ‘your response is not in touch with reality.’ – you mean I didn’t back down or tell you what you wanted to hear.
            You’ll get used to it.


    • Micaelo Cassetti says:

      Derek and Clive might be better at damage limitation…

  • Harold Wilkin says:

    What is the established (normal) string strength of the CBSO, is it 60, i.e. 16 first violins and 8 basses or 14 firsts?

    • Stephen Maddock says:

      Yes indeed – that’s the normal strength for its concerts in Symphony Hall. Social distancing rules have reduced this at the moment to a total orchestra size of c.60 – string strength varying according to the rest of the orchestration.

  • Stephen Maddock says:

    For clarity – yes the normal size is

    • Rick O'Shea says:

      Firing Back’s off target. Fingers must be aching! 🙂

      • Firing Back says:

        Sweetie, I think the reason you (and the other crony apologists in this chat) are so triggered is because I’m bang ON target – and you all know it. And what I’ve hit is pretty filthy, alas.


        • Rick O'Shea says:

          So why multiple ‘thumbs down’ to the normal string strength of an orchestra?

          • Firing Back says:

            If this is the state of the UK music industry, I now know that the patients have officially taken over the asylum:
            You’re an adult (presumably) kvetching about strings and thumbs down.

            I wish you a speedy, erm, recovery?


          • Rick O'Shea says:

            So you are an adult? 🙂

            You give multiple votes to yourself and multiple votes against others – even when the comment is just giving the information requested???

            Who is childish and without credibility?
            Check your sense of humour, while you are at it!

          • Firing Back says:

            Wow. You’re such a brainwashed industry stooge that you’ve become paranoid.

            Poor thing. You just can’t deal with anyone having a different view to yours.

            Cult – brainwashing – no contrary opinions allowed – try and crush all resistance: you should move to N. Korea … their ethos would suit you and your kind.