Brum, brum, Mirga’s back

Here’s Norman Stinchcombe’s Slipped Disc review of her CBSO concert this afternoon:

CBSO at Symphony Hall ★★★★★

In her audience address today Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla reminded us that Brahms Symphony No.3 was the CBSO’s last piece before lockdown, and eight months later it was again. Good to see that during the hiatus the orchestra’s music director has retained her sense of humour. She hoped we’d all be able to see their opera performance next March which is – nudge, nudge – Verdi’s A Masked Ball. Nice one Mirga. She concentrated on the symphony’s many ambiguities, both musical and of mood. Covid separation gave the wind and brass greater prominence and slimmed down the string sound – more like the balance Brahms would have known – perhaps exaggerated by my perch on the fifth floor. The symphony’s tonally shifting opening was genuinely disturbing, while the benedictory ending was achieved after the CBSO’s energized finale, thrusting and jabbing to-and-fro. The intermezzo was gorgeous, those prominent winds a great delight, and Mirga was always attentive to Brahms’ desire for playing that was both mezzo voce and espressivo.

Ligeti’s Concert Romanesc is a Mirga favourite, usually an encore, here a wacky and whimsical opening item. An apt one for the long delayed debut of the orchestra’s new leader Eugene Tzikindelean, the Romanian revelling in his countryman’s artful gypsy fiddle pastiche. Mozart’s sunny, charming but demanding Bassoon Concerto showcased the CBSO’s Nikolaj Henriques. Mozart uses the soloist as joker and acrobat, leaping from top to bottom registers, and Henriques was agility itself. In the aria-like andante Mozart allows him to be romantic hero and Henriques was utterly charming.

Second performance today at 6pm. Then lockdown again.

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      • He’s probably a CBSO groupie. They have great loyalty, like to football teams. Which is why the excellent visiting orchestras often played to half-empty halls while the CBSO concerts were packed.

      • I think sometimes critics see their role as being partly that of cheerleader, trying to get/ keep people interested in going to live performances, rather than [what they might see as] nitpicking. Acknowledge imperfections, but overall keep a positive tone.

        It’s a fine line between maintaining a positive outlook and maintaining one’s credibility, however.

        At the same time, it’s equally easy to surrender your credibility by saying “it was all right, but s/he’s no ___f(ill in name of favorite dead legend)___.”

        • “It’s a fine line between maintaining a positive outlook and maintaining one’s credibility, however.”

          That’s exactly right.

          The review by Stinchcombe is so obviously a PR driven fawn-fest. He should be ashamed.

          CBSO management, its PR people, and the now credibility-less Stinchcombe, are simply desperate to try and make themselves relevant. Nothing more.
          (Spoiler: they are not relevant – the general public doesn’t value them at all, least of all now).

          Millions thrown at the CBSO and Symphony Hall by way of a rescue package – they’d better start doing better than this, and fast.

          • Slipped Disc is not PR driven. Nor is the trusted critic who reviewed this concert. Curb your indignation, Ms M.

          • Thanks for clarifying, Norman – as far as SD is concerned.

            As far as critics go, which critics are NOT driven by PR companies hounding them, courting them, passing work their way, keeping them in business, cosying up to them?

            That’s surely not a topic for now, is it?

          • And what the hell d’y’know? Other than being a stooge/plant that always pops up to defend and/or take the bullet for orchestral management.

            Oh, so the Times critic said it’s good, so it must be? Are you serious? Are you living in a parallel universe where:
            a) People are not allowed to express opinions without triggering you
            or
            b) You think the public is so brainwashed as to blindly believe what they are told by a critic

            Grow up or shut up.

          • Glad to hear that, Norman – just a pity you didn’t use it before on IC225 in a previous post – also about the CBSO, coincidentally, where he/she said much more than ‘grow up’.

            Or, very recently, regarding clear abuse (as pointed out by other users), in the Tasmin Little post.

            Hopefully, there isn’t one rule for some and different rules for others.

  • I prefer economic gestures in a conductor like Karajan’s. This woman conductor Mirga tries too hard to bring attention to herself instead of the music.

  • Seriously Norman – both Normans, actually: a clearly PR driven review (to coin a Lebrecht phrase). To what end, one has to wonder.

    The highlight of the concert was the individuality and sheer fun of the Mozart performance.
    The Brahms saw an orchestra playing on automatic – a piece they know inside out, Mirga was superfluous.
    In fact, other than standing and wiggling, she brings nothing artistically to the musical table.

    The new leader, Tzikindelean, was adequate. What was all the fuss about? And why didn’t they just proudly appoint a super-talented British violinist? There are lots – and many deserve and need some recognition.

    Two stars at most.

    Time for CBSO management to buck up, and time for one of the Normans to be brave enough to say it.

    • I am open to comments as my orchestral knowledge is very limited, but besides being a first class violinist is not the leader the chief musician of the orchestra. Does he not have many responsibilities?

    • to Firing Back: I, as a member of the orchestra, wouldn’t normally comment publicly on our work. However, when you state “an orchestra playing on automatic”, if that’s not speaking for the players I don’t know what is. I assure you I was not playing on automatic. I thoroughly enjoyed the Brahms in the concerts and I felt Mirga’s interpretation worked very well in performance. You’re entitled to your opinions but please take more care to express them as such, not as facts.
      Whilst I’m here.
      The appointment of our new leader was very much at the instigation of the players. I’m sorry you weren’t thrilled, but most of us think he is a fabulous player and leader, and there was a clear mandate to appoint. We have been through a very long trial process and the orchestra collectively believes it has finally found the right person, having heard many excellent players.
      You’re entitled to your perception of CBSO management, which you’ve expressed in this and several other posts, but I think you’re missing a lot. I believe every one of us players and management would like to have been able to produce more work up to this point. However, as others have pointed out on Slippedisc, the margins for UK orchestras have been extremely tight for many years, since well before Coronavirus, and there really isn’t much money available to take risks, so all the players and most of the staff and management have been on furlough for most of this period. Every orchestra is feeling their way through this. The CBSO presented a hugely complicated online centenary performance in early September, and has been producing some quite imaginative work for the last month or so, with much more to come. Everyone wants to do as much as we reasonably can, but we also want to be here, as the CBSO people know and love, well into the future.

    • Sadly there isn’t. And there won’t be any for a while now with the new lockdown. Eight months of the pandemic and the CBSO’s management is still in complete denial about the fact that online presence is a must if an orchestra wants to stay relevant these days.

    • Not as yet. Which is odd, because therefore we must assume that all these people commenting with such self-righteous bile on this performance and condemning the review so confidently must have spent money on very scarce tickets, travelled into the city and submitted themselves to rigorous social-distancing procedures, all to attend a concert by a conductor they despise with an orchestra they consider irrelevant.

      Either that or they weren’t at the concert, didn’t hear the performance and are talking (as we say in these parts) out their arses, motivated by…well, I wouldn’t like to speculate. But it’s hilarious that they feel able to accuse other people of having an “agenda”.

  • After such a lengthy absence, it was a welcome return for the CBSO and Mirga.

    Clearly, the audience (me included) enjoyed the concert.

    Now there is a further lockdown and postponement of concerts, so it was a great chance to hear live music.

    I wonder why ‘Firing Back’ is always so hostile to CBSO management? (It is not relevant for this post).

    • No need to wonder, Derek – I mean it’s not as if we don’t know who the other actually is.

      This was a ‘landmark’ concert for the CBSO – pandemic, halls closing, halls opening, rescue funding, concert before lockdown etc.
      So management probably played quite a large role in the equation.
      In this case, as has pathologically been the case with them for many years, CBSO management got it wrong on multiple levels.

      Either you can admit that, or simply stay in passive denial. You choose, Derek.

      • Thanks for responding.

        Firstly, absolutely, we don’t know who the other is!
        Secondly, I am not in any sort of denial. Yes the management could have done better.

        Your frustration and anger with CBSO management is evident and unrelenting. You have raised it even on threads about the Concertgebouw etc.

        However, your claims of their inadequacy, disparaging remarks and calls for change of management have not been supported by many facts.

        Simply calling for change is not enough. To put your words back to you – you choose. What is it that you want to see and what are your constructive suggestions for action to improve the running of the CBSO?

        Genuinely, I am surprised by your strong reaction but interested in your views.

  • Even by the squalid standards of this site, there are some pretty cloth-eared / borderline offensive (I don’t say misogynistic or xenoohobic but it’s pretty damn’ tempting – presumably one of the commenters here would have driven Felix Kok out of town as a foreigner) comments here. Norma Stinchcombe is a critic of huge experience and integrity who is anything but a cheerleader: there are countless examples of him holding the home team to uncompromising account over the decades, and anyone who genuinely follows classical music in Birmingham will be we aware of this.

    The fact that this is literally the only orchestral performance that has occurred in Birmingham since March – and looks likely to be the last for the foreseeable future – gives it a particular significance and resonance. Stinchcombe understands – as some, clearly do not – that this calls for a particular approach.

    • I do agree with one thing. It does give a particular significance and resonance – to the fact that the CBSO’s management is lacking any vision. Literally sitting there and waiting for things to get back to normal. And there is a clear PR stunt between NL and the CBSO’s management as there have countless “articles”/mentions of either the CBSO or Mirga, always positive (or in this case border line shameless) as if there aren’t any other orchestras in the country. It seems a bit ironic that the orchestra in question is the one which has done next to nothing in the last eight months.

    • “Stinchcombe understands – as some, clearly do not – that this calls for a particular approach..”

      Great! Finally someone admitting that the review, therefore, was not a normal/objective review, but, as I previously stated, an attempt to make the orchestra look relevant – or to fulfil some other agenda.

      If that was Stinchcombe’s agenda, then he should have stated it.

  • Mirga was an assistant conductor of LA Phil trained under Dudamel and it shows. Ironically, Dudamel has reined himself in now that he’s older and presumably more mature.

    • It does not work. What passes for conducting these days is shocking. The show for the audiences -all those displays of athleticism, funny faces etc. that make the unexperienced concert audiences go home admiring the energy and “passion” of the conductor- is of little or no use for the orchestra. Orchestras, and all musicians, are trained to give their best and save performances whatever happenes and whoever stands on the podium; that is why so many terrible “conductors” have careers. Conductors (female and male) who don’t give a show on the stage are payed little or no attention by the media and often do not enjoy the careers that the more circus-giving conductors have.

      Honestly, you put a monkey with a baton in front of any good professional orchestra, and you can get an OK-enough performance of a Mahler symphony. Put a money in front of a first class orchestra and you can get a good performance. Now put a conductor who is there to serve the music, who knows the music, who understand what the orchestra needs from the conductor and you can get a really good performance. The problem is that people go to concerts to SEE the concert, not to hear the concert and don’t care about conductors who really can do their job.

      • Thank you FrauGeigerin. It has become very difficult in these ‘woke’ times to offer any sort of criticism of many conductors and performers. I’m admittedly old-school and heading rapidly for professional retirement but I just don’t get the fuss made about many young conductors of either gender. My, and many others’ dislike of her style is neither personal nor misogynistic, far from it. I’m assured that she is likeable, popular and anything else you could think of. She also will probably have more musical ability in her big toes that I possess in total. But what on earth is she doing in that photo? There must have been others but historically I can only remember Bernstein jumping and gesturing like that. He was a genius who could inspire and irritate in equal measures too. I still haven’t forgiven his Enigma Variations.Why for goodness sake does Mirga G-T find it necessary? As I said, I’m old and on the way out (who said “Good thing?”) but I have fond memories of so many conductors who rehearsed thoroughly, encouraged wonderful performances and all without any gymnastics or gurning.

        • Nobody would say ‘good thing’ to you Dragonetti!

          For information, Mirga has changed and is not nearly as animated nowadays. That photo is from some time ago and she is modifying her style, and will continue to do so.
          I guess you have a wealth of experience and knowledge to share.

      • I tend to be results-oriented. It matters less to me if a conductor’s approach is restrained or exuberant. It matters much more to me how effective the conductor is at communicating what he or she wants to the orchestra, and thereby helping to craft a musical performance. One person may conduct effectively with a tiny beat (Richard Strauss). Another may do so extravagantly (Bernstein). Either approach can work.

        I have no opinion of Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla. I do not believe I have ever seen her conduct.

        Others have mentioned her teacher, Dudamel. I have never been conducted by him, I have never met him, but I have seen him live a couple times.

        I did ask a member of a major U.S. orchestra what it was like to play under Dudamel when he guest conducted that orchestra, and how hard it was to understand and follow him. The reply: it took about five minutes to figure Dudamel out, then everything went very well. Just FWIW.

  • On a purely personal note, I’m delighted that the Mozart Bassoon Concerto was chosen to be part of such a significant concert by the CBSO.

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