This might be Birmingham’s next chief conductor

This might be Birmingham’s next chief conductor


norman lebrecht

July 01, 2021

Our last review from the CBSO’s extended centennial season is a five-star top-of-the-range model:

 Symphony Hall *****

Gradually music’s coming home, and the CBSO is playing a huge part in restoring our musical experience to near-“normal”. With the assistance and co-operation of Symphony Hall (a venue now revealing further versatilities) it has been treating us to concerts performed by a full-size symphony orchestra — no worthy, well-meaning reductions here.

Recorded by BBC Radio 3, the programme on Wednesday June 30 was an absolute joy, bringing a gem of a UK premiere and a richly satisfying account of a great Dvorak symphony under the baton of a conductor with whom I think everyone on both sides of the footlights has fallen in love.

The premiere was a co-commission from the CBSO originally designed as one of the many premieres celebrating its centenary last year, and this was a celebration of a different sort, marking the rebirth of live music to an enthusiastic audience.

Julian Anderson was the orchestra’s highly popular Composer-in-Association during the first decade of this century, and he made a return here with his Litanies, a substantial concerto for cello and orchestra which is immediately attractive and in which every one of its innumerable notes has been closely thought about and made to tell.

Its three movements are seamlessly joined, and the central slow section ends with a chorale-like in memoriam to Anderson’s dear friend, the composer/conductor Oliver Knussen (also a huge CBSO favourite), as well as grieving at the Notre Dame Cathedral fire. The work explores every aspect of solo cello writing, much of this extending to the orchestral cellos, too,, often conveying previously unimagined tones and articulations.

Alban Gerhardt was the amazing soloist, playing from memory after a genial discussion with Anderson compered by second violinist Catherine Arlidge, and even surviving a broken string (the second in two days, apparently) which occurred just as the work was reaching its first full momentum after a ruminative opening. This reminded me of Paul Tortelier breaking a string during a performance of the Elgar Cello Concerto in Worcester Cathedral, Sir Adrian Boult conducting, when CBSO principal cellist Ulrich Heinen immediately passed his own instrument to the great soloist, and all other cellos being passed up through the assembled ranks (an incident described in Stephannie Williams’ autobiography “Beyond the Notes”, packed with references to the CBSO).

To return to Litanies, not only is the writing for solo cello spirited and imaginative, the writing for orchestra is equally searching and satisfying, textures sometimes coruscating, and with a wonderful few moments where the cello speaks against a background of orchestral tintinnabulations.

After these brand-new delights we were returned to standard repertoire, but there was nothing run-of-the-mill about this wonderful account of Dvorak’s Symphony no.7 under the CBSO’s principal guest conductor Kazuki Yamada, brimming with personality, rich in tone (not least from the cellos — that instrument again!), and so flexibly shaped.

Yamada is a conductor of wonderful podium presence, every expressive gesture communicating his deep immersion in the music, with the orchestra responding so positively and enthusiastically. It is obvious they love him, and rehearsals must have gone so well.

Reaction from a diminished, socially-distanced audience was immense, so they love him too — as does this reviewer, who currently has a shortlist of two for Mirga’s replacement, and Yamada is one of them.

Christopher Morley


Slippedisc has reviewed every concert in the CBSO’s centenary season, many of them unnoticed by general media. We are expanding our review capacity and can do the same for you when concerts reopen. Contact us to discuss.


  • Cornishman says:

    They could certainly do a lot worse. He’s a genuinely exciting conductor with a wide repertoire, and on the two or three times I’ve heard him the CBSO have played fabulously for him. There’s already a healthy relationship to build on.

  • Stickles says:

    The name Kazuki Yamada first appears on paragraph 8 of the 10 paragraphs on this review!

  • Amos says:

    I assume space is short but the review of the performance of the Dvorak 7th is imo completely uninformative. Given deadlines and word limits wouldn’t a comparison with a well-known performance be in order? Was the interpretation more Brahmsian or Brahms with a Czech accent? There are plenty of different interpretations (Szell, Kertesz, CvD, Ancerl, Kubelik, Previn….) to convey how this one was presented.

    • Anton Bruckner says:

      I agree that the concert review is superficial. I actually just listened to the recorded concert on BBC3 and must say that I was not at all impressed by the lackluster performance. My opinion is that the Birmingham does not need another mainstream conductor but someone who will bring imagination and creative programming.

      • Saxon says:

        O, god. Not that auld trope “imagination and creative programming”. That really is the last thing a regional orchestra needs too much of.

  • RW2013 says:

    Could only be an improvement…

  • Jan says:

    Now there’s a real conductor.