Since opening its doors in April 1991, the Symphony Hall has helped to pave the way for cultural arts in modern-day Birmingham. Tonight’s concert commemorated the 25th Birthday of the Hall and who better than the resident orchestra, the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, to help celebrate the vast and enlightening journey that this magnificent venue has provided to the local area. Being joined by conductor Jamie Philips, pianist Lukas Geniušas and composer Ryan Latimer; tonight was definitely a night to remember and a reminder of great things to come in the future of Symphony Hall.
The CBSO kicked off the night with the magically-sounding “Gorilla and Orange Sun”, composed by Latimer to mark the 25th Birthday. This piece combined delicate pizzicato string sections with fairylike xylophone melodies to create a wonderfully eclectic mix of sounds that perfectly reflected the composer’s intentions to draw influence from author and illustrator Anthony Browne, and his ‘playful and unpredictable storytelling’.
Enhanced by the Hall’s world-famous acoustics, this piece of music perfectly set the scene for tonight’s concert and certainly seemed to whet the musical appetite of everybody in the audience. From a personal perspective, I felt that the contrabass and cello sections were too quiet during this piece. This may have been the intention of the composer, however, it is also possible that this was due to my close proximity to the brash violins.
Following up with a performance of Grieg’s “Piano Concerto”, the CBSO was now joined by pianist Geniušas; a virtuosic performer and a recent winner of the XV International Tchaikovsky Competition. Tonight was his Birmingham debut, although his sheer concentration and impeccably precise dynamic control certainly did not show any signs of hesitation. His choice to play with no sheet music present further exemplified his fearlessness and self-confidence tonight.
The combination of warm, yet delicate string tones and intricate piano arpeggios in the second movement of this composition settled the audience into an almost trance-like state. Shifting into stricter rhythms for the final, Allegro Moderato movement, the entire orchestra remained extremely professional throughout, showing no signs of fatigue or slack in their performance.
Completing the programme, with a full suite performance of Stravinsky’s “The Firebird” was an excellent choice and one that truly showcased the efforts and determination of both the CBSO and conductor Philips. Commencing with quiet haunting lines from the lower registers, a sense of imminence occupied the Hall, this piece soon exploded into life causing several audience members (myself included..!) to jump in their seats, as a result of the sudden change in dynamics.
Philips’ body language throughout each movement demonstrated his clear love for this piece; unleashing all of his energy and passion into every single beat, as if this were to be his last concert on Earth. If there was anybody in the room who was severely struggling to be captivated by the brilliance of the music, then I am sure Philips’ fervour would certainly make them question their opinion.
The sostenuto French horn solo in the conclusive movement was somehow equally haunting and relaxing, contrasting with a sense of accomplishment and a release of tension that had built up in the preceding movements. A thunderous bass drum and staccato string attacks carried this ethereal composition throughout its final stages, with accompanying triangle ringing (an instrument whose effect I had never fully appreciated until this concert!) to signify the beautiful ending to a truly magnificent and emotionally-moving performance.
As a surprise encore, a movement from Elgar’s “The Wand of Youth” was performed. Rejoicing with a loud, fast and triumphant finish, this really was the proverbial ‘cherry on top’ of an already marvellous concert.
Overall, this concert provided a fantastic tribute to the ever-growing legacy of the Symphony Hall and hopefully inspired a younger generation to visit more concerts and expand their musical experience in the future. The highlight of my night was unquestionably “The Firebird” suite, with its continuous building and releasing of tension throughout; however I feel the concert, in its entirety, exhibited the impeccable dynamic control present by all performers of the CBSO, conductor Philips and pianist Geniušas.Having seen them in concert several times previously, I would highly recommend the CBSO to anybody of any age. Orchestral music is, in my opinion, timeless and should never be stereotyped or looked down upon.