Live Review: City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra at Royal Concert Hall – 03/03/11

For many of us, jazz, musical theatre, drum kits, whistles and audience participation would not be associated with a ‘classical orchestral concert’.

In tonight’s performance, however, the renowned CBSO (City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra) proved that a classical orchestra is more than capable of encompassing all of these elements, bringing them into the concert hall in an evening of vibrancy and jazz.

The CBSO immediately captivated the audience with dynamic precision and rhythmic excellence in John Adam’s ‘Chairman Dances’. The addictive syncopations were effectively contrasted with the inner lyrical sections, stunning the audience into a spellbound silence to the very last beat.

The ‘Symphonic Dances’ from West Side Story were equally powerful, immediately conjuring up the emotional turmoil of the intensely dramatic story. The exceptionally dynamic Uruguayan conductor, Carlos Kalmor, addressed the audience, introducing the work in an engaging and sociable manner. After identifying the problem of how the audience often feels “threatened to be silent” during a classical concert, Kalmor invited the entire concert hall to “play with the orchestra”, claiming to create a new Guinness World Record!

Unfortunately, our experiences of being conducted by such an animated and inspiring conductor were reduced to shouting the word “mambo!” at the appropriate moment in the work, but this was nonetheless effective and entertaining. From moments of exquisite beauty and heart-wrenching passion – notably the string solos in the spine-tingling “Somewhere” – to the vivacious “Mambo” and “Cha-Cha” dances, Kalmor and the CBSO demonstrated their impressive versatility, effectively portraying the tragic love story through the music alone.

Continuing this dance-theme, pianist, Steven Osborne, took us into a world of sultry gypsy dancing in the energetic concerto ‘Nights in the garden of Spain’ by Andalusian composer, Manuel de Falla. Osborne seemed to take on the role as a gallant Spanish torero, playing the impressionistic piano solos and dramatic glissandi with assured brilliance whist maintaining technical accuracy throughout.

Gershwin’s ‘An American in Paris’ effectively brought the concert to a close. Sounds of city life – complete with car horns and bluesy nightclub trumpets – immediately transported us from the soulful Spanish evening into the heart of the Parisian night, completing the evening’s geographical, cultural and musical tour.

The concert was compelling from start to finish, and in addition to the whirlwind tour across the Northern Hemisphere with one of the UK’s most endowed orchestras, I can now also claim – albeit somewhat tenuously – to have “played with the CBSO” and “been conducted by Carlos Kalmor”!

Becky Hutter

Rating: 4.5/5

What I’ve been listening to today… ‘Zebra’, Beach House




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