Past concerts

  • 4 October 2019

    Prokofiev Symphony No.1 in D major 'Classical', Op.25
    Dvořák Cello Concerto in B minor, Op.104, B.191
    Sibelius Symphony No.5 in E-flat major, Op.82
    Friday 4 October 2019, 7:30pm 
    St James's Church, 197 Piccadilly, London, W1J 9LL

    Michael Seal, conductor
    Richard Harwood, cello

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    Tickets: £18, £15, £12 (concessions £3 off)

    Ahead of our concert on Friday, 4 October, which includes Sibelius’s ear-worm-inducing Fifth Symphony, in this Q&A, conductor Michael Seal describes some of the highlights and challenges of the piece – and what he will be thinking about as he takes to the podium:


    For someone who hasn’t heard Sibelius’s Symphony No.5 before, what might they experience?

    A real journey! Each movement has such trajectory and shape, plus this symphony has one of the greatest – and most unexpected – endings in all classical music.

    What is the most exciting moment of the work for you?

    The last few minutes: it’s just a joy to stand in front of an orchestra playing that music – simply amazing.

    What is the biggest challenge of the work for you as a conductor?

    The biggest challenge is one that you encounter in other symphonies by Sibelius (No.1 and especially No.7): the whole of the second half of the first movement is one very long accelerando. As the conductor you must constantly consider the following questions over a 5 or 6 minute period: Is this tempo correct? Where must I be in 20, 30, 40 bars’ time? How much do I push and when must I not ‘overcook’ it? In this case, if you do overcook it, the last più presto becomes extremely difficult for the strings, and the timpani part becomes virtually unplayable.

    How has your interpretation of the work changed since you first conducted it?

    Firstly, a quiet word from the timpanist of the CBSO enlightened me as to what speed was possible at the end of the first movement and what was not. One would be stupid as a conductor to ignore such advice! Secondly, I have become much freer in tempo in the ‘slow’ movement than I was when I first learnt it. I have come to think of it as much more of a story than I ever did before.

    When you were playing in the CBSO, what was the most revelatory thing any conductor said about the work?

    Nothing specific to this work but much more about the approach to playing Sibelius. I was lucky enough to have played virtually every note Sibelius wrote with either Paavo Berglund or Sakari Oramo, two Finnish violinist–conductors. Both encouraged us to play in low positions, play the music cleanly and honestly, and with rigorous rhythm. Neither ever over-romanticised Sibelius’s music, and both paced the music to perfection. This was a real education for any budding conductor.

    Are there any good stories associated with it, either for you personally, or for Sibelius writing it?

    The famous tune in the horns in the last movement is inspired by Sibelius seeing 16 swans flying over the lake by house in the country outside Helsinki – it has been known as ‘the Swan theme’ ever since. I have discovered over the years that it is a theme that drives my wife mad as she then gets it in her head as an ear worm for days afterwards!

    What does Corinthian Chamber Orchestra bring to the work?

    With every concert I do with CCO, I can expect an energy onstage that is unique. With this particular piece, one must know when to keep that energy bottled up and then when to allow it to be released. If we go at it 200 miles an hour from the start, some of the poise and grace might be lost, so we must be controlled and disciplined. I know that when we do this, we can expect fireworks later at the appropriate points!

     

  • 11 June 2019

    Janáček arr. Seal  On an Overgrown Path
    Haydn Trumpet Concerto in Eb major 
    Beethoven Symphony No. 3 in Eb major, Op. 55 
    Tuesday 11 June 2019, 7:30pm 
    St Martin-in-the-Fields, Trafalgar Square, London WC2N 4JJ

    Michael Seal, conductor
    Alan Thomas, trumpet

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    Tickets: £24, £22, £20, £18 (concessions 10% off)

    Beethoven’s monumental Third Symphony "Eroica," forms the centrepiece of our annual summer visit to St-Martin-in-the-Fields with Michael Seal.

    Our final concert in London of our 2018-2019 season begins with a performance of Michael Seal’s arrangement of Leoš Janáček’s "On an Overgrown Path," followed by Alan Thomas, Principal Trumpet of the BBC Symphony Orchestra, performing Haydn's majestic and ever-popular Trumpet Concerto.

  • 20 March 2019

    Vaughan Williams Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis 
    Mozart Violin Concerto No. 3 in G major, K.216 
    Roussel Concerto for Small Orchestra, Op. 34 
    Mendelssohn Symphony No. 4 in A major, Op. 90 “Italian” 
    Wednesday 20 March 2019, 7:30pm
    St James's Church, 197 Piccadilly, London, W1J 9LL

    Chris Hopkins, conductor
    Amarins Wierdsma, violin

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    Tickets: £17, £15, £10 (concessions £3 off)

    We are delighted to welcome conductor Chris Hopkins for his CCO debut in this wonderfully contrasting programme.  The first half comprises Vaughan Williams’s haunting Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis and Mozart’s beautiful Violin Concerto No. 3 with soloist Amarins Wierdsma.   Roussel’s rarely heard Concerto for Small Orchestra and Mendelssohn’s exuberant Fourth Symphony, Italian, conclude the concert. 

  • 4 February 2019

    Bax Tintagel
    Britten Violin Concerto
    Walton Symphony No. 1
    Monday 4 February 2019, 7:30pm
    Queen Elizabeth Hall, Southbank Centre

    Michael Seal, conductor
    Zoë Beyers, violin

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    Phone: 0844 847 9910
    Southbankcentre.co.uk

    CCO is delighted to return to the Southbank Centre’s Queen Elizabeth Hall with Michael Seal to perform some of the greatest modern works in the English symphonic repertoire.  Beginning with Arnold Bax’s evocative symphonic poem Tintagel, inspired by Tintagel Castle and the rugged coast of North Cornwall.  We are excited to welcome back Zoë Beyers to perform Britten’s haunting Violin Concerto.   The concert concludes with Walton’s imperious First Symphony.  

    Love, romance, frustration, Cornish cliffs and the sun glinting on the sea – just some of the things you can hear in CCO’s next concert. Conductor Michael Seal answers some questions about the repertoire

    How does Walton’s Symphony No. 1 relate to his personal life, and what do we hear in the music?

    The symphony is dedicated to Baroness Imma Doernberg, who – for at least the first three movements – had a direct influence on the music, in my opinion. As he was writing the first movement, she wrote a letter to him breaking off their relationship. They did reconcile yet apparently it took some months for things to get back to where they had been and you can hear the frustration, anger and bitterness in the first two movements.

    However, he really was in love with her and I think you can hear that very definitely in the slow movement. It starts on the note C sharp but its opening melody on the flute begins on a D, clashing against the C sharp. The movement frequently has this clash (with sometimes three or more notes clashing) and yet eventually, after what seems like a real struggle to break away, the movement ends back on the C sharp again. It is a depiction of someone trying to accept life without their partner, but simply unable to.

    Walton struggled to write the Finale, apparently burning three different attempts. The symphony was premiered in 1934 with only three movements completed and the Finale still stalled. His new liaison with Alice Wimbourne in early 1935 was the kickstart the Finale needed and you can hear this. The music is much more buoyant, strident and – dare I say – happy? Some criticise the Finale for being too different from the rest of the symphony, but for me it shows that life has moved on and that emotions can be so different across the conception of a work. For me, it is the perfect finale – a real happy ending.

    How does the symphony compare with other works by Walton?

    It has common elements to his other early works, being very rhythmic, almost jazzy at times. It also has the bittersweet harmonic quality of those other early works and it sets out to make a bold statement. When he wrote to someone telling them of the commission he had received to write a symphony, he said, ‘I may be able to knock Bax off the map.’ Given the number of performances of this symphony compared to all Bax’s seven symphonies since then, I think he managed it!

    What are the challenges of performing the symphony?

    The symphony is very challenging to perform indeed! Firstly, it is extremely tiring – the players must pace themselves. The first movement is so full-on that one can easily get to the end of it and feel drained. You have to find places to relax while always giving your all when it is needed. Secondly, Walton’s writing for most instruments can be rather awkward – many orchestral players find the writing can be a real technical challenge. Couple those things together and you get a really challenging piece to play!

    Do you have any funny stories about conducting it?

    In 2006, I conducted it live on BBC Radio 3 with the CBSO, and at one point, I gave such a big and flourishing gesture that my right foot swung backwards and kicked the railing behind me on the Symphony Hall podium. You could clearly hear what sounded like an anvil or tubular bell on the downbeat of bar 209 of the Finale!

    How does the Britten Violin Concerto compare with famous Romantic violin concertos?

    In many ways, it is as we would expect: a three-movement concerto with a cadenza. Where it differs is the cadenza is between the second and third movements and that the Finale is a Passacaglia (one of Britten’s favourite structural forms). You can still expect beautiful romantic melodies and, for me, one of the greatest endings in all music.

    What are the challenges for the soloist?

    The second movement is extremely challenging: fast and rhythmic while full of double-stops of thirds, sixths, octaves, tenths and harmonics. In the Coda of the Finale, it even contains a passage of double-stopped unison notes, which I am not sure had ever been used before.

    How does Bax’s Tintagel relate the castle in Cornwall?

    Bax said that there was no specific programme, yet it was “intended to evoke a tone-picture of the castle-crowned cliff of Tintagel, and more particularly of the Atlantic as seen from the cliffs of Cornwall on a sunny but not windless day”. One can hear that from the start, the gently undulating strings, with the flutes hinting at the sun glinting on the water. It becomes more stormy in the middle of the work and Bax said that we might imagine more of the historical and legendary elements – King Arthur, King Mark – but ultimately that view of the sea and the beauty of the place are the abiding memories.

    Bax’s music has come back into fashion recently – why do you think we should listen to his work?

    Quite a few English composers from this era have been neglected and are starting to have a renaissance. The reasons for their music being neglected are many, but what is not in doubt is that much of the music written by Arnold Bax, York Bowen, Granville Bantock and the like is worthy of being rediscovered and heard. The British musical life in the first half of the 20th century was rich and diverse yet we seem to concentrate on only a handful of composers and everything they wrote yet not all of it is good. I count Britten and Walton among my favourite composers, but I would not say they got it right all of the time, yet we disregard some other composers for very similar reasons. I am a great believer that masterpieces will rise to the surface if given a chance, and some of the works by Bax, for example, have not been played enough for us to give them the chance they deserve.

  • 28 November 2018

    Liadov Eight Russian Folk Songs
    Prokofiev Violin Concerto No. 2 in G minor, Op. 63
    Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 5 in E minor, Op. 64

    Wednesday 28 November 2018, 7:30pm

    St James's Church, 197 Piccadilly, London, W1J 9LL

    Leonard Elschenbroich, conductor
    Nicola Benedetti, violin

    In what promises to be a treat of a concert, we are thrilled to welcome back virtuoso Nicola Benedetti after last season’s scintillating performance of Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto to play Prokofiev’s sublime Second Violin Concerto under the direction of Leonard Elschenbroich, who will be making his CCO debut.  Tchaikovsky’s triumphant Fifth Symphony and Lliadov’s Eight Russian Folk Songs make-up a wonderfully diverse Russian-themed programme.  

    Tickets: £25, £20, £15 (concessions £3 off)

  • 5 October 2018

    Nielsen Helios Overture, Op. 17
    Grieg Piano Concerto in A minor, Op. 16
    Sibelius Symphony No. 6 in D minor, Op. 104
    Sibelius Symphony No. 7 in C major, Op. 105
    Friday 5 October 2018, 7:30pm
    St James's Church, 197 Piccadilly, London, W1J 9LL

    Michael Seal, conductor
    Chris Hopkins, piano

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    Tickets: £18, £15, £12 (concessions £3 off)