Past concerts

  • 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

    To reserve tickets
    Phone: 0844 847 9910

    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

    Buy tickets online now

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


  • 14 June 2018

    Berlioz Le carnaval romain
    Strauss Horn Concerto No. 1 in Eb major, Op. 11
    Mahler Symphony No. 10 (ed. Cooke 1910)
    Thursday 14 June 2018, 7:30pm
    Queen Elizabeth Hall, Southbank Centre

    Michael Seal, conductor
    Martin Owen, horn

    To reserve tickets
    Phone: 0844 847 9910


    We open our return to the Queen Elizabeth Hall, with a performance of Berlioz's dashing Roman Carnival Overture, followed by Richard Strauss’s equally exuberant, and one of the most-demanding solo works for the horn, the Horn Concerto No. 1. The centerpiece of the concert is a performance of Mahler’s Symphony No. 10. The symphony was written in the summer of 1910, and was Mahler’s final composition. At the time of his death, the work was substantially complete in the form of a continuous draft, but not fully elaborated or orchestrated. After Mahler's death there was no immediate attempt to complete the work for performance. The various realisations produced by Deryck Cooke have, since the mid-1960s, become the basis for most performances and recordings and it is the Cooke version of the complete Symphony you will hear.

  • 19 May 2018

    Berlioz Béatrice et Bénédict Overture
    Prokofiev Piano Concerto No. 3, Op. 25 in C major
    Brahms Symphony No. 4, Op. 98 in E minor 
    Saturday 19 May 2018, 7:00pm
    St James's Church, 197 Piccadilly, London, W1J 9LL

    Michael Seal, conductor
    Chris Hopkins, piano

    Buy tickets online now

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

    Tickets will be available to purchase at the door before the concert starts.

    Berlioz captures the essence of Shakespeare’s comedy, Much Ado About Nothing, in this delightful Overture, much of it in the playful introduction, where the silences are as witty as the dialogue between woodwind and strings.   It is a sparkling introduction to the tale of love gone wrong–and love gone right.

    The exuberant, brash Piano Concerto No. 3 drew thunderous applause from American audiences in 1921 but it received rather tepid reviews. Neither in Chicago nor in subsequent New York performances did the concerto arouse much enthusiasm.  Prokofiev said the American public "did not quite understand the work."  Nevertheless, it went on to become one of the half a dozen or so most popular piano concertos of the entire twentieth century.

    Similarly, the premiere in 1885 of Brahms’s Symphony No. 4 had a cool reception.  Audiences found the symphony’s strangeness difficult to deal with on first acquaintance.  Its strangeness lies in its combination of modern (for 1885) harmonies and suggestions of old music (in particular the passacaglia in the final movement).  Now the symphony is firmly a concert favourite.

  • 16 March 2018

    Mendelssohn Overture A Midsummer Night’s Dream
    Beethoven Symphony No. 1, Op. 21
    Mozart Overture Così fan tutte
    Mendelssohn Violin Concerto in E minor
    Friday 16 March 2018, 7:30pm
    St James's Church, 197 Piccadilly, London, W1J 9LL

    Eamonn Dougan, conductor
    Nicola Benedetti, violin

    Buy tickets online now

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

    A limited number of tickets will be available to purchase at the door before the concert starts.

    Beethoven's Symphony No. 1, seen from all points of view, is a classical one, strongly anchored in the Viennese musical life of the time, especially Mozart’s last symphonies.  Knowing their Mozart and Haydn well, his contemporaries referred to this symphony as “masterpiece" repeatedly and praised the work's "originality”.