It is a while since I last attended a concert performance by the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. In fact, it was so long ago that Simon Rattle was still their chief conductor (for the last fifteen years Rattle has been principal conductor with the Berlin Philharmonic). Tonight, though, at St Andrews Hall in Norwich, it is one of Sir Simon's own mentees from the Berlin Philharmonic, the virtuoso violinist turned conductor Karina Canellakis, who is wielding the baton for her debut appearance with the CBSO. Classical music performance, like life, can have its own cyclic twists and turns.
In a programme that starts with César Franck's symphonic poem La Chasseur maudit (The Accursed Huntsman), continues with Karen Gomyo as soloist in Felix Mendelssohn's essential Violin Concerto in E minor, and concludes after an interval with Sergei Rachmaniov's Symphonic Dances, the Norfolk and Norwich Festival audience get a chance not only to experience sensitive Ms Cannellakis' conducting for the first time, but also to enjoy first-hand Karen Gomyo's fiery violin playing.
It is a 7pm start, somewhat earlier than the stalwart NNF audiences may be used to, hence there is quite the small crowd of latecomers huddled together at the rear of St Andrews Hall. Having missed the Franck, then have to stand just inside the main doors for the Mendelssohn. During the interval they are able to join the sold out audience and take their seats for the Rachmaniov.
But stand or sit, this entire evening was an unmissable treat, thanks to the supreme quality of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, and the rhythmic elegance of Karina Canellakis' conducting - beautiful to watch, yet leaving no member of the orchestra in any doubt what was expected of them. Whilst the appearance of Karen Gomyo added yet another tier of delight - her captivating interpretation of the Andante during the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto matched any live performance I have heard - the climax of the programme had to be the Slavonic Dances, after which the ovation from this appreciative audience demanded Canellakis' return to the podium three times.
A memorable evening in this much-loved venue, with a world-class orchestra under the direction of a new star rising. Wonderful.