Review: Kazuki conducts Beethoven’s Eroica

Simon Hale is at Symphony Hall for the CBSO’s latest.

Vastly different from its streamed Beethoven concerts pre-recorded without an audience during the covid pandemic, the CBSO’s performance of the composer’s Eroica Symphony was given to a live audience at Symphony Hall in 3D.

With three giant video screens behind the orchestra, you were able to watch chief conductor Kazuki Yamada on the podium face on from your seat in the stalls or circle as if you were also in the choir stalls, as well as get a close-up view in black and white footage of intricate solo playing by the musicians.

The screens were part of what the CBSO announced was “a new vision and period of exploration” for the orchestra, using lighting, projection and staging devised by Yamada and theatre director Tom Morris “to enhance the listening experience”.

“This period of exploration comes from a shared ambition to move forward following the covid pandemic rather than returning to what we have always done before,”
said Yamada beforehand, adding “I feel we can take risks, experiment and ultimately – we hope – take our audiences along for the ride with us.”

Stepping on to the stage with a microphone, the CBSO’s new CEO Emma Stenning invited the audience to share their opinions, having stated: “We need to think radically about the future of symphonic music, and how this miraculous, life enhancing artform stays relevant, impactful and collaborative in today’s world.”

This idea of sharing and accessibility involved exploring what it means to be a hero in an otherwise thrilling performance of the Eroica Symphony. The immediate connection was the fact that Beethoven originally called his third symphony the Bonaparte Symphony until told that the great republican had gone back on his political values by crowning himself Emperor. Images of ‘heroes’ from Beethoven himself and Napoleon along with a host of favourite figures chosen by the musicians from Malala Yousafzai to Victoria Wood proved interesting at first but then became distracting and preaching.

A good move was the cinema-like surtitles to the movements and the little over the shoulder flick of the hand by the conductor to say it was fine to clap between them. A reminder to switch off phones would have also been useful. Even more pleasing and effective was the narration supported by Gustav Dore illustrations and pre-recorded live video that accompanied the performance of Richard Strauss’s tone poem Don Quixote, guiding the audience through the adventures of a mad knight and his squire as in the Cervantes novel.

Don Quixote was brilliantly characterised by cellist Eduardo Vassallo (pictured), while violist Chris Yates was a more subdued Sancho Panza, each delivering strong engaging solo turns with passion as well as superb technique.

The orchestra itself was on top form – with sections even standing at times for greater power – under Yamada’s inspired direction. As Vassallo self-consciously accepted the rousing applause of the large audience, he could never have imagined he would appear on screen – as he was – tightening his bow as if preparing his sword for battle.

The CBSO will perform a Choral Christmas with Anna Lapwood at Symphony Hall on Tuesday, December 29th and Wednesday, December 20th at 7.30pm. For tickets call 0121 780 3333 or book online at

Pic – Hannah Fathers