“Michael Seal is one of the CBSO’s best-kept secrets. Skilled across the full range of repertoire, Seal honed his knowledge of Romantic and, indeed, Twentieth Century music from his long leadership of the CBSO Youth Orchestra from which he drew uniquely assured and impressive results. By his utter reliability, popular with and trusted by the players, a mature baton technique and frequent touches of real inspiration, Seal has acquired with the senior players a standing and respect akin to that which his CBSO colleague, Edward Gardner, achieved with the Hallé under Mark Elder’s tutelage.
…….it was Seal’s handling of Wagner’s Prelude and Liebestod that yielded for the CBSO a gobsmackingly good performance, quite brisk at times, with a marvellous sense of long line, built with acumen and polished to the letter. It was not just a routine Symphony Hall performance, but one that would have sat equally well in a BBC Prom or in the Vienna Musikverein or the Philharmonie in Berlin.”
Roderick Dunnett, Seenandheard-international.com
“The second part of this shortened concert (a planned opener of Bax’s Tintagel fell victim to Covid-era running times) comprised Malcolm Arnold’s Fifth Symphony: now 60 years old, as Seal reminded us in a brief spoken introduction (and it’s been the best part of half a century since the composer conducted the CBSO in a now-classic recording). Orchestration as brilliant as Arnold’s doesn’t need much help, but Seal – a former orchestral violinist – took nothing for granted in a performance that took this most compelling of modern British symphonies and made it gleam. The cataclysmic brass eruptions, the glistening harp and bell ostinati, and the cymbal topped sunbursts came through exactly as brilliantly as you’d hope. More surprising were the details revealed by Seal’s command of texture and balance: violin phrases arcing anxiously out of the tumult, or a celesta shimmering within a muffled string chord, like embers glimpsed through ashes.
Perhaps that makes it sound like a glorified concerto for orchestra. In fact, Seal made a powerful a case for this symphony, both as tautly-argued musical structure and compelling (and tragic) emotional narrative. The first movement was properly tempestuoso, and the great melody of the slow movement played out in an uneasy, fragile stillness which belied Arnold’s own self-mocking, defensive comment (he knew what to expect from the critics at that stage in the game) that ‘the composer is unable to distinguish between sentiment and sentimentality’. The final collapse, accordingly, carried its full emotional weight, and Seal brought the symphony to rest without point-making or exaggeration: the logical, and inevitable conclusion of a tragedy that had been prefigured from the opening bars. Sakari Oramo (another former orchestral violinist) gives Arnold’s Fifth its (belated) Proms premiere in August; meanwhile this was powerful and intelligent advocacy for a symphony whose time might finally have arrived.”
Richard Bratby, theartsdesk.com
“Thanks to the brilliant work of conductors from Harold Gray, through Simon Rattle and on to Sakari Oramo the CBSO has long had the symphonies of Sibelius and Nielsen under its fingertips. As a violinist within the orchestra Michael Seal was part of the osmosis, and now as a conductor he unleashed here from his ex-colleagues an awesome amount of pent-up energy in Sibelius 3 and Nielsen 5
He launched the Sibelius at a rattling (sorry!) pace — no allegro moderato, this — strings immediately biting, tickingly accurate in their momentum. Yet in the second movement Seal and his strings found a meltingly Tchaikovskyan texture (Danse Arabe from the Nutcracker came to mind) under the woodwinds’ sad little dancing-song.
The finale is difficult to make convincing, but it certainly came off in this reading, Seal’s flow and flexibility eventually coalescing into a genuinely uplifting ending.
Nielsen’s Fifth Symphony arrives at the same destination, but by a very different route. The players captured all the troubled inertia of the opening (wonderful bassoons), shaken eventually into action by the best hell-for-leather snare-drum improvised assault I’ve ever heard in this work, then pacified by Oliver Janes’ spell-binding offstage clarinet quelling the anger of a now offstage snare-drum.
The tricky finale was convincingly structured by Seal and his players, exuberant and affirmative — but always with a question-mark.
Between these two symphonic earthquakes came five of Mahler’s Des Knaben Wunderhorn songs, redolent with nostalgia for a distant past, and drawing from baritone soloist Christopher Maltman a range of tones, from the honeyed to the bitter, an engaging body-language, and painting pictures of the imagery of several Mahler symphonies which I’m impatient to hear Seal conduct.”
Christopher Morley, midlandsmusicreviews.com *****
“Seal partnered her (Tasmin Little) with a big band snap and swing, letting Walton’s woodwind countermelodies soar and the strings well up so that it felt – in Walton’s long passages of rapturous song – like this was a genuine duet between orchestra and soloist. Little began the central scherzo with the speed and iridescence of a hummingbird, and leaned thrillingly into the curves as, with Seal coolly in command, Walton’s syncopated brass accelerated into successive climaxes. In short, this was a performance to set hairs on end, simultaneously dazzling and seductive. Little’s final flourish was pure showbiz, and quite right too.
But to misquote Sibelius, there was absolutely nothing of the circus about Seal’s performance of Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony. Seal has proved before now what a natural he is in Beethoven. What was fascinating here was how, even with tempi on the fast side and a rhythmic clarity and lift that made everything – and especially the Allegretto – feel like a dance movement, this performance felt both classically-proportioned, and possessed of elemental power and weight. Part of it comes from Seal’s ability to build long paragraphs and sustain energy over entire movements, and part of it, perhaps, is in the richness and detail of the sound he draws from the orchestra: the ringing spread string chord that opens the whole work found its echoes in each successive movement.
And yet, no matter how hard he seems to drive his players, Seal can always move them up another sonic gear, and unleash one more surge of energy. It’s an art that conceals art, and it meant that the CBSO’s horns and trumpets (blazing through the texture on dark-toned German instruments) sounded as fresh in the whirlwind final bars as they had at the start of the Britten. The audience erupted in cheers.”
Richard Bratby, theartsdesk.com
“Sunday’s triumphant return to Symphony Hall by the CBSO Youth Orchestra after such a long locked-down exile was heartening for so many reasons. Here were well over a hundred young musicians (obviously the peak of a pyramid of so many others spreading below) playing with a freshness and enthusiasm not always displayed by many professional ensembles, a joy of performing in one of the world’s great concert-halls, and well-drilled onstage discipline (though the getting offstage uncertainties need working on).
Add to the talent of these youngsters the sectional coaching expertise of players from the parent CBSO and the authoritative conducting of Michael Seal, who knows orchestral playing from a long-experience inside, and you have an alchemy which cannot go wrong. And didn’t that turn into gold here!
Dani Howard’s Argentum was a fizzing programme-opener, teeming textures punctuated by heavy brass underlinings, reminding a little of John Adams-style minimalism, and given with a zip and alertness brilliantly drawn by Seal from these youthful players.
We concluded with the most exciting Shostakovitch Tenth Symphony I have ever heard. String sound was rich and eloquent, wind solos were all too wonderful to single out, brass were both noble and arresting, and percussion were sensitive as well as spectacular.
So much concentration is required during the lengthily sustained paragraphs of this demanding work, and Michael Seal’s clear and spacious baton secured all of that, then pouncing upon the venom and ultimate glee of the composer’s sense of relief at the death of his life-long oppressor, Josef Stalin.”
Christopher Morley, midlandsmusicreviews.com
“The Corinthian Chamber Orchestra was formed in 1995 under the direction of the late Alan Hazeldine, and in the almost quarter-century of its existence it has developed into one of London’s finest amateur orchestras. Apart from what one might term a ‘normal’ concert season for a chamber orchestra, once a year additional instrumentalists are engaged to take part in a full orchestra concert at the Queen Elizabeth Hall.
This concert was one such event, with no fewer than eighty-seven musicians taking part under Michael Seal in a programme made up of three works by twentieth-century British composers. The result was more than excellent: not only the quality of the playing in solo and ensemble passages, but also the corporate balance and tone were first-class, enhanced naturally by the acoustic of the Queen Elizabeth Hall, so much more inherently musical than the £119-million acoustic disaster which is the Royal Festival Hall next door. Much of the quality of the Corinthians’ tone and internal balance has to be the result of having such a fine conductor and experienced musician as Seal. The result in every regard would not have disgraced a long-established world-famous professional orchestra.
From the opening page of Bax’s Tintagel, it was clear we were in for something very special. So often this score (as with much of Bax’s earlier orchestral music) can deteriorate into page after page of lush, thick-sounding romanticism, but Seal was quite masterly in his delineation of the subtlest light and shade, gradually building and dying away from richly upholstered textures, all placed at the service of the composer’s structural mastery. Too often, on the rare occasions this score is programmed, it can turn into a kind of film-score, such as might have accompanied Jamaica Inn or Rebecca or any other Hollywood black-and-white weepie; what was so remarkably impressive here was how Seal kept the inherent musical drama going, through finely-contrived balance and truly organic tempos. In such ways was Tintagel revealed as an outstanding piece of truly imaginative composition.
Britten’s Violin Concerto is very different music. Composed pretty much at the same time as Walton’s example, it has taken many decades to enter the repertoire at last – as it deserves. The work may have passing resemblances structurally to Walton’s (but Britten had not heard the older man’s score at the time), and Prokofiev’s First, but it remains an original work of genius, wonderfully written for the violin, and so emotionally revealing (to later generations) as to take its rightful place in the repertoire.
It remains, however, a fearsomely difficult work, with pizzicato and arco part-writing at the same time; fiendish octaves (almost daring the soloist to add them in the final coda before the high-rise closing bars) and other demands, but this masterwork is no series of virtuoso studies of the gee-whizz variety – each of these events are part of the work’s vastly expressive content, implied within and growing from the very opening pages (how moving it is when those figures return much later, mementos of lost musical innocence).
Britten’s Violin Concerto does not reveal its treasures or its subtleties easily: only long acquaintance will provide those answers, and it was patently clear from the first few pages of her initial entry that in Zoë Beyers the work had found an ideal interpreter. Here was technique a-plenty, but her musicianship, her depth of understanding and inherent grasp of this great work was total. Her beautiful tone and fine technique were always evident, and in addition her marvellously disciplined forward momentum would, I am sure, have earned the composer’s unstinting praise. The Corinthian Orchestra was in equal measure noble, dignified and brilliant.
The final work, Walton’s B-flat minor Symphony, also received a very fine performance – technically assured throughout (quite fearless in the Scherzo; beautifully toned in the slow movement), Seal’s grasp of the original nature of this work was total, absolutely refusing to let the argument become flaccid (as it sometimes can) and his tempos were very finely judged – especially the tricky fugato and 3/8 scherzando passages in the Finale. Seal built the inexorable ascent to the final unison B-flats admirably, inspiring his players to give of their very best.”
Robert Matthew-Walker, classical source.com
“In recent years students from the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire have occasionally provided early-evening curtain-raisers to the subsequent CBSO concert.
But they were never meant to steal the thunder from the big boys, as this amazing account of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring from the RBC Symphony Orchestra under Michael Seal certainly did.
Seal, Conservatoire alumnus, former sub-principal second violin with the CBSO and now its associate conductor, brought a clear, unflappable beat to negotiate the youngsters through this notoriously difficult score, and during rehearsals had obviously coached them to listen to each other — and didn’t that pay dividends in the tendril-awakening opening, launched by a bassoon who made that solo’s demands seem easy.
This was an account of awesome expertise. detail which hard-boiled pro orchestras sometimes gloss over coming up shiny and new here, and given with a wonderful blend of timbres in Seal’s well-judged balancings. And the acoustic chamber doors, virtually closed, focussed all attention on the clarity of the sound, now brutal (percussion at full pelt), now mysterious (solo string textures), and always latent with energy.
And the packed stalls responded with justifiable enthusiasm, as did I.
Christopher Morley, midlandsmusicreviews.com *****
The British conductor, Michael Seal, is a director with capital letters. He has directed numerous orchestras in England, Ireland and Scotland, as well as in Europe and Asia (Malaysian Philharmonic, with which he debuted during the course of the current year) and the Buenos Aires Philharmonic….
….both Seal and cellist, Gary Hoffman offered an excellent version of the famous Variations on a Rococo Theme by Tchaikovsky. From the beginning, the orchestra achieved superb sound depth, with very good interventions by solo instruments….
…..the performance offered by Michael Seal of Shostakovich’s Symphony No.8 was great and superb from all aspects: Brilliant sound quality, good depth of it, perfect input of the different instruments – both soloists and groups of instruments in unison – balance, interpretive excellence and great tempi.
Not only did they honour the wonderful music that Shostakovich composed, but also, all the works included in the program were extraordinarily well interpreted, within a repertoire that went from the most classical to the contemporary. This demonstrates once again the personal opinion of the writer: the Philharmonic sounds like a European orchestra when a conductor manages to transmit his professionalism, claw, emotion and discipline to his musicians. If that adds to the immense amount – and quality – of local talents, the results are in sight.
Martha Cora Eliseht, deparaisoparaud.blogspot.com
“But all this was thoroughly outclassed by Mahler’s Symphony No.5 which, with the Birmingham Conservatoire Symphony Orchestra beefed up to 90 players, sounded totally awesome. And it was a brilliantly executed reading by a fired-up, concentrating orchestra that completely belied its student status.
Even more impressive was Seal’s masterly control, without resorting to histrionics, of both forces involved and the work’s structural complexities. For someone who has never been a fan of Mahler’s excesses and eccentricities, the experience was enormously convincing, satisfying and tremendously exciting. Something of a revelation and conversion in fact.
David Hart, Birmingham Post *****
“…and a heartening celebratory concert in memory of Gwyn Williams, much-loved viola principal with the CBSO, included staggeringly excellent performances of Elgar’s Introduction and Allegro, and Vaughan Williams’ Serenade to Music, expertly rehearsed on a shoestring of time and conducted by one of Gwyn’s old CBSO colleagues, Michael Seal.
And it is Seal who conducted the undoubted highlight of my reviewing year, a crackling, confident, assured, colourful and dramatic Walton Belshazzar’s Feast from the City of Birmingham Choir, Morgan Pearse the baritone soloist, and with no less an accompanying band than the peerless Birmingham Schools’ Symphony Orchestra.”
Christopher Morley, reviewing the concerts of 2017 for the Birmingham Post.
“After a week of intensive training from members of the parent orchestra, the CBSO Youth Orchestra proudly set out its stall under the remarkable conducting of Michael Seal, delivering these highly emotional scores with a commendable maturity of control, depth of tone (even in the quietest passages), and with tremendous sense of ensemble. Unisons from the strings were impeccable, eye-contact across the vast percussion section obviated any lapses in synchronisation, chording in the brass was awesome, and woodwind wove their solos with eloquence and personality.
Highlights in the Britten (Sinfonia da Requiem) were the roaring horns in the Dies Irae and the authoritative way Seal marshalled that movement’s disintegration. The famous totalitarian onslaught in the Shostakovich (Symphony No.7) was underpinned by an indefatigable snare-drummer, its inexorable crescendo (like a scary Bolero meeting The Merry Widow) building huge power, and in later movements the shaping of violin accompaniments under wind solos was deliciously persuasive.
Christopher Morley, midlandmusicreviews.com *****
“Seal gave us a bustling, nuanced Mozart Marriage of Figaro Overture, and concluded with a zippy, energetic Beethoven Eroica Symphony.
As a dyed-in-the-wool ex-orchestral player, Seal certainly knows how to rehearse, and the detail which emerged seemingly unobtrusively in the symphony (particularly the woodwind) from this reading was revelatory.
This was an account unafraid of the rhythmic and tonal terrors this mighty, powerfully influential work holds. It was muscular yet sensitive, and it brought almost dance-like impulses right from the onset of the Finale, correctly bursting indirectly from the Scherzo, which had displayed the CBSO’s majestic, resplendent horns.
Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post *****
“It is a measure of guest-conductor’s Michael Seal’s admirable insight that he brought this wonderful music (Symphonic Suite from ‘Gloriana’) to life in an account that was deeply impressive. The playing of the Kensington Symphony Orchestra was excellent throughout, but Seal’s control of tempos and sense of inner structure must have come as a revelation to those who do not know this work, and the KSO relished the myriad opportunities Britten gives for characterisation, individual expression and corporate display.
Shostakovich 10 may pose rather more problems for the interpreter. They are of a different kind, although such is the power and directness of utterance of that much of the Symphony’s quality will shine through even a superficial performance – which this, most certainly, was not.
Seal has the measure of this masterpiece, and in terms of structural understanding, he delivered a reading that was more than impressive, indeed, shot through with considerable insight. Although the main problem Shostakovich poses in the first movement is of his own making – this 20-minute-plus creation can so often seem to lack a proper dominant preparation in terms of the return to the tonic, two-thirds of the way through, that more superficial conductors fail to grasp the necessity of maintaining an inner pulse, underpinned with a heavy heart, which enables the tonal basis to make its fullest effect. But in this regard, Seal was absolutely spot-on and the KSO responded magnificently, ramming the point home with considerable force and majesty.
The Scherzo was equally impressive: very fast, played with every ounce of fire and virtuosity the music demands. The enigmatic slow movement, as Shostakovich himself (via the emergent DSCH motif) appears, was equally finely-paced and excellently shaped, and Seal once again showed his mastery in the B minor-ish (dominant preparation now writ large!) slow introduction to the Finale. Here, Shostakovich is at his most subtle – the 10-note cello line which opens the movement begins to fulfil the function of a 12-note row, with just two notes missing: E and G-sharp. Combined with B, they form the tonic major chord towards which, gradually free from earlier shackles, the music has been moving. This passage requires the most exceptional finesse in terms of tempo and maintaining a sense of gradual forward momentum if the arrival of E-major itself is to make its full effect. Seal’s control was superb, so that when the Finale began, free from all uncertainty, the sense of relief and release was almost tangible. Ultimately the DSCH motif, emerging triumphant in the hectic closing bars, rammed this magnificent work home. A great interpretation, magnificently played.
Robert Matthew-Walker, Classical Source
“Specifically this performance was given by the CBSO Youth Orchestra Academy, which selects members from the full Youth Orchestra to give them the chance to extend their repertoire and musical experience. Behind the scenes they receive support and coaching from the main CBSO and they have a brilliant rapport with their conductor Michael Seal. It was a picture of a happy team at work……..
…….A pared down orchestra then told us the story of Molière’s Le Bourgeios gentilhomme, courtesy of Richard Strauss and music that was originally destined to be incidental to a play that outgrew stageability, so he turned it into a concert suite instead. The eponymous hero flaunts his new-found wealth by throwing lavish parties and dinners, with a cast of musicians, fencing teachers, dancing masters and fashion designers all getting in on the act and depicted by their own multifarious musical characteristics. Highlights included the gentle oboe joined by other winds and horns in the overture; flutes bringing out the dance-like quality of the minuet; the exuberance and confidence of the piano/trumpet combination painting the fencing master’s antics; leader Charlotte Moseley weaving in and out with the tailor’s precision stitches making sure the gentleman is suitably clad; an affecting, poignant muted sarabande; and the sheer joie de vivre of the dinner party itself, falling scales passed around the instruments like infectious laughter. The audience lapped it up and Seal applauded his players before turning to acknowledge the warm reception himself.
After the interval the stage was once more filled to the brim for Brahms’ Symphony no. 4 in E minor. As it happens, my last review also featured this piece, played by the Dresden Philharmonic, so how would these less experienced players fare by comparison? Let’s just say they didn’t just fill the stage, they owned it! The CBSO YOA tackled Brahms’ massive structure of a work with maturity beyond their years and really came into their own. From the confident, majestic attack and warmth of the strings, through fine handling of tempo changes to the first movement’s passionate close, they showed both discipline and musicality. The second movement allowed us a good wallow, the unanimity of the lower strings’ pizzicato paired with the poised line of brass and wind. In the third movement they brought out both a playful and martial feel, confident answering chords moving on apace. Full marks to the flute solo in the final movement, as well as the clarinet and eloquent trombones. Turning the corner into the clamorous closing stages, with staccato urgency and energy, this enthusiastic and talented orchestra rounded off a fine night of music-making. The audience may not have been full, but we enjoyed it fully.
Katherine Dixson, backtrack.com
“There is more than one great orchestra / conductor partnership in Birmingham. Michael Seal has been principal conductor of the Sinfonia of Birmingham since 2002 and they’ve grown together.
To hear them is to experience something that’s rare even with professional orchestras: a conductor who knows exactly how to get the best from his orchestra and a band that knows exactly how to respond. We’ve heard things from this team at Sutton Coldfield that, for pure musicality and communicative power, have far outstripped certain big-name concerts at Symphony Hall.
Those thoughts followed naturally from a performance of Nielsen’s Four Temperaments Symphony that seemed to make every one of those points: taut, powerful and ebullient, yet with moments both of lyrical sweetness and real danger. Seal found space for detail and to let his players sing while maintaining the long line of the symphony’s architecture and propelling the music forward…….
….and Sibelius’ Finlandia grew as if in one single phrase from snarling opening to defiant finish. The last time we heard it done so convincingly, the conductor was Sakari Oramo.”
Richard Bratby, Birmingham Post
“The suite from Carmen, Rodion Schedrin’s ballet score based on themes from Bizet’s opera was delightful. He uses only strings and a variety of percussion with amazing results – laugh-out-loud in places (like Malcolm Arnold’s musical jokes) but gorgeous in the divided strings of the Flower Song. Seal polished every musical episode until it glowed and hats off the to CBSO’s dextrous and versatile percussion section.
Seal’s approach to Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony was direct, unfussy and immensely powerful – don’t worry about its alleged coded messages, just listen. The brassy finale was blistering while the largo was deftly handled with powerful yet restrained strings and everything illuminated by wind playing of great character. It was so good that I bought tickets for the repeat performance!”
Norman Stinchcombe, Birmingham Post
I kept having to pinch myself: the sounds coming from the stage were not in fact from the CBSO, but from the CBSO Youth Orchestra, playing with a maturity of delivery worthy of the mentors who had guided these youngsters through a week of intensive training.
And their performance was a well-deserved reward for Michael Seal, who had presided over the whole week and who on Sunday evening drew immense riches from these players in what I consider his greatest conducting triumph yet…….
…..Finally came the awesome challenge of Richard Strauss’s Alpensinfonie, a dawn to dusk traversal of a Bavarian mountain, and totally moving and exciting in its performance here. Winds are often easy to praise, and these deserved to be, but not so often do we mention the strings; here they were extraordinary, pouring out a wonderful maturity of tone, not least from the lower cohorts.
I cannot praise enough the maturity of every section. I have heard young brass players showing off like nobody’s business. I have seen percussionists turning what they do into a theatrical performance.
Nothing like that here. This was an Alpensinfonie under Michael Seal which was all about the music, and it will stay long in the memory.
Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post
You can read a lot into the first two chords of Beethoven’s “Eroica” Symphony. Classical portico or violent detonation? Majestic assertion of E flat major, or the first shocking glimpse of a drama that’s already under way? Michael Seal, conducting the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, accelerated through those first two bars before sweeping into a sleek, swinging first subject. He could afford to let his players sing. Those asymmetrical opening chords had done just enough to subvert the polished surface – to hint at the music’s latent potential for violent disorder.
And at critical points of each of the symphony’s four movements, Seal let that violence break through. Gradually, thrillingly, the speed started to push, textures began to shake apart and raw emotion – usually heralded by the black tone of the German rotary trumpets that the CBSO has taken to using in this repertoire – overwhelmed the symphonic argument. Seal’s mastery of orchestral sonority was audible throughout: some of it (the roistering, full-fat CBSO horn sound in the Scherzo’s Trio) simply a matter of empowering his players to play, other instances – like the way that as vibrato-less violins quietly ended a phrase in the Funeral March, the cellos and basses growled upwards to continue their line – more subtle and intuitive. Matthew Hardy’s timpani were a powerful agent of misrule.
Throughout, Seal’s reading followed through on the subversive logic of that headlong opening; paragraphs of Bruckner-like spaciousness and grandeur were punctuated, confronted and swung around by those climactic passages of violent release. This wasn’t the roughest “Eroica” you’ll hear – or for that matter the smoothest – but it was intelligent, articulate and on its own terms powerfully convincing.
Seal had opened the concert with a performance of Rimsky-Korsakov’s Capriccio Espagnol – one of those supposedly hackneyed popular classics that you actually never seem to hear any more. Rimsky said that in the Capriccio orchestral colour is the musical substance, and Seal responded by simply playing the socks off it. Rhythms were crisp, colours iridescent, and amidst a parade of exuberantly characterised solos, Oliver Janes’s clarinet and flautist Marie-Christine Zupancic’s fresh, fluid tone stood out. It was gleefully, unapologetically up-front, and the all-rattling, all-jangling final Alborada brought cheers from the audience. There’s life in this warhorse yet.
Scriabin’s solitary Piano Concerto, meanwhile, continues to hover on the fringes of the repertoire, with most of its (fairly rare) champions treating it either as supercharged Chopin or half-baked Rachmaninov. Not Yevgeny Sudbin (pictured above). Seal went for clarity rather than poetry in the opening bars, and it soon became clear that this was precisely Sudbin’s own approach. Scriabin’s too: what we usually hear as a perfumed dream of a first movement is actually marked Allegro.
There was no wallowing here, and no grandstanding either: Sudbin’s gleaming, transparent chains of notes fell elegantly and expressively into place. Scriabin as classicist? It had a lovely purity, and Seal and Sudbin let the final, glowing F sharp major piano chord fade in the air long after the orchestra had fallen silent. Again, simply doing what Scriabin wrote shouldn’t feel quite so radical; as it was, that fidelity was probably responsible for Sudbin receiving an ovation that was warmly appreciative rather than torrential. Just as he’d allowed the orchestral soloists in the Capriccio to take most of the applause, Seal now left the stage to his soloist: a typically generous gesture from this fine and hugely undervalued conductor.
Richard Bratby, TheArtsDesk.com
“Conductor Michael Seal is a man who seems to feel every moment of every movement but still finds time to jokingly goad his players, followed by reassuring smiles, to get exactly what he wants..” (Shchedrin Carmen Ballet Suite)
Jonathan Glen, birminghamreview.net
“And for those who attended the pre-concert performance by the Birmingham Conservatoire Symphony Orchestra the best came first.
Under the empowering direction of Michael Seal, this remarkably accomplished orchestra gave an account of Britten’s Sinfonia da Requiem that went far beyond being just a free taster. From the broodingly anguished first movement (so like Shostakovich) and blisteringly exciting, demonic Dies irae scherzo, to a finale in which all tensions were released in its consolatory fulfilment, this was a fully formed and terrifically well executed reading.”
David Hart, Birmingham Post
“Tall and pale, with a bob of black hair, the young Estonian pianist Mihkel Poll has the kind of presence that evokes great Romantic virtuosi like Rachmaninov and Liszt before he’s so much as played a note. Still, nothing had prepared us for quite how spectacularly this performance of Rachmaninov’s Third Concerto, with the Sinfonia of Birmingham conducted by Michael Seal, would make good on those impressions.
Poised, and at times almost motionless, Poll seemed to stroke the music out of the piano, singing Rachmaninov’s lines like the Russian Orthodox chants that inspired them, and dispatching passage-work with gleaming, perfectly-measured bravura.
Around him, Seal and the Sinfonia sculpted and shaded Rachmaninov’s orchestral accompaniment. Seal has a powerful gift for finding and drawing out long musical lines, building climaxes over entire movements, and finding the keystone of a symphonic argument.
And with Seal at the top of his game, and Poll’s playing firing the orchestra, the performance just took off. Impassioned, expressive and taut, the momentum and sense of sheer rightness generated together by conductor, orchestra and soloist was magnificent. We’ve heard very few performances of the Third, by any artist, to equal this one – and none to surpass it.”
Richard Bratby, Birmingham Post *****
“Drumming-up proceedings with tremendous enthusiasm, presenter Petroc Trelawny introduced the music and the evening’s conductor Michael Seal; presently Associate Conductor of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. His account of Elgar’s personal tribute to his friends; the Enigma Variations, was superbly drawn, bringing out all the emotion and colourful orchestral textures of the piece with great élan.”
Mike Marsh, Bournemouth Echo – BSO concert in Bournemouth Pavilion Theatre, March 2013
“But the revelation tonight was Suor Angelica – usually viewed as the problem piece of the three. With Elizabeth Ryder in the title role, it was overwhelming. Her Senza mamma was piercing in its controlled intensity, and her stand-off with the coolly sadistic Principezza (powerfully characterised by Ellie Edmonds) became the dramatic climax of the evening – lifted to a shattering level by the conducting of Michael Seal. Alert and urgent, masterfully paced, and with a near-perfect balance between singers and orchestra, it was hard to believe that this was Seal’s first ever full-length opera. An on-form student orchestra responded with some really sumptuous playing.”
Richard Bratby, Birmingham Post *****
“Michael Seal executed the Prelude and Isolde’s Liebestod from Richard Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde with perfect composure and took the listeners along in a frenzy of sound, drunk with death. In conclusion, Seal elegantly navigated the orchestra through Claude Debussy’s La mer. During all the impressionistic tone painting, he never neglected the symphonic dimensions and made the closing “Dialogue du vent et de la mer” surge triumphantly.”
Mannheimer Morgen – CBSO concert in Heidelberg standing in for Andris Nelsons
“….An encore was out of the question after this brilliant finale, which shimmered with vigorous forward drive. The musicians played the lyrical passages marvellously; the conductor literally basked in the sound.” (Sibelius Symphony No.2)
Westdeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung – CBSO concert in Dortmund standing in for Andris Nelsons on 90 minutes notice.
“Jean Sibelius’s Symphony in D major, op. 43, proved to be the most convincing work on the programme. The excellent musicians of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, under the inspired conducting of Michael Seal, displayed the opulently flowing score with intense passion and rhythmic precision, evoked colours and moods that were directly conveyed to the audience.
Badische Neueste Nachrichten – CBSO concert in Baden-Baden standing in for Andris Nelsons
“Yet this was a reading from the BPO which confronted everything head-on, emerging triumphant after 75 minutes of sustained concentration in front of a gripped audience which never dropped a pin. Under Michael Seal, a conductor who has developed so gratifyingly from one of calm efficiency into an interpreter genuinely with something to say, the music was shaped and developed with a cogency which both looked back to earlier works and anticipated the expressionistic contortions of a later generation.” (Mahler Symphony No.10 ed. Cooke)
Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post ****
“Applauding after an orchestral movement is now considered bad etiquette or worse, an infallible indicator of the philistine.
That’s a pity since the blazing allegro con brio of Beethoven’s Eroica from these young players deserved an audible acclamation.
A gallery wit at the first performance shouted that he’d pay another kreutzer if only the music would stop: I’d have paid a fiver to hear it again.
Michael Seal conducted a strong sinewy performance where details were clear – the slow movement’s plaintive oboe lament and the basses’ stabbing interventions for example – but always suborned to the overall narrative drive.
The players clearly relished Beethoven’s dramatic thrusts and parries but also excelled in the jolly bucolic trio with its virtuoso hunting calls – fine work by the horns – and the skittish dancing finale.”
Norman Stinchcombe, Birmingham Post
“Michael Seal possesses an effortless charisma on the podium. Clear in his beat and generous in his cues, it was obvious he knew the scores backwards.
Elmley De La Cour, Birmingham Post
“After ten recent performances, Sibelius’s 2nd symphony was still excitingly fresh. There was a true ‘WOW!’ factor throughout, from chunky brass and gutsy shimmering strings, to pizzicato cellos and basses sounding as one with a fat rich sound. Virtuoso playing from everyone swept listeners towards the final hot-blooded frenzies, winding up to the massive climaxes with breathtaking passion. Moist eyes all round in the cheering audience, I suspect.”
Maggie Cotton, Birmingham Post *****
“Michael Seal, however, took it (Nielsen Symphony No.4) to a new level of blistering energy, throwing out the opening motifs and themes like a challenging musical jigsaw. In every respect this was a stunningly exciting performance: Seal never let the tension flag for a moment, and all sections of the orchestra responded brilliantly, with crisp woodwind and horns in the Allegretto, a slow movement made even more unsettling by the CBSO’s passionately searing strings, and a finale in which the warring antiphonal timpani battered us into long-awaited cathartic release. Marvellous.”
David Hart, Birmingham Post *****
“Michael Seal – who has grown from a safe pair of hands into a conductor with real insight and imagination – directed a terrific account of Nielsen’s First Symphony, underpinned by an energy that swept all before it.
But in no sense was it just a ‘play through.’ Despite the almost relentless sense of momentum (a valid interpretative approach, considering Nielsen’s quirky approach to progressive tonality, melodies that don’t linger, and movements that never return to their point of origin) this was an open-textured reading full of detail and tonal freshness.”
David Hart, Birmingham Post ****
“An indisposed Ilan Volkov had to be replaced at short notice by Michael Seal, the CBSO’s recently appointed Associate Conductor. He conducted with clarity and authority throughout, ending the evening with an expertly paced and impassioned performance of Sibelius’s Fifth Symphony.”
Hilary Finch, The Times 15/3/11 ****
“Finally to round off an epic evening a no-holds-barred performance of Sibelius’ Symphony No 5, beginning with pristine intonation from winds, then onto shimmering immaculate unison strings in the scherzo. From buzzing violas, faultless pizzicatos and hardly audible CBSO pianissimos – wonderful in Symphony Hall –to the devastating heart-pounding climax after the triumphant key change in the finale. This was a performance to remember.”
Maggie Cotton, Birmingham Post *****
“Between Two Waves of the Sea is a tough assignment for any conductor, and Sakari Oramo’s continued indisposition could have been disastrous. However, former CBSO violinist Michael Seal – who conducted the pre-recorded component earlier this year and whose work across the Midlands has been widely praised – was on hand to direct a confident account which conveyed the piece’s diversity and overall coherence to telling effect.”
“What made it so satisfying was Seal’s control of structure and texture”
David Hart, Birmingham Post
“Birmingham Town Hall has been the venue for countless performances of Beethoven’s Symphony no.7 over the best part of two centuries, but not many of them will have been given with the vitality, energy and sheer rhythmic drive which we heard from the superlative CBSO Youth Orchestra Academy. In Michael Seal they have a conductor who has learned his trade from the inside and is therefore able to direct his charges with insight and understanding.The result in this most kinetic of symphonies was exhilarating, lively, vibrant and seamlessly flowing”
Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post
“Seal, whose direction is always a model of clarity and precision, and his fellow musicians gave glowingly sympathetic and affectionate support to their colleagues.”
David Hart, Birmingham Post
“For conductor Michael Seal, stepping in at short notice for an indisposed Sakari Oramo, it was a personal triumph. Seal’s reading of this turbulent work ( Nielsen Symphony No.4 ) had a wonderful ‘edge’ to it, always questing and propelled by an innate sense of structure and dramatic purpose.”
David Hart, Birmingham Post
“Every element in this jaw-droppingly brilliant group came together for Beethoven’s Symphony no 4, lively, alert, bursting with energy, and, again, judiciously balanced under Seal’s magisterial direction”.
Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post
“..a fine example of Seal’s capacity to make these capable players perform above their individual abilities in a band of much distinction.”
Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post
“Seal exhibited an extremely interesting personality, of powerful energy, in a varied program. The baroque concerto of Giuseppe Torelli, allowed great brilliancy for the Strings of the Filarmonica de Buenos Aires … and the Capriccio Espagnol by Rimski-Korsakov was delivered with great colour and vigour by the whole orchestra.”
“Totally in control of orchestra and score, it was one of the finest things Seal has accomplished in his relatively short career, demonstrating a masterly grasp of atmosphere, sonority and structure which the CBSO responded to with stunning alacrity, effulgence and attention to detail.” ( Vaughan Williams A London Symphony )
David Hart, Birmingham Post
“The concert began with the delicious and “fairylike” Overture to “ A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, Op. 21, the music that the composer wrote to accompany the comedy by Shakespeare. The Philharmonic fulfilled a subtle and dynamic interpretation of this gorgeous music directed by Michael Seal. Precise and musical, Seal contributed to this tribute of Mendelssohn in the best way, accompanying the soloist, Xavier Inchausti, in the Violin Concerto in E Minor, Op. 64 and in a luminous, agile and colorful reading of the Symphony N° 4.” (Op. 90).
“After all the excitement of high profile visitors and exotic repertoire in recent CBSO concerts this afternoon event featured a programme that might have looked a bread and butter affair, but not a bit of it. When standard works are recreated with care and excitement in performances such as these, we are reminded of what made us love them in the first place. Mendelssohn’s Scottish Symphony was riveting. In the mysterious introduction, the string phrases rose and fell with generous room for breath between. The ensuing Allegro agitato was true to its word, the storms splendidly tempestuous. The scherzo’s Assai vivace marking was taken literally, too, skirling away at impressive speed. The slow movement was as lovingly contoured as the galop of the finale was tautly controlled, the chugging horns underpinning the elfin brilliance of woodwind and strings. In Mozart’s third violin concerto, the young British violinist Jack Liebeck was alert to every nuance of rhythm and phrasing. He gave the courtly gestures a sweet toned chamber delivery, and his finely shaded playing and precise intonation was a joy to hear. So too the introspective poise of the second movement before the bucolic high jinks of the finale. Michael Seal is well aware of the dynamic contrasts this hall makes possible, and he made the most of them in Beethoven’s Leonora No. 3 in a performance of strength and power. Full of forward thrust and momentum, this was taken at a blistering pace with the concluding section particularly exciting, with terrific ensemble and attack in the string scales. I can’t think of a better way to spend a grey and wet afternoon than sitting in Symphony Hall being warmed by playing of this calibre.”
John Gough, Birmingham Post
“The superb City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, conducted with considerable artistry by Michael Seal, performed to a capacity audience for this final event in the 80th Anniversary celebrating the Malvern Festival. The ‘Hebrides Overture’ by Mendelssohn flowed atmospherically with aesthetic strings and woodwind overlapping, brass adding colour. Thrilling changes of tempi and dynamics and some lovely fragments of cantabile melody were noteworthy. Guy Johnston, young in years, but mature as a musician, was an eloquent soloist in Elgar’s ‘Cello Concerto’, his interpretation charged with painful emotion. The glorious tones of his cello sang mellifluously throughout its’ range, lingering and poignant and slower sometimes, especially in the Adagio, than is often the case; this added to the spiritual anguish. The CBSO empathized totally. Beethoven’s ‘Pastoral Symphony’ conjured up a vista of unadulterated joy! The orchestra sparkled as it relished the rural idyll. Strings were expressive as water in the brook bubbled along or woodwind especially flutes, imitated bird-song, brass was potent and a solo horn sounded as a huntsman. Low strings emulated thunder rumbling and eventually radiant serenity prevailed before a blazing climax. The CBSO and Michael Seal were magnificent.”
Jill Hopkins , Malvern Gazette