Sibelius the Symphonist

One of the main works in the Firebird concert on 11 June is Sibelius’s 5th Symphony. We find out more about the symphonies of Finland’s national hero…

Being credited with developing a country’s national identity is some accolade, but the symphonies of Jean Sibelius (1865-1957) helped define Finland’s struggle for independence.

Positioned precariously between Sweden and Russia, Finland had been part of the kingdom of Sweden since the middle ages. The 18th century ’Great Wrath’ wars twice led to the occupation of Finland by Russian forces.

Following the 1917 Russian Revolution, Finland declared itself independent but the fledgling state was divided by civil war. And during World War II, the Soviet Union sought repeatedly to occupy Finland.

But finally in 1955 Finland joined the United Nations and established an official policy of neutrality. Joining the Eurozone in 1995, Finland now ranks first on recent World Happiness Report reports.

The Sibelius Symphonies Edition

The core of Sibelius’s work as a composer are his seven symphonies. But after his Seventh Symphony in 1924 he stopped producing major works in his last thirty years of his life.

His First Symphony of 1899 was composed at a time when patriotic feelings were being enhanced by the Russian emperor Nicholas II’s attempt to restrict the powers of the Grand Duchy of Finland. It was performed in a concert with several of his blatantly patriotic songs which immediately brought him the status of a national hero.

The 1902 Second Symphony was premiered during a period of Russian oppression and was received with tremendous enthusiasm by the Finns which further consolidated his reputation.

Despite bouts of excessive wining and dining in Helsinki, spending exorbitant amounts on champagne and lobster, Sibelius finally resolved to give up drinking to concentrate on composing his Third Symphony which uses themes from Finnish folk music. A reviewer described it as ‘internally new and revolutionary’.

But by 1907 his smoking and drinking had become life-threatening and he had a tumour removed from his throat in Berlin. After the operation, he vowed to give up smoking and drinking once and for all.

The impact of this brush with death inspired his Fourth Symphony. But its introspective style was not warmly received in Helsinki and in New York members of audience left between movements with the Boston American labelling it ‘a sad failure’.

An extract from the score of Sibelius’s Fifth Symphony

While travelling back from the US, Sibelius heard about the events in Sarajevo that led to the beginning of the First World War and he began working on his Fifth Symphony.

The sight of 16 swans flying by inspired him to write the finale. ‘One of the great experiences of my life!’ he commented. Sibelius conducted the premiere of the Fifth Symphony on the eve of his 50th birthday.

After several rewrites, and a resumption of the drinking, the work was finished coinciding with the Russian Revolution which was to have a significant impact on his life and those around him.

Sibelius in 1939

Following Finland’s liberation he premiered his Sixth Symphony in 1923 and at a subsequent performance in Gothenburg he enjoyed an ecstatic reception despite arriving at the concert hall suffering from over-indulgence in food and drink. Following the premiere of his Seventh Symphony in 1924 Sibelius was honoured with the Knight Commander’s Cross of the Order of the Dannebrog.

Although Sibelius started work on an eighth symphony it was not to be. Sibelius had always been self-critical remarking ‘If I cannot write a better symphony than my Seventh, then it shall be my last.’ He consigned all his surviving manuscripts to the flames in 1945.

At the time of his death in 1957, his Fifth Symphony was being broadcast from Helsinki. At the same time, the UN was in session and a moment of silence was called with the President saying: ‘Sibelius belonged to the whole world. With his music, he enriched the life of the entire human race’.

Sibelius in Summer

Tuesday 11 June 2019 7.30pm
St George’s Hanover Square, London

Rossini Overture to Il Barbiere di Siviglia
Paganini Violin Concerto no. 2
Angela Slater Twilight Inversions (World Première – Firebird Composer of the Year Winner)
Sibelius Symphony No. 5 Op. 82

Michael Thrift conductor
Yury Revich violin

Meet the artist: Yury Revich

We meet the dazzling young virtuoso violinist, Yury Revich, who is the soloist in an incredible display of virtuosity in the next Firebird concert on 11 June…

Born in Moscow in 1991, Yury Revich now resides in Vienna and holds Austrian citizenship. Amongst his awards are the first prize at the International Virtuosi of the 21st Century competition in Moscow and the Young Artist of the Year 2015 by the International Classical Music Awards (ICMA). 

‘Full-blooded authority, fleet-fingered dexterity, innate musicality and substantial accuracy…’  The Strad

Yury Revich performing the Russian Dance from Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake live at the Montenegrin National Theatre’s New Year’s Concert.

Yury made his debut at the Carnegie Hall at the age of 18. Since then he has performed internationally at festivals in France, Germany, Italy, Georgia, Lebanon, Switzerland, Austria, Israel and in many other countries. He has also performed at major venues including the Berlin Philharmonie, Vienna Musikverein, Leipzig Gewandhaus, Zurich Tonhalle and La Scala in Milan.

His recordings to date are featured on labels such as Sony Classical as well as ARS records for which he won his ECHO Klassik Award.

‘…already regarded as a young Paganini: This is the violinist Yury Revich’  Radio Uno, Italy

Yury is also a passionate advocate for many charitable and philanthropic causes. He co-organized a concert in Vienna in 2011 for the victims of the Japanese tsunami. In 2015 he organised the First Austrian Gala Charity All for Autism which has become one the biggest Autism Awareness events in Europe. An official partner of UNICEF Austria, Yury hosts an annual Dreamland Gala for UNICEF as part of his Friday Nights with Yury Revich international concert cycle in Vienna.

Yury also lives out his creativity in the film medium having also studied directing and acting. Above is an example of one of his delightful short films, entitled Confusion.

Yury Revich will perform Paganini’s wonderful Second Violin Concerto on 11 June in a fabulous evening of the very best in classical music. Under their conductor Michael Thrift, Firebird will also perform a lively overture by Rossini, an exciting premiere by the winner of the Firebird Composer of the Year Angela Slater and Sibelius’s beautiful Fifth Symphony. 

Sibelius in Summer

Tuesday 11 June 2019 7.30pm
St George’s Hanover Square, London

Rossini Overture to Il Barbiere di Siviglia
Paganini Violin Concerto no. 2
Angela Slater Twilight Inversions (World Première – Firebird Composer of the Year Winner)
Sibelius Symphony No. 5 Op. 82

Michael Thrift conductor
Yury Revich violin

Sibelius in the Summer

In June we look forward to a fabulous Firebird concert featuring a dazzling young Russian Virtuoso Violinist, an exciting World Premiere, a brilliant Operatic Overture and one of the most wonderful Symphonies in the repertoire…

Sibelius in Summer on 11 June at St George’s Hanover Square opens one of the most exciting musical masterpieces in the world of music with the Overture to Rossini’s Opera Il Barbiere di Siviglia, or The Barber of Seville.

Michael Thrift, conductor
Michael Thrift, conductor

Conducted by our very own Michael Thrift, this promises to be a top quality evening full of fantastic music and introducing some fresh new stars to share Firebird’s concert platform.

Russian violinist Yury Revich is the soloist for an incredible display of virtuosity in Paganini’s Violin Concerto No 2.

Yury Revich
Yury Revich

Composed in Italy in 1826, this is far more than a display of musical fireworks as it also displays great richness and melodic style.

It is always exciting to stage a World Premiere and this year we are delighted to present the first ever performance of Angela Slater’s Twilight Inversions – the winning entry in the Firebird Composer of the Year competition.

Angela Slater
Angela Slater

A rising star as a composer, Angela Slater has recently participated in the St Magnus Composition Course 2017, working with Alasdair Nicholson and Sally Beamish and the Britten-Pears Young Artists Composers’ Course 2017, where she has worked with Olivier Knussen and Colin Matthews.

And the major work in the second half is the Symphony No. 5 Op. 82 by Jean Sibelius. Composed in 1915 it was composed to celebrate the composer’s 50th birthday as a commission from the Finnish Government. This monumental work helped earn Sibelius the accolade of a National Hero.

Sibelius monument
Sibelius monument, Helsinki

Sibelius in Summer

Tuesday 11 June 2019 7.30pm
St George’s Hanover Square, London

Rossini / Paganini / Slater / Sibelius

Michael Thrift conductor
Yury Revich violin

Introducing Firebird for Schools

A new tailor-made concert specifically for schoolchildren is being staged by London Firebird Orchestra to introduce young people to the magical world of the orchestra.

As part of the charity’s outreach work this event is a partnership between the Orchestra, London Music Masters and state schools from a range of London boroughs.

350 school children and their teachers will attend the event which will be conducted by Firebird’s Michael Thrift. The programme will feature Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf with narrator Nickolas Grace (pictured), along with a selection of other well-known classical works.

Nicholas Grace

Nickolas Grace is an English actor known for his roles on television, including Anthony Blanche in the acclaimed ITV adaptation of Brideshead Revisited, and the Sheriff of Nottingham in the 1980s series Robin of Sherwood. Grace also played Dorien Green’s husband Marcus Green in the 1990s British comedy series Birds of a Feather.

St George's Hanover Square
St George’s Hanover Square

Taking place in the intimate but spacious surroundings of St George’s Hanover Square – also known as ‘Handel’s Church’ – the children will be able to sit up close to the orchestra to engage with the performance.

Firebird believes this is a particularly important enterprise which it hopes will become an annual event. With provision for music in certain parts of London currently restricted, this exciting concert will inspire the next generation of music-makers and music-lovers.

Peter and the Wolf
Peter and the Wolf

The main work in the programme, Peter and the Wolf was composed by Sergei Prokofiev in 1936. The narrator tells the story with each character represented by an orchestral instrument:

  • Bird – flute
  • Duck – oboe
  • Cat – clarinet
  • Grandfather – bassoon
  • Wolf – three horns
  • Peter – string quartet
  • Hunters – drums

Peter and the Wolf is Prokofiev’s most frequently performed work, and one of the most frequently performed works in the entire classical repertoire.

Please help to support Firebird’s valuable education and outreach work by joining our Firebird Friends & Benefactors Society.

Titania and Bottom

Mendelssohn’s Dream

‘The greatest child prodigy since Mozart’ they said. Mendelssohn had made his first public concert appearance at the age of 9 and by his teens had five operas and 11 symphonies to his credit. He had also composed the Overture to one of Shakespeare’s iconic plays – but why did it take him 16 years to complete the project?

Felix Mendelssohn’s music for William Shakespeare’s play, A Midsummer Night’s Dream spans both ends of his compositional career. He wrote the Overture in 1826 when he was just 17 years old. Music scholar George Grove called it ‘the greatest marvel of early maturity that the world has ever seen in music’. However, he was not to write the incidental music for the rest of the play until 1842, only a few years before his death.


The young Mendelssohn had just read a German translation of the play and it was said, by the composer’s biographer, Heinrich Eduard Jacob, that he had just scribbled down some of the musical ideas after hearing an evening breeze rustle the leaves in the garden of the family’s home.

First edition of Shakespeare's play
First edition of Shakespeare’s play

Mendelssohn first played his overture in a version for two pianos with his sister Fanny. He then orchestrated it for a public performance the following year in Stettin in what is now Poland. Mendelssohn travelled 80 miles through a raging snowstorm to get to the concert in which he was also one of the piano soloists in his Concerto in A-flat major for two pianos and orchestra, and the soloist in Weber’s Konzertstück in F minor. And as if that was not enough, after the interval he joined the first violins for a performance of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. In 1829 he conducted the first British performance of the Overture himself in London at a benefit concert for Silesian flood victims.


Although essentially a piece in the classical idiom, Mendelssohn also creates a uniquely Romantic atmosphere throughout the Overture. Moreover, it brilliantly sets the scene of Shakespeare’s play with the scampering of ‘fairy feet’, the royal music of the court of Athens, the ‘lover’s theme’ and the ‘hee-haw’ braying of Bottom as an ass.

16 years later in 1842 Mendelssohn was music director of the King’s Academy of the Arts and of the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra. It took a commission from King Frederick William IV of Prussia to encourage Mendelssohn to complete the work as a 14-movement suite of incidental music for performance alongside the play. The earlier Overture was incorporated into the score which also includes the world-famous Wedding March.

Mendelssohn was not the first to be inspired by the play. Purcell’s 1692 restoration spectacular The Fairy-Queen for example, consists of a set of masques designed to be performed between acts of the play. And after Mendelssohn’s day his own score was recycled in various forms for film adaptations of Shakespeare’s comedy including Korngolds score for Max Reinhardt’s 1935 movie and Woody Allen‘s 1982 film A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy. Parts were even used in Gil Gates Jr’s 2002 A Midsummer Night’s Rave!

Mendelssohn’s magnificent Overture opens the next Firebird concert. Join us for a wonderful evening of three great works from the very heart of 19th century European classical music.

Brahms the Symphonist

For the next concert Firebird turns its hand to the First Symphony of Brahms which has lasted through the centuries thanks to its verve, freedom and complexity. But it didn’t start off quite like that…

It was around 1854 when Brahms began sketches for a Symphony in D minor. But it soon underwent radical change until it was finally recast as his first Piano Concerto in D minor. Nevertheless there was great expectation that Brahms should compose a symphony. The music of Beethoven cast a long shadow over the 19th century and audiences saw Brahms as his natural successor. 

Fiery Beethoven and young Brahms
Fiery Beethoven and young Brahms

So producing a symphony which could continue that legacy brought with it perhaps unrealistic demands on a young composer in his early twenties, understandably in awe of producing a symphony of commensurate dignity and intellectual scope as any of the nine symphonies of Beethoven. In addition, Brahms was fastidiously self-critical of his work which led him to destroy many of his early compositions. 

Mid life Brahms

It was not until 1868 when Brahms began to see the final structure of his First Symphony taking shape. In September of that year, he sent a card to his lifelong friend Clara Schumann sketching the Alphorn tune from the Finale with the message Thus blew the shepherd’s horn today!’ 


Yet progress was still slow and the Symphony would not premiere for another eight years. In 1873, the success of his Variations on a theme by Haydn for orchestra brought the composer a new burst of encouragement and he cautiously started to continue the work he had started years before. Schumann had also been encouraging him from the sidelines saying that all his friends had awaited this work for decades.

Schumann and Brahms

It was to take Brahms until he was 44 before his First Symphony would eventually be premiered on 4 November 1876. But even after the premiere Brahms was apprehensively planning five more trial performances before he could be completed satisfied.

The conductor for the Symphony’s premiere, Hans von Bülow, referred to it as ‘Beethoven’s Tenth’. There are indeed a few quotes and references to Beethoven if you listen carefully, but it’s more in the style of a homage. As Brahms himself commented, ‘any ass can see that.’

Join London Firebird Orchestra in the spectacular central London venue of St George’s Hanover Square for a wonderful evening of music including this great works from the very heart of European classical music.

Due to unforeseeable circumstances, we are sorry to announce that Aleksei Kiseliov is unable to be with us at this concert. Aleksei has longstanding and very close links with the orchestra and we are sure that he will be joining us at a future concert soon. He is very sorry not to be able to perform at our next concert.

On a very happy note however, we are delighted to confirm that the legendary cellist Raphael Wallfisch has kindly agreed to join us in the performance of the Schumann Concerto. The orchestra performed with the celebrated Maestro in 2015 and we are honoured to collaborate with him once again with this concert.

Michael Thrift

Mendelssohn in March

A mysterious Overture, a heart-rending Cello Concerto and a great Beethovenian inspired Symphony: These are the magical ingredients of the next Firebird concert on 14 March…

London’s St George’s Hanover Square is the venue for this spellbinding concert of classical masterpieces. We welcome the return to the podium of Australian conductor Michael Thrift (pictured) to direct this inspiring concert together with the dazzling young Russian cellist, Aleksei Kiseliov


Mendelssohn wrote his Overture to A Midsummer Night’s Dreamin 1826 when he was just 17 years old. Music scholar George Grove called it ‘the greatest marvel of early maturity that the world has ever seen in music’. However, he was not to write the incidental music for the rest of the play until 1842, only a few years before his death.


Schumann wrote his enigmatic Cello Concerto in A minor in just two weeks in October 1850 having recently become music director in Düsseldorf – yet it was never performed in his lifetime. It stands alongside the cello concertos of Dvořák and Elgar as the three great Romantic works for this instrument.


In contrast, it took Brahms at least fourteen years before he completed his first symphony. He was under the shadow of Beethoven with an unrealistic expectation that he should somehow continue ‘Beethoven’s inheritance’ and produce a symphony of commensurate dignity and intellectual scope. However, he finally did it in 1876!

Join London Firebird Orchestra in this spectacular central London venue for a wonderful evening of music with these three great works from the very heart of European classical music in the 19th century.


Thursday 14 March 2019 7.30pm
St George’s Hanover Square, London

Mendelssohn Overture to A Midsummer Night’s Dream in E major, Op. 21
Cello Concerto in A minor, Op. 129
Symphony No.1 in C minor, Op. 68

Michael Thrift conductor
Aleksei Kiseliov cello

Sunday Night in Oxford

Firebird takes to the road on Sunday for a fabulous programme in Oxford promising some of the finest classical music in the repertoire by Mozart, Tchaikovsky and Beethoven. 

Mozart’s spellbindingly energetic overture to his comic opera, The Magic Flute, opens the concert and immediately transports us to a fairy-tale land of magical instruments, serpents and sorcerers.

Firebird’s Artistic Director Marc Corbett-Weaver will be the piano soloist,pitted against the full weight of the symphony orchestra under the baton of George Jackson, in Tchaikovsky’s magnificent and much loved Concerto No.1 for Piano and Orchestra.

Beethoven’s mighty 5th Symphony – described by ETA Hoffman as ‘one of the most important works of the time’ will be performed after the interval. Its famous opening notes have made this one of the most recognisable pieces in history.

The wonderful venue of Oxford’s St John the Evangelist will provide the setting for this fantastic concert of classical greats ensuring this will certainly be a Firebird night to remember. 

St John the Evangelist, Oxford
St John the Evangelist, Oxford

Note the early start time at 6pm.

Firebird in February

Sunday 10 February 2019
St John-the-Evangelist, Oxford @ 6pm

Generously sponsored by the Morris-Venables Charitable Foundation

  • Mozart Overture to The Magic Flute (Die Zauberflöte) K. 620
  • Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 1in Bb minor, Op. 23
  • Beethoven Symphony No. 5 in C minor, Op. 67

George Jackson conductor
Marc Corbett-Weaver piano

Beethoven’s 5th

The distinctive opening of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony heralds the start of one of the best-known compositions in classical music, and which E.T.A.Hoffmann described as ‘one of the most important works of the time’.

Opening motif
Opening motif

The Symphony No. 5 was originally given the name ‘Schicksals-Sinfonie’ (symphony of destiny). Just 30 thirty years after its composition the distinctive rhythm of the opening four notes was used for the letter ‘V’ in Morse code. During World War II, the BBC prefaced its European broadcasts with the Symphony’s opening four notes, played on drums. As a result it also became know as the Victory Symphony: ‘V for Victory’ being the well known campaign message of the Allies.

Morse code V

Composed between 1804 and 1808, The Symphony No. 5 in C minor Op. 67 soon acquired its status as a central item in the orchestral repertoire. The immediately recognisable opening motif has appeared frequently in popular culture, from disco versions to rock and roll covers, to film, TV and video games…

  • By 1837 Liszt had completed transcriptions of Beethoven’s 5th, 6th and 7th Symphonies for solo piano
  • Played at the inaugural concerts of the New York Philharmonic in 1842
  • First recording of the 5th Symphony in 1910
  • In 1965 Chuck Berry brought out ‘Roll Over Beethoven’
Roll over Beethoven
Roll over Beethoven
  • Japanese band Takeshi Terauchi & Bunnys, recorded Let’s Go Unmei in 1967 – Japanese live action series featuring the character Beethoven Soul who chants the the first four notes of the opening: ‘Melody! Destiny! Jajajajan!’
  • Walter Murphy adapted the opening for the 1977 movie Saturday Night Fever.
  • Included on a recording sent into outer space aboard the 1977 Voyager probes.
  • Royal Philharmonic Orchestra includes an extract in its 1981 ‘Hooked on Classics’
  • Video game Dragon’s Lair II: Time Warp features the Symphony in Dirk’s encounter with Beethoven.
Doctor Who
  • An adaptation appears as the theme song for the TV show Judge Judy
  • A 2015 Doctor Who episode features Beethoven’s 5th in the context of the ‘bootstrap paradox’ with actor Peter Capaldi playing an electric guitar.
The Theater an der Wien
The Theater an der Wien

Beethoven dedicated the Symphony to two of his patrons, Prince Franz Joseph von Lobkowitz and Count Razumovsky. But when he conducted its premiere at the Theater an der Wien it was part of a mammoth four hours concert which also included his 6th Symphony, 4th Piano Concerto, Choral Fantasy, excerpts from the Mass in C Major, an aria and a solo piano improvisation with the composer at the piano.


Apparently the orchestra did not play well being under-rehearsed. At one point Beethoven had to stop the music and start again. The auditorium was extremely cold and the audience was exhausted by the length of the programme. Nevertheless, just over a year later, publication of the score resulted in a rapturous review by music critic E. T. A. Hoffmann describing it as: ‘indescribably profound, magnificent symphony in C minor’.

Beethoven was now in his mid-thirties and troubled by increasing deafness. There was also increasing turmoil across Europe with the Napoleonic Wars and occupation of Vienna. At the time Beethoven was an admirer of Napoleon and the final movement quotes from a revolutionary song by Claude Joseph Rouget de Lisle.

Beethoven in 1804, the year he began work on the Fifth Symphony; detail of a portrait by W. J. Mähler

And on 10 February, 211 years after it was first performed in Vienna, Firebird in February presents Beethoven’s 5th as part of a sumptuous evening of great classics in Oxford.

Glowing review for Firebird

In the latest edition of highly respected magazine Musical Opinion, amongst reviews for the likes of the London Philharmonic Orchestra and the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra is a glowing review of London Firebird Orchestra…

Musical Opinion magazine
Musical Opinion magazine

First published in 1877 with a critical review of Brahms’ new Second Symphony, Musical Opinion is Britain’s oldest classical music magazine. 130 years on, Musical Opinion has subscribers in over 38 countries.

The January – March 2019 edition carried a full page review of Firebird’s Egmont in October concert conducted by George Jackson.

Of the opening Beethoven Overture the review said:

conductor George Jackson painting picturesque orchestral colours that captured the darkness and suspense of its introduction…. with a splendidly rousing and energetic final section, complete with a vivid sense of Beethovenian victory.’

George Jackson
George Jackson

Bruch’s seductively popular G minor Violin Concerto was equally popular, with soloist Leonard Schreiber:

‘offering a full-blown virtuosic account. Schreiber’s intense passion for the music was enchanting, while each note finely executed from his Mezzadri violin rang like a bell through the clear acoustic: there was singing lyricism and dashing liveliness.’

Praise too for the young English soprano Verity Wingate who stunned the audience with a captivating performance of ‘Song to the Moon’ from Rusalka. In the concert’s main event, Dvorák’s Symphony No. 8, conductor George Jackson ‘revealed a real understanding of the symphony’s structure and form, offering an altogether mature account full of authentic Bohemian dialect’ . 

Leonard Schreiber, George Jackson and Verity Wingate
Leonard Schreiber, George Jackson and Verity Wingate

The review also noted ‘some particularly fine solo work in the wind…’, and ‘a rich and authentically Bohemian string sound, with chocolatey dark colours from the lower strings…’

And summing up…

‘The Orchestra can look forward to a long and distinguished future… London is in for a Treat!’

So Firebird is well and truly on the musical map. And not just in London, because the next Firebird concert is in Oxford with Firebird in February…

Firebird in February
Firebird in February

Firebird in February

Sunday 10 February 6pm
St John-the-Evangelist Oxford

Mozart Overture to Die Zauberflöte K. 620
Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 1 in Bb minor, Op. 23
Symphony No. 5 in C minor, Op. 67

George Jackson conductor
Marc Corbett-Weaver piano

Generously Sponsored by the Morris-Venables Charitable Foundation