City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra names Kazuki Yamada as new chief conductor

Japanese musician, currently the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra’s principal guest conductor, will succeed Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla in April 2023

The City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra today announces that its next chief conductor is to be Kazuki Yamada. The Japanese musician, born in 1979, has been CBSO’s principal guest conductor for the past three years, but in April 2023 will succeed Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla, who has led the orchestra since 2016.

“On his debut with the orchestra back in 2012 he made a very strong impression” said CBSO’s chief executive Stephen Maddock. “His technique is fabulous, he’s incredibly clear, he has a tremendously wide repertoire. He’s a really, really fine musician.”

Maddock cites a concert just before the Covid pandemic as illustrative of Yamada’s particular musical strengths. “The programme featured all three of Respighi’s Roman tone poems – music that has a reputation for being a bit over the top, tasteless even, but you came away thinking: ‘Wow, these are masterpieces of orchestration and description – those are far better pieces than I had realised!’” A 2019 performance of Elijah, too, found Mendelssohn’s often rather well-behaved oratorio sound fervent and vibrant. “Again, the reactions were, ‘This is a much better piece than I remember!’”

From their earliest concerts together, the CBSO players and Yamada established a warm relationship, said Maddock, consolidated on a 2016 tour of Japan. “In rehearsal he has a laser-like ability to focus on what is the most important thing to get right. The players like that he is demanding, but it’s from a position of good grace, humour and respect.”

But it was when Yamada conducted the British premiere of Julian Anderson’s cello concerto earlier this year that Maddock knew they had found their chief conductor. “New music is such an important part of the CBSO’s identity and when we finally did some with him the last piece of the jigsaw fell into place. It’s a complicated work, and he did it brilliantly. He was completely inside it and so clear. Julian was delighted, as was the soloist, Alban Gerhardt.

“At that point we thought this is silly to extend our search when we’ve got somebody standing here right in front of us who has all that we need.”

“The CBSO is a very special orchestra,” said Yamada, who will become the first non-European to lead it. “I can still hardly believe it!” He jokes that he had not dared consider himself as in the running as, at 42, he assumed he was too old for a role that for the past four decades has been given to conductors in their early 30s and even – in Simon Rattle’s case – at 25. Like the latter, Yamada was a percussionist before he turned to conducting: he first found himself in front of a small orchestra at 17. “Straight away it felt special,” he says, and his future path was clear.

His 20s saw him working mostly in Japan but at 30 he won the Besançon international competition for young conductors, which led to European dates and a UK debut with the BBC Symphony Orchestra. He was principal guest conductor of Orchestre de la Suisse Romande from 2012-2017, and has appeared with such orchestras as Sächsische Staatskapelle Dresden, Orchestre de Paris, Bergen Philharmonic and Philharmonia Orchestra. He is currently principal conductor and artistic director of Orchestre Philharmonique de Monte-Carlo, and in Japan holds the titles that include permanent conductor of Japan Philharmonic and music director of the Philharmonic Chorus of Tokyo.

Kazuki Yamada
Happy to be part of the CBSO family ... Kazuki Yamada. Photograph: PR

“For me, the best thing about the CBSO is they know how to enjoy music,” he says. “We always create something fresh and exciting. There is always a very warm atmosphere. I am always happy to see them, and am so happy to be part of their family.”

One of the first commitments in his new role will be to take the orchestra on tour to Japan. A Proms debut for summer 2023 is in the diary, and he hopes to introduce (or reacquiant) audiences to Japanese composers, citing Toru Takemitsu, Akira Miyoshi and Toshiro Mayuzumi as three whose work he particularly admires. “I’d like to introduce Japanese culture through music,” he says. Mozart’s music, too, is a particular favourite. “Big symphony orchestras don’t often play his music [written for smaller forces] but I’d like to do more of it. The late symphonies … Magic Flute,” he suggests.

“French music is a strength of his, likewise Russian music and his Schumann (the second symphony) was revelatory,” says Maddock, “and we’re hoping to do some Mahler. Choral, contemporary and British music will, of course, feature, too, in our programming. He’s still discovering Elgar – he did the first symphony with the youth orchestra pre-pandemic.”

Yamada lives in Berlin with his wife, an orchestral musician, and their two children aged 11 and six. He already knows Birmingham a little and loves its mix of old and new – and the city’s huge and varied array of Indian restaurants, he laughs, admitting to a partiality for a Birminghamcurry.

He emphasises the vital role orchestras play in bringing young people to classical music through education, family and children’s concerts. “But first, we on the stage have to enjoy it. We have to entertain, we have to give 100% energy for every concert. If audiences see us enjoying ourselves, they will come again. We have to always present music as a gift.”

• Yamada conducts the CBSO at Symphony Hall on 16 and 18 September; a concert concert featuring music by Glazunov, Glinka, Tchaikovsky and Takemitsu is available to watch on Marquee TV.


Imogen Tilden

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
CBSO/Yamada review – chief conductor-in-waiting brings spirit but not subtlety
The Japanese conductor who takes over in Birmingham next year already has a strong connection with the players; while soprano Fatma Said impressed in Mozart arias

Andrew Clements

20, Jan, 2022 @11:54 AM

Article image
Mirga takes the baton: the CBSO music director on her new job
After the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra’s speed dating-style search for a new director, 29-year-old Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla prepares to immerse herself in British musical life

Fiona Maddocks

14, Apr, 2016 @1:39 PM

Article image
Prom 14: CBSO/Yamada review – Smyth beguiles and Rachmaninov ravishes
Ethel Smyth’s Concerto for Violin and Horn was deftly handled by the CBSO’s chief conductor designate Kazuki Yamada and soloists Elena Urioste and Ben Goldscheider

Tim Ashley

26, Jul, 2022 @10:35 AM

Article image
CBSO appoints 29-year-old Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla as music director
The Lithuanian woman who succeeds Andris Nelsons in Birmingham wins acclaim for energy and ‘rare talent’

Imogen Tilden

04, Feb, 2016 @10:00 AM

Article image
In Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla it looks like the CBSO have got it exactly right again
The Birmingham Orchestra has an enviable track record in selecting the right conductors to become its music director at just the right moment in their careers

Andrew Clements

04, Feb, 2016 @10:05 AM

Article image
Czech conductor and former BBCSO chief Jiří Bělohlávek dies aged 71
The conductor who led the BBC Symphony Orchestra for six years has died after a long illness

Imogen Tilden and agencies

01, Jun, 2017 @11:07 AM

Article image
Edward Gardner appointed LPO principal conductor
Gardner will take over from Vladimir Jurowski at the London Philharmonic Orchestra from 2021-22 season

Imogen Tilden

26, Jul, 2019 @11:08 AM

Article image
Conductor and composer André Previn dies at 89
Musician, who won four Oscars and conducted the London Symphony Orchestra, blurred musical boundaries

Imogen Tilden

28, Feb, 2019 @7:09 PM

Article image
Esa-Pekka Salonen to step down as Philharmonia conductor
Award-winning orchestra will begin search for a sixth principal conductor ahead of Finn’s departure in 2021

Imogen Tilden

04, Dec, 2018 @4:00 PM

Article image
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra conductor Charles Dutoit accused of sexual assault
Celebrated 81-year-old leaves his post ‘for the immediate future’ after musicians accuse him of forcibly kissing and groping them over a period of 15 years

Ben Beaumont-Thomas

22, Dec, 2017 @11:06 AM