The City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra is celebrating its centenary this season. As a contribution to the celebrations, journalist and music critic Richard Bratby spent a large slice of his recent life researching the CBSO’s history. Writing a book is hard work, even more so when it’s not fiction. Give this post a read to understand why.
Work has precluded most blog writing over the past few weeks, so here’s a concert review of music by one of Birmingham’s hidden composers. Dorothy Howell (1898-1982) shone as a composer during the mid-twentieth century; yet now, her music is largely unknown and unrecorded.
Ben Hogwood and Arcana.fm offer up this review which whets the appetite to hear more.
If you know anything of the composer, Arthur Sullivan, it will almost certainly be from his partnership with W.S. Gilbert. That series of 13 comedic, satirical operas the two men collaborated on still feature in the repertoire 150 years on. The Savoy operas’ combined commercial and artistic success has overshadowed the rest of Sullivan’s varied output for almost the same length of time.
Kenilworth – a masque of the days of Queen Elizabeth (first performed 1864)
As a student graduating from the Leipzig Conservatoire, his final work in 1861 was a suite of pieces for Shakespeare’s The Tempest. This calling card did him well; a performance the following year in the Crystal Palace marked him out as a composer to watch. From this came his first commission, Kenilworth. Continue reading →
A few weeks ago, I did a post about the composer, Gustav Holst called A Journey beyond ‘The Planets’ . In it, I looked at some lesser-known works Holst wrote. By a strange coincidence, Holst is our subject this time around as well. There’s no denying the long-lasting appeal of The Planets as a piece of music for listening to or performing. For many amateur orchestral players, having The Planets in their season’s schedule is something special.
Sometimes this isn’t possible though: if you play in a smaller orchestra, a tenor tuba, double set of timpani, or a contra-bassoon won’t be part of your normal line-up. In that case, an inventive solution is necessary. In this post, we hear how Leamington Sinfonia found theirs. Continue reading →
What an amazingly wonderful event! The choirs were spectacular and seemed as if they’d been singing together forever, stunning pianissimos and magnificent high sopranos. Soloists very good quality (better than many Proms performances!). It must have been an enormous feat of organisation, persuasion and stamina. We are so glad we came and it was very moving to be surrounded by French and German nationals as well. We discussed everything from Brexit to War Remembrance, and the roots of World War 2 in the Versailles Treaty. Liz and Robert Chalmers
Once again, we hand over the blog to another musical organisation. This time it’s Birmingham Festival Choral Society and their contribution to the Armistice commemorations. We met members of BFCS in an earlier post which talked about a weekend away rehearsing. As this post goes out, it falls between two concerts which BFCS and Nottinghamshire-based Ryton Chorale are presenting together on the theme of war and peace. The two works are Howard Goodall’s Eternal Light, and Ralph Vaughan William’s Dona Nobis Pacem.
I know the VW well, having played in two performances, but I don’t know the Goodall. Both composers take ancient Latin texts from the church liturgy and add new words. In VW’s case, more poetry from his beloved Walt Whitman, and the Old Testament; and from various sources for Goodall’s work.
Here’s a piece from one of BFCS’ singers about her experience of performing in the first concert.
By some quirk of the calendar, Remembrance Sunday this year here in the UK is actually the eleventh of November. How propitious that it occurs at the same time as the end of the World War I centenary commemorations? Many musical organisations are seeking to mark the conclusion of the Great War a century ago during this November. One such is Wolverhampton Symphony Orchestra. On this occasion, we hand over the blog to a guest writer (as we do every now and again). Here is Jane Eminson talking about the fruition of a great, multi-national, musical project.
If you hear the ‘Ode to Joy’ coming from a house near you over the next week, it’s probably one of nearly 400 participants in the Remembrance and Reconciliation concert doing their practice. Continue reading →
Handel has always held an especially prominent position in British classical music. Yes, his fortune has fluctuated over the years, but The Messiah, if nothing else, has kept him in the public eye.
In 1784, it was decided to hold a series of three commemorative concerts in April for the twenty-fifth anniversary of Handel’s death. What we’re going to be looking at is the record of the concerts produced by the music historian, Charles Burney which was published the following year. Continue reading →
The music’s live! again, and this time we’re in the company of a local choir, the Birmingham Festival Choral Society (BFCS, for short).
A Bit of history
BFCS has a long history, stretching way back into the nineteenth century. Its history is intertwined with that of the Birmingham Triennial Music Festivals. The Festivals were held every three years to raise money for the Birmingham General Hospital. As the nineteenth century progressed, the Festival administrators spent a lot of time and effort attracting the best musical talent to compose and perform new choral music. These commissions composed by Mendelssohn, Dvorak, Sullivan, Gounod, Stanford, and later, Elgar, represented some of the best music of the time, and the BFCS was there, right at the centre. BFCS singers formed the core of each chorus used at the Festivals.