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.
This blog is coming up to its second birthday! It doesn’t seem that long since I wrote our first anniversary post. While I’ve felt more relaxed about the topics featured, there have still been some distinct threads. Let’s have a look at some of the themes and popular posts over the past year.
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 →
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.
Commissioning new music costs money. Sometimes a lot of money. Given the everyday financial pressures on arts organisations, finding money for commissions can be difficult. New thinking required, perhaps?
This is going to be rather a different post from usual, focussing as it will do on contemporary and avant-garde classical music. And that includes our part in helping people to realise that classical music doesn’t stop somewhere in the early C20, but is a living, breathing art form with much to offer.
Most live contemporary music performances in the city come from Birmingham Contemporary Music Group (BCMG).
BCMG has been a fixture on the Birmingham musical scene for over thirty years. From its start as an off-shoot of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra (CBSO), it has become one of the premier medium-sized ensembles in the UK. As an ensemble specialising in ‘new’ music of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, it could possibly have constructed all of its programmes from available, known music. Instead, it has made a name for itself by giving first performances of over 160 pieces of music, and counting.
Some seventy of these pieces were commissioned by BCMG. Which brings me back to my opening paragraph – how to fund these new pieces of music? Back in the 1990s, BCMG came up with a new, innovative scheme to involve ordinary music-lovers in the creation of particular works. Sound Investment is a cleverly-named scheme which invites individuals to donate money towards a particular composer’s work. Their investment allows new sounds to be created and performed. Without it, BCMG would have struggled to commission anything like that number of new pieces.
Here is another of our guest blogs about musicians making music. This time, we hear from the Birmingham Philharmonic Orchestra, one of our local orchestras with whom we work closely. They borrow a lot of material from us, but on this occasion, Ursula tells us about a special performance which didn’t involve the library.
Handel’s oratorio the Messiah occupies a very special place in British musical life. He wrote plenty of other dramatic, supremely tuneful choral works, but none of them have had the lasting impact of Messiah. Ever since the Dublin first performance in 1742, this oratorio has always featured in the repertoire. The nineteenth century saw most of Handel’s music falling into disuse, but performances of Messiah continued on. Some of them on a truly stupendous scale, particularly those in the Crystal Palace. In fact, the idolisation of this particular work does strike me as being a little bizarre, however wonderful it is. Even more so, the fascination with the Hallelujah Chorus.