In Concert

Get a flavour of the music collections of the Library of Birmingham – quirky, practical, historical, contemporary

New music, Birmingham’s way — July 28, 2020

New music, Birmingham’s way

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?

I’m revisiting a post from two and a half years ago. Someone’s random view made me look at it again. The post needed an upgrade but it also fitted in with where I am right now. To save me rewriting most of the text, little account is taken of our current situation. Continue reading

Heavy metal? Brass bands and their music — July 15, 2020

Heavy metal? Brass bands and their music

We all have blind spots when it comes to music. That time when we stand listening to a friend or colleague wax lyrical about an artist or composer who leaves us cold. For me, Wagner and Delius are two such. It’s also possible to dislike whole genres. I plead guilty in this respect and point to brass bands. Daft really, because I’ve heard little of what they can do. Join me on a short exploration of British brass bands and their music. Will it change my mind? Continue reading

Is it that long? — April 4, 2019

Is it that long?

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.

Participation

all performers
All the performers (Jonathan Schoeps)

November saw a flurry of posts. Continue reading

Voices In Concert — November 29, 2018

Voices In Concert

At the end of this special, memorial November, I’m taking the opportunity to revisit the concert we described at the start of the month. In this post, we hear from people involved in the performance, and what the concert meant to them. My thanks go to Jane Eminson for doing the hard work, and Jonathan Schöps, photographer with the Jena University Choir for allowing his images to be reproduced here. All photos used in this post are © 2018, Jonathan Schöps Fotografie.

balcony audience
The view from the balcony. (Jonathan Schoeps)

From the Audience:

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

Continue reading

Grant Us Peace! — November 15, 2018

Grant Us Peace!

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.

Poppies in Flanders
Poppies flowering in Flanders

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.

Continue reading

After The Guns Fell Silent — November 1, 2018

After The Guns Fell Silent

Frank_Boggs,_Armistice_Day,_Paris,_1918
Armistice Day, Paris, 1918 (Artist: Frank Boggs) Public domain image from Metropolitan Museum of Art.

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.

St Matthew's Walsall
St Matthew’s Church, Walsall

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

‘Magic mushrooms’ and other singing tips — June 14, 2018

‘Magic mushrooms’ and other singing tips

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.

Continue reading

The music’s live! — November 30, 2017
Handel’s ‘Messiah’ – a C19 facsimile — October 19, 2017

Handel’s ‘Messiah’ – a C19 facsimile

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.

Continue reading

The music’s live! — October 5, 2017

The music’s live!

Music isn’t music really, until it’s sung or played. Otherwise, it’s just so many dots on a page. In the main, the Music Library exists to enable people to play, and sing, individually, or in groups. In the first of an occasional series of guest blogs, we hear from one of the groups that benefits from borrowing our performance materials.

The film Orchestra

The film Orchestra (TfO) is the UK’s first amateur orchestra to perform only original music for film, TV, and video games. Since its founding by Worcester-based musician Jane Whittle in 2013, it has developed into a self-funding project. This comprises currently of five Community Orchestras spread across the Midlands, feeding into TfO, plus concert/wind bands, brass band, sax ensemble, and choir.

The film orchestra 1
TfO’s conductor, Huw Thomas

TfO first used the Music Library of the Library of Birmingham for its 2015 season with concerts in Worcester and Kidderminster.

The Worcester floods of February 2014 wreaked havoc with TfO’s finances as their February 13th concert fell prey to the ‘Worcester City Centre – Closed’ signs which went up. Together with the TV news cameras that came in to film the flood tourists on the closed Worcester bridge. The Swan Theatre remained open however, and with the River Severn creeping up the lower road, 79 out of 81 musicians (plus guide dog) found their way on-stage to present their concert, ‘Movie Amore’. A brave audience of 119 were in attendance, many of whom had been accosted on Worcester bridge that afternoon by Jane, waving flyers, declaring that, “The film Orchestra is afloat and we will be playing Titanic this evening!” Unfortunately, the concert made a loss of £500 which very nearly sank TfO at only its second performance. The orchestra had hired-in professional scores from the music publishers at a cost of around £500: a costly mistake when half the audience was put off attending by the media reports of a ‘closed city’.

The film orchestra 2
The film Orchestra in performance

Hence we looked to Birmingham Music Library for our next season’s repertoire. The orchestra had begun to buy film, TV & video game music sets to build its own library in response to the February disaster, but there were still gaps to fill. The ability to hire sets of orchestral film music for a reasonable price from the Music Library, meant TfO was able to re-group, and re-structure. Then we were able to press on with this exciting project which brings musicians of all ages and levels of experience together in monthly rehearsals, to enjoy playing music composed for the screen.

In December 2016, TfO was able to appoint its first-ever professional conductor, Huw Thomas, who trained at Birmingham Conservatoire with TfO Manager, Edward Roberts-Malpass. Huw and Ed have guided the re-structuring of TfO, as we strive to create a specialist amateur orchestra to be proud of, one which people want to listen to, as well as participate in. The supporting Community Orchestras have given less-experienced musicians a chance to play the music they love. Whilst the professional musicians who support the project, have been given the opportunity to develop their skills in conducting TfO ensembles, and giving workshops.

The film orchestra 3
The film Orchestra in rehearsal

With light shows, back projections, actors and artists now getting involved with TfO in performances, the future is looking rosy and very exciting for TfO. We have been supported and advised by Worcestershire-based film composer Hilgrove Kenrick right from the beginning and the increasing interest from the film composers’ community around the world is a testament that The film Orchestra project is on the right track.

TfO and TfO Concert Band will perform their next concert ‘Out Of This World’ at Kidderminster Town Hall on Saturday, October 14th 2017. The concert will feature music from Hans Zimmer, John Williams, Jerry Goldsmith and Murray Gold with a special performance of ‘Trust me’ from the video game Titanfall 2 by composer, Stephen Barton who is hoping to attend the concert in person. Tickets are available from here . Be warned: we have a habit of selling out our concerts!

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