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Birmingham's Conservatoire welcomes crop of classical superstars

Birmingham Conservatoire's autumn season has just got under way. Christopher Morley takes a look at some of the glittering visitors heading this way.

British violinist Tasmin Little.
British violinist Tasmin Little.

Where in Birmingham city centre can you get to hear world-acclaimed musicians and receive a considerable amount of change out of a tenner?

The answer is at Birmingham Conservatoire, whose autumn season of events has just kicked off and which plays host on October 6 to the first of this year’s crop of classical superstars.

Described as “one of music’s great polymaths”, Robert Levin gives an all-Mozart fortepiano recital that lunchtime in the Adrian Boult Hall. His fascinating programme features the four preludes the composer wrote as a Capriccio for his sister Nannerl, and show Mozart at his most improvisatory. Also included are the sonatas in B-flat K.333, E-flat K.282, and C K.330, and Professor Levin follows his recital with a filmed masterclass and then an improvisation workshop which will attract both jazz and classical students.

Another lunchtime recital at the Adrian Boult Hall later in the term (December 1) brings violinist Tasmin Little together with accompanist Piers Lane in a programme yet to be announced. As ever with the Conservatoire, a masterclass will follow.

And this is part of what a conservatoire is all about – acclaimed musicians visiting and masterclassing; resident orchestras (the Gewandhaus Orchestra at Mendelssohn’s Leipzig Conservatoire, the CBSO here) whose members teach on a regular basis. The interaction between students and professional players is always amazing.

Between these two visits from star performers comes a residency from the remarkable Swedish composer Karin Rehnqvist (November 9-13).

Birmingham may remember her from the celebration of Swedish music held in Birmingham at the end of the last century. Her music covers all genres, sometimes incorporating folk vocal techniques and even creating ensembles of instruments made from ice. At the end of her residency Ms Rehnqvist will be awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Birmingham City University after a concert of her music given by the long-acclaimed Thallein Ensemble in the Adrian Boult Hall.

Apart from these glittering visits, Birmingham Conservatoire also provides its own series of regular events, including free Monday lunchtime concerts, important Tuesday lunchtime showcase recitals for postgraduate students, and a busy roster of evening concerts.

Among these are the Birmingham Conservatoire String Orchestra playing Elgar, Mozart and Tippett on November 20, and one further towards the end of this term, when the concert on December 1 brings a rare performance of Steve Reich’s iconic masterpiece Drumming, performed by members of the Conservatoire’s Percussion Department.

Robert Levin
Robert Levin

Birmingham Conservatoire concerts are not confined to its home base in Paradise Circus, but extend further afield around the city, beginning just across Chamberlain Square in the Round Room at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, where a regular series of lunchtime chamber recitals is given by student ensembles with free admission.

Conservatoire students also perform at Symphony Hall, with the Conservatoire Symphony Orchestra giving a programme of Vaughan Williams, Elgar and Britten under CBSO associate conductor Michael Seal on October 29 (6.15pm, admission free). And on December 2 Tingting Yao and Nafis Umerkulova, two pianists on the Conservatoire’s Professional Performance Programme give recitals there (again 6.15pm, admission free).

Another favoured venue is the magnificent Victorian church of St Alban’s in Highgate, where Ex Cathedra conductor Jeffrey Skidmore directs the Birmingham Conservatoire Chamber Choir in a 300th anniversary celebration of the life of Louis XIV of France, the “Sun King”, with music by Michel-Richard deLalande (November 11, 7.30pm, admission free).

Just a couple of miles up the road in Edgbaston, the music department of the University of Birmingham hosts an equally appealing programme of events, both in the Art Deco elegance of the Barber Institute of Fine Arts and in the state-of-the-art brilliance of the new Bramall Music Building.

On October 28 the Binchois Consort, Professor Andrew Kirkman directing, mark the 600th anniversary of the Battle of Agincourt with a multisided portrait of Henry V and his victory.

The University Baroque Orchestra directed from the harpsichord by Christine Whiffen offers a stimulating programme of Bach, Vivaldi and Rameau on Sunday afternoon, November 15, and November 25 brings quarter-lab playing string quartets by Kurtag, Bartok and Beethoven, alongside short chamber surprises to be announced from the stage.

And on December 9 the 2016 Birmingham International Piano Festival is launched with a mouthwatering piano duo recital by Pascal and Ami Roge. Theirs is a dream of a programme, including Faure’s Dolly Suite, Schubert’s F minor Fantasie, and some Dvorak Slavonic Dances. This one is – using a word I generally avoid – unmissable.

* For details of Birmingham Conservatoire events on 0121 331 5909 and for Birmingham University events ring 0121 414 7333.

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