Musical youth takes over Birmingham during the next few weeks, when the end of term allows young people to break away from the shackles of the national curriculum.
While the government is urging local authorities to cut funding to such unproductive fripperies as artistic activities, seeing the grade-grinding of “facts” as far more important, mavericks who have somehow survived, such as trumpeter Alison Balsom, violinist Nicola Benedetti and sadly prematurely-retired cellist Julian Lloyd Webber, have all spoken out against this blinkered educational policy.
And they will be heartened by what’s going on in the city, with performances by major youth orchestras in two of the country’s greatest concert halls.
The CBSO Youth Orchestra Academy perform at Birmingham Town Hall on July 26 (7pm). This is a hand-picked 50-player elite drawn from what is already a first class group in the form of the CBSOYO itself. The concert tackles Kodaly’s Dances of Marosszek, Metamorphosen by Richard Strauss and the world’s greatest symphony, Beethoven’s Third, the Eroica.
That will put everyone on their mettle, but they couldn’t be in a safer pair of hands wielding the baton. Conductor Michael Seal has recently retired from his violin-desk at the CBSO in order to concentrate upon standing on the other side of the podium, and has for a long time nurtured the Birmingham Schools’ Symphony Orchestra to the highest of performance standards.
Just over a week later, the Town Hall hosts a visit from the National Children’s Orchestra (their under-12 squad), an organisation which has seen so many great musicians pass through on their journey to fame. Such luminaries include the conductors Daniel Harding and Robin Ticciati, cellist Guy Johnston and Nicola Benedetti, a violinist who is a passionate advocate of music education.
The NCO’s concert on August 3 is a mouth-watering one, beginning with Johann Strauss Die Fledermaus overture, continuing with Walton’s Crown Imperial march, Malcolm Arnold’s emotionally draining Peterloo overture, Borodin’s far too rarely-heard In the Steppes of Central Asia, and concluding with Britten’s Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra, a real tester for these youngsters (3pm).
The next day the venue plays host to the youngsters of the London Schools’ Symphony Orchestra, which brings a programme of Dukas’ Sorcerer’s Apprentice, Richard Strauss’ Don Quixote, and Richard Blackford’s Great Animal Orchestra.
Performing that last-named piece will be quite a coup for the LSSO. It was only last Saturday that Great Animal Orchestra, a 25-minute symphony in five movements, was premiered to great success by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, Martyn Brabbins conducting, at the Cheltenham Festival.
In its use of recordings of animal sounds its aim is to raise environmental awareness, and certainly succeeds. This LSSO performance of such an important piece will be conducted by the composer himself (7pm).
The National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain makes one of its welcome return visits to Birmingham after a week-long residential course, with a programme celebrating both youth and old age at Symphony Hall on August 9. There will be a performance of Sonance Severance by Sir Harrison Birtwistle, a composer whose music has always sounded grippingly youthful but who this year is celebrating his 80th birthday. At the other end of the scale is Prokofiev’s First Piano Concerto, written as a graduation exercise for its firebrand young composer to play, and will be performed by Louis Schwitzgebel.
Topping and tailing the evening are Stravinsky’s Petrushka, itself with a virtuoso piano part, and the Concerto for Orchestra by Lutoslawski. Lutoslawski expert Edward Gardner conducts, someone who knows just a little bit about Symphony Hall, having been the highly popular principal guest conductor of the CBSO for the last three years (7.30pm).
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