A phalanx of composers in the foyer busy autographing scores, other composers dotted around elsewhere, more chairs put out than the auditorium has ever held before... the CBSO Centre was certainly buzzing on Sunday evening in a huge display of affection for Jackie and Stephen Newbould, retiring after nearly 30 years at the helm of Birmingham Contemporary Music Group.
No fewer than four world premieres, all commissioned through the Sound Investment scheme dreamed up by the Newboulds, and all from BCMG favourites, graced the programme, performed by permutations from a compact group of violin, viola, cello, flute, clarinet and piano.
Luke Bedford's In Black Bright Ink brought a mesmeric crepuscular stillness, rooted in the lowest octave of the piano (only Russian basses can reach down there, and the result is similar), and Richard Baker's aptly-named Hwyl fawr ffrindiau ("goodbye, friends") had slowly descending melodic lines tracked by the various instruments, the piano quietly tolling.
Swan Song by John Woolrich began stealthily, comforted us with tonal episodes as each instrument led developments forward by turns, but did seem over-long.
The two non-premieres, Judith Weir's quietly folky, subsquently breezy and ultimately resorting to plainchant with a wonderfully quirky final cadence, and Howard Skempton's Field Notes, opening with an Elgarian sigh, continuing with seamless rhapsodising, and ending with an enigma, were heartening evidence that contemporary commissions can indeed achieve subsequent performances.
Concluding the programme was the final premiere, Zoe Martlew's Broad Street Burlesque (not the first evocation of what the composer deliciously describes as "the city's principal party slag drag" -- Thomas Ades had already incorporated it into his Asyla, premiered long ago by the CBSO under Rattle). This was a decidedly fun piece, plinkey-plunkety street sounds framing proceedings, and ending with "Yo' wha''" scowls; in between came what was actually a touching oboe-led dance.
And, of course, there were encores, plus Melinda Maxwell's amazingly technically brilliant and ruefully bluesy oboe improvisation: Oliver Knussen's (on his birthday) Secret Psalm, delivered with all the intensity of a Bach Partita by violinist Alexandra Wood, and One for the Road by Howard Skempton, performed with aplomb by the lad himself on his accordion, and a perfect send-off for the much-loved Newboulds.