BCMG A-Z Concerts
CBSO Centre
Review by Terry Grimley

Avant-garde music was taken out of the ghetto and into the grotto in this entertaining pre-Christmas treat from Birmingham Contemporary Music Group.

The last of four experimental concerts for children, following two on Friday for school groups, brought a capacity family audience to the CBSO Centre for an eccentric hour of continuous music, surreal theatre and video projections on Saturday afternoon.

Conceived by composer John Woolrich and film-maker and director Tim Hopkins, the event (concert doesn't seem quite the right word) was performed in a space cluttered not only with the usual music stands and parked instruments but domestic stuff including a three-piece suite, kitchen table and sink.

The musicians, not immediately recognisable as they dozed on sofas or sat reading newspapers in jeans and sweaters, were slightly bemused-seeming actors as an eclectic sequence of seven compositions provided the soundtrack to the hour-long performance.

Conductor Dominic Muldowney, himself a distinguished composer with theatrical associations, blended in and out as required.

Though not all strictly up to the minute (there was a surprisingly high count of three dead composers), the programme was certainly what would normally be regarded as specialist.

But it was also clearly chosen not only for the brevity of the pieces but for their wide-awakeness and directness of communication.

That was clear straight away with Xenakis's thrilling Rebonds B for solo percussionist (Julian Warburton's contributions were an exciting thread throughout), and though it was clever to cut straight to another solo – Mark Phillips way up on the top gallery playing Messiaen's solo horn episode Appel Interstellar, this piece did raise the thought that "short" might mean one thing for adults and another for children.

But we were soon pressing on with a whimsical Inside Out 2 by Tansy Davies, Woolrich's engaging and surprisingly jazzy An Open Door (written specially for these concerts and featuring kitchen sink percussion) and Louis Andriessen's maddening, compelling Workers Union (the players in a long line led by percussion), eventually finishing with Frank Zappa's exhilarating The Black Page.

Along the way captions removed the necessity for spoken introductions and Hopkins' live video projections included a model of the event taking place, with the players replaced by overscaled toys.

Does all this presentation divert attention from the music? Marginally perhaps, but that's a small price for opening up a whole new way of experiencing and thinking about this kind of music, with a real possibility of welcoming audiences who would be frozen out by its usual presentation.

Once again, this endlessly innovative group is on to a good thing.