Terry Grimley previews an adventurous collaboration between Birmingham's young musicians and their European counterparts...
The orchestral worlds of Birmingham, Lyon and Frankfurt are undergoing a complicated series of exchanges this week, at both professional and student level.
This morning the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra flies out to Lyon to give a concert this evening as part of a weekend celebrating the centenary of the Orchestre National de Lyon.
Tomorrow night it is the turn of the Frankfurt Radio Orchestra to pay its birthday tribute to its Lyon counterpart, completing this three-cornered celebration between the orchestras of three mutually-twinned European cities.
Links between the orchestras have also been developed during this year with the introduction of a series of player exchanges. Meanwhile, young musicians in the three cities have a similar project of their own underway - except this time the idea is to combine into a single orchestra for concerts in Lyon and Birmingham.
The idea originated with Birmingham Conservatoire student Geraint Evans. Although his instrument is the trombone, Geraint has his eye on a career in orchestral management, and set himself and his colleagues the challenging task of assembling 80 or so young musicians from the conservatoires of Birmingham, Lyon and Frankfurt, rehearsing them and giving two concerts in Lyon and Birmingham.
"It just came from all the different ideas that are always running through my head," explained 23 year-old Geraint, from Birmingham, who has already gained work experience at the CBSO Centre while studying at the Conservatoire.
"In my first year here I had a chat with a friend whose university did pretty much the same thing. I spent some time doing research and after a while the project was adopted by the Conservatoire."
While string players were invited to audition, other players were selected in a more ad-hoc way, as 23 year-old timpanist Keith Price, from Stafford, explains.
"The French had three percussionists they wanted to keep together as a section, because if you play together all the time you work well as a team. When it came to timpani, they said 'Your guy must be better than ours...'
So basically they were looking for an English timpanist. What clinched it for me is that I really want to go into this kind of playing afterwards, whereas the other two in my year are more inclined towards teaching. I woudn't be happy unless I was playing."
Apparently the French are not big on timpani, but the Germans are. But the Germans are the junior partners in this project, contributing only a handful of players - a reflection of the decline in once inconceivably huge arts budgets since reunification. This is also the reason why the Three Cities Orchestra, as it's being called, is not playing a concert in Frankfurt.
The players are about to embark on ten days of intensive rehearsals in Lyon under the distinguished conductor Rolf Reuter, before making their public debut in the city's 2,100-seat Auditorium on December 5. They will then travel to Birmingham for a second concert at Symphony Hall on Saturday, December 8.
The programme reflects the makeup of the orchestra with music from British, French and German composers - Britten's Sea Interludes from Peter Grimes, Debussy's Iberia and Beethoven's Symphony No 7.
The idea was that the orchestra would be led in each piece by a player from its country of origin, though as it happens, the leader for the Britten, 22-year-old Erika Lidegren, is Swedish, reflecting the international mix of students attracted to Birmingham these days.
What persuades a young Swedish violinist to study at the Conservatoire's unlovely building in Paradise Circus? "There are some really good string teachers here, and I'd heard a lot of good things," she says. "I've really enjoyed my time here."
It does occur to the Birmingham players that despite their considerable input into the project the British work is the shortest in the programme - a thought which seems uncannily reminiscent of the UK's relationship with the rest of Europe in general. They wonder if they should have held out for something like Walton's First Symphony: perhaps next time?
* The Three Cities Orchestra plays Symphony Hall on December 8 (Box office: 0121 780 4141).