Terry Grimley previews the new season from Birmingham Contemporary Music Group.
Another autumn, and through the mists another season of adventurous music-making looms for Birmingham Contemporary Music Group.
The ensemble is preparing for the first concert of its 2008-9 season on Sunday while still buzzing from a year which has included successful concerts in venues ranging from New York’s Carnegie Hall to, most recently, Yardley Old Church.
“We still feel on a bit of a high from a very full last year,” says artistic director Stephen Newbould. “In particular it was very exciting, obviously, going to Carnegie Hall in March for two concerts with Tom Ades, who had a residency there. One concert sold out, the other nearly sold out.
“Then we had Boulez in Birmingham briefly in May, and there was the Aldeburgh Festival, playing Kurtag’s Troussova songs to Kurtag, who at the end stepped up and shook hands with every member of the group. Both Boulez and Kurtag said they were impressed by the standard of playing, which from those kind of elder statesmen of the composing world feels like praise indeed.”
At the other end of the spectrum was that recent visit to Yardley, the part of the city to which BCMG has been assigned as part of the council’s arts champion scheme. Two concerts, in the medieval St Edburgh’s church in Yardley village and at Acocks Green Library, featured trios for flute, violin and harp by Debussy, Takemitsu and the young Austrian composer Johannes Maria Staud.
Sunday’s concert at the CBSO Centre reunites the group with Oliver Knussen, composer, conductor and one of BCMG’s associate artists, whose number has just been expanded to three with the addition of Peter Wiegold to Knussen and John Woolrich.
It’s an all-Nordic programme combining three pieces by the Finn, Magnus Lindberg (Bubo bubo, Counter Phrases and Joy) with two by the Dane, Poul Ruders (Four Dances in One Movement and Nightshade).
“The Ruders is also a recording project,” Newbould explains. “The two pieces we’re doing on Sunday are being recorded the following week for the Danish label Da Capo. In March when Ollie comes back we’re doing a couple of concerts in Spain, in Barcelona and Madrid, where we’re doing ABYSS, the piece we commissioned from Ruders in 2000. We’re not doing it in Birmingham because we did it here last year. We will then record that, and so those three pieces will go on the disc.”
The next concert, conducted by Martyn Brabbins on November 22, renews the relationship with former CBSO composer-in-association Julian Anderson. It includes his Poetry Nearing Silence, with pieces by Denys Bouliane and Phillippe Leroux as well as Ligeti’s Piano Concerto with Rolf Hind.
The third in BCMG’s now established series of family concerts (actually two daytime concerts, at 1.30pm and 3.30pm) comes on January 17. With a focus on singing it features the world premiere of Erroyn Wallen’s English Folk Songs, a companion-piece for Berio’s Folk Songs, which is also in the programme alongside Knussen’s Hums & Songs of Winnie the Pooh, a second short work by Errollyn Wallen and new snippets by John Woolrich, Peter Wiegold and new apprentice composer-in-association Matthew Sergeant.
Other concerts during the first half of 2009 include the return of George Benjamin as both composer and conductor in January and another visit from Oliver Knussen, conducting more Julian Anderson alongside a piece by the Catalan and naturalised Briton, Roberto Gerhard.
A treat to look forward to in the spring is a concert conducted by Peter Wiegold which explores what you might call the homespun tradition of the American avant-garde with a clutch of small pieces by Charles Ives, Henry Cowell, John Cage, Henry Brant and Percy Grainger.
Meanwhile, BCMG’s Sound Investmernt programme, which enables supporters to by £100 shares in new compositions, continues to roll along merrily.
“The Phoenix Symphony in Arizona contacted us recently about Sound Investment because they want to do something similar,” Says Stephen Newbould. “That scheme which was invented in Birmingham has now gone round the world. It’s a simple idea that works brilliantly.
“We’re launching a new catalogue this year with commissions for Richard Causton, Vic Hoyland, David Sawyer, Benedict Mason and the American composer David Lang. He has an idea for piece with a thousand people shouting in the street – there probably won’t be any BCMG instrumentalists in it.”
* Oliver Knussen conducts Birmingham Contemporary Music Group in Music by Magnus Lindberg and Poul Ruders at the CBSO Centre on Sunday at 7.30pm (Box office: 0121 767 4050, or book online at bcmg.uk).