Could Birmingham Contemporary Music Group's family concerts pioneer new ways of presenting classical music? Terry Grimley previews next Sunday's digital experiments.
At first sight it's a typical Birmingham Contemporary Music Group programme - three pieces by living British composers and three 20th century classics by Boulez, Stravinsky and Reich.
But Sunday's concert - performed twice, at 2pm and 4.30pm - has been carefully chosen to appeal to children. The programme is just an hour long, with no interval, and the event will have something of a party atmosphere, with free squash and activities and games in the foyer before and after each concert, rather than the slightly icy intensity usually associated with new music.
This is BCMG's second family concert, following on from last year's successful experiment. There's a different artistic team this time, and whereas last year the formal notion of a concert was subverted by theatre - the audience arrived to find the players lounging in a domestic environment complete with a fridge and sink - this year's is more screen-focused.
The concert has been devised by composer/conductor Peter Wiegold and digital artist Terry Braun in collaboration with BCMG's education manager Nancy Evans. As well as the six advertised compositions it will feature some improvisation and toy instruments.
"What we're trying to do here is create video that responds in real time to the playing," Terry explains. "The secret to making interpretations, I think, is that we've spent a lot of time together, Nancy and Peter and I. I'm up here for the whole week, with all the elements of the concert, and having this pre-production time is absolutely vital. I think John Cage and Merce Cunningham created a myth that people could work together while being on different planets."
Each of the seven projections takes a different approach to reflecting the individual piece of music, and Braun acknowledges the fundamental debt to Disney's Fantasia. However, he will be "VJ-ing" to ensure that the visuals are as live as the music.
Philip Cashian's Wynter Music was inspired by a painting by the St Ives artist Bryan Wynter, so it will be accompanied by a digital manipulation of the painting, in which a solo violin directly drives a visual arabesque.
Stravinsky's Three Pieces for string quartet includes a jerky miniature inspired by the eccentric music hall comedian Little Titch, and there is film of him in action in 1900 (the juxtaposition of the comedian clowning in his grotesquely elongated boots to Stravinsky's music, which Braun showed me on his laptop, is amazing).
In the final piece, Steve Reich's New York Counterpoint, the 12 clarinets (11 on digital playback, one live) are each represented by pulsing abstract images. Although the visualisations are intended to reflect the structure of the music, the aim is to deliver the didactic aspect of the show with a light touch.
"One of the things I'm most enjoying about working with Peter is that we take this very seriously but there's still no reason why it shouldn't be fun," says Terry.
Peter Wiegold, who will be MC-ing the concert, is a pioneer of educational work connected to new music.
"It's going to be really enjoyable," he says. "I've done years and years of children's workshops. My own ensemble Gemini was the first to work in schools, even before the London Sinfonietta, so I've got quite used to talking to children.
"There will be some participation from the kids. I have devised some basic signals that shape the improvisation and at some point I will probably invite the kids to come and do some signalling."
Wiegold's own contribution to the programme as a composer has an intriguing title: That Man's Talking Nonsense. He explains that it has two sources.
"In the original piece I had people speaking nonsense syllables, like Indian percussionists. It's also something someone said when I spoke at a concert - a man got up and said 'That man is speaking nonsense!'. He was mad and he was removed after the third interruption, but every lecturer should have that experience once."
Wiegold thinks that working with children, who are generally at home with digital imagery and haven't formed the prejudice against new music often encountered in older audiences, could have useful lessons for presenting music more generally.
"It's a great opportunity for research. Players are improvising, playing toy percussion. We're quietly reassessing how you put a concert together, with the excuse of doing it for 11 year-olds. It gives you a freedom to explore."
But Terry warns: "Another way of looking at it is that we may be setting the bar higher and people won't want to just look at musicians playing any more. People who are interested in classical music should also be able to see it given a visual presentation. You don't just have to be a fan of Kylie Minogue."
Birmingham Contemporary Music Group presents its Family Concerts at the CBSO Centre on Sunday at 2pm and 4.30pm. They are recommended for children aged eight upwards (Advance booking at Symphony Hall box office, online at www.bcmg.org.uk or from 1pm on the day at the CBSO Centre box office, subject to availability).