BCMG Family Concert * * * *
CBSO Centre
Review by Andrew Cowen

It's a perennial puzzler: how to get kids to appreciate classical music without boring the socks off them. When I was a nipper, it would generally involve Peter and the Wolf or Holst's Planets. But that was in the days when we had wolves and moon landings.

All credit then to Birmingham Contemporary Music Group who proved that, not only can you make youngsters sit through an hour of difficult gear, you can also make them enjoy it.

With nary a tune to be heard, young ears were tuned into the many colours of a small ensemble and given a memorable lesson in how all the instruments fit together.

Conductor Peter Wiegold proved a perfect host, his attitude completely lacking that patronising tone which adults often inadvertently take when talking to kids. His introductions to each piece hit the right balance between enthusiasm and elucidation.

The programme made no concessions to simplicity, each of the pieces proving a challenge for both musicians and audience. Young ears and imaginations are much more able to respond to the impressionistic bill than us adults steeped in melody and rhythm.

Throughout, digital projections and manipulations by Terry Braun added another layer, a further entry point for our appreciation.

Most accessible were the two extracts from Steve Reich's New York Counterpoint, a typical minimalist tessalation where Timothy Lines' clarinet weaved in and out of a backing track to hypnotic effect.

Three Pieces For String Quartet by Stravinsky showed the many shades and timbres possible from four skilled players. The third excerpt, a slow and mournful song, was breath-taking.

Works by Pierre Boulez and Philip Cashian were pretty far-out but That Man's Talking Nonsense by Wiegold himself was a riot of percussion and brass, sort of Zappa-meets-Stax, and went down a storm.

Best of all were the two improvisations where the conductor explained what all his hand gestures meant. The kids loved it.