History has a habit of repeating itself, and that is certainly the case with Birmingham Town Hall.
When it opened in 1834 it very soon welcomed the world's most illustrious composer, performer and teacher, Felix Mendelssohn. And now, re-opening after extensive restoration and refurbishment, this weekend it welcomed arguably today's candidate for those accolades, Pierre Boulez.
Perhaps Boulez might not welcome the comparison with a composer who probably doesn't figure on his radar, nor the neo-classical aspirations of Hansom's building, but the fact remains that he gave Birmingham an unforgettable 24 hours between Friday and Saturday. He was unstinting in his generous support of younger colleagues, warm and amusing in his anecdotes delivered with razor-sharp intellectual clarity in mellifluous English (in interview with Roger Wright and Paul Griffiths), and tireless in his activity - and this is a man well into his 80s.
As a result of this, so many will have been drawn into his sphere of gravity and bounced away again, enriched and wiser. Perhaps most of all will have been the students of Birmingham Conservatoire, who both performed for him and had their compositions scrutinised by him, all with the kindliest yet shrewdest perspicacity.
Two workshops were given in the Adrian Boult Hall, Daniele Rosina conducting a student ensemble plus the supple-toned mezzo Suzanna Purkis in Improvisation I sur Mallarme, and the deeply thoughtful, gifted pianist Refiye Mehmet in some of the early, occasionally finger-crunching Notations.
Then Nicholas Cleobury conducted authoritative accounts of Charlotte Bray's Beneath the Dawn Horizon and Samuel Bordoli'sEta Carinae Nebula (both prize-winning student composers), brilliantly delivered after minimal rehearsal by the expert Birmingham Contemporary Music Group.
Also within the Conservatoire we moved to the Recital Hall, well-equipped for electronic music, for the magical Anthemes 2 for violin (the former post-grad Angela Balint) and live electronics (the adept Jonathan Green). For any sceptical about such a genre this will have been an ear-opener, revealing an autumnal warmth to Boulez' utterances, and providing almost a contemporary kind of Bach Partita with listener-friendly support.The Town Hall events framed Friday, beginning with a stunning programme from the student-based Thallein Ensemble, conducted by the efficient Cleobury. No Boulez, but sonorous Takemitsu, a Holliger piece whose intricacies will have gone un-noticed by most ears, and stirring Messiaen.
And in the evening came the reason for Boulez' presence, his installation as an Honorary Doctor of Birmingham City University.
David Saint and Henry Fairs played the platform party in and out with stirring Messiaen organ works, and Alison Wells was the athletic soloist in Boulez' now dated but pivotal Le Marteau sans Maitre, joined by the Warehouse Ensemble conducted by Edwin Roxburgh, who also delivered an energetic Sur Incises after Peter O'Hagan's almost Lisztian account of the piano original.
We ended on Saturday morning with an open rehearsal of Boulez taking the BCMG through Stravinsky's Dumbarton Oaks chamber concerto, and then surprise compositions written in Boulez' honour from Richard Causton, Vic Hoyland and Richard Baker, who conducted all three with verve and style.