Now in its 10th season, the popular Centre Stage programme of chamber-scale events promoted by CBSO players at the CBSO Centre is promising to be even bigger and better than ever.
Though almost all the concerts are given at lunchtimes, there are a couple of dates for later on in the day at the Berkley Street venue, as Richard Bratby, the events manager for the CBSO (and reviewer for this newspaper) explains.
“Our audiences have been growing over the last few years, in addition to our regular hardcore of listeners. Sales have been getting better, so we’re trying to push the boat out a little this year with two evening events – well, one-and-a-half evening events!” he says.
“One is the baroque group basing an evening around Samuel Pepys, with readings, and a singer, and maybe a small consort of singers as well, with the music played on period instruments. They have high hopes of getting someone famous for the readings – in the past we’ve had stars like Timothy West and Prunella Scales – but such people are very hard to pin down, so we’re working on that!
“Then at the end of the season we’re having another tea-dance, this time with the Berkley Street Dance Orchestra, which is a spin-off from the Berkley Salon Ensemble, Alwyn Green’s inspiration. This will be ‘The Great American Songbook’.”
CBSO fans will be disappointed to hear that Alwyn, long-serving trombonist with the orchestra, and creator of brilliant arrangements for the various ensembles with which he is involved, has recently retired after 22 years of devoted and enthusiastic service. And he will certainly be a loss to this kind of enterprise.
“I don’t know how much longer we’ll be able to carry on doing these things,” says Richard with a tinge of sadness. “So it seems a good chance to give this a bit of a run-out while he’s still available.
“There aren’t that many of the old guard, people like Alwyn, who used to play at the Winter Gardens in Bournemouth!”
For the main part of the season there are the “usual things and unusual things that the players want to play, and guest artists, too.
“There’s fantastic support from guest artists again this year, and Sakari Oramo is coming back as well, to lead the Bruckner String Quintet.”
The opening concert of the season on September 25 features the acclaimed Macedonian pianist Simon Trpceski, keen to play in the Brahms Horn Trio and Prokofiev’s Fiddler on the Roof-like Overture on Hebrew Themes. Trpceski also plans to include an offering from his homeland in the programme.
Other guest artists adding a Centre Stage performance to their time appearing with the CBSO include Baibe Skride, hot on the heels of her CD release of Tchaikovsky violin music with Andris Nelsons conducting, and Nicholas McGegan directing from the harpsichord a fascinating programme in words and music of “Handel and Haydn in London”. Next year is a landmark for both composers, marking the 250th anniversary of Handel’s death and the bicentenary of Haydn’s.
Among home-grown offerings there is a lunchtime of world premieres, presided over by co-principal cellist Eduardo Vassallo. The first of these is the Sinfonia Concertante for Strings by the Indian composer Vanraj Bhatia (trained in the western classical tradition), conducted by Michael Seal, and the second is the Duo for Violin and Cello by the Argentinian composer and cellist Jorge Bosso (a Vassallo compatriot). Here Eduardo is joined by CBSO leader Laurence Jackson.
And a particularly significant concert comes on December 18, when principal flautist Marie-Christine Zupancic joins other CBSO colleagues in a programme celebrating the 100th birthday of the great American composer Elliott Carter. Other composers represented on that particular lunchtime are Mozart, Villa-Lobos and Arnold Bax.
The CBSO Centre Stage series is benefiting from a recent uplift in funding from Arts Council England (ACE), adding £100,000 to the CBSO’s allocation for the next three years, as CBSO chief executive Stephen Maddock explains.
“The money is partly in recognition of the way in which CBSO Centre has already developed to be a very valuable regional resource for performance, rehearsals, participation and education, but also to help us deliver even more in these areas, so that the centre can reach its full potential.
“In practical terms some of the money will be used for improvements to the building, some for additional capacity within our education team, some for additional education work that we will deliver ourselves – such as the recent series of Key Stage 1 Notelets concerts for local primary schools, and a new lifelong learning strand that we are developing – and some for making the building more attractive and user-friendly for external promoters.”
Yet for all these exciting developments, there remains a refreshingly homely aspect to life at the CBSO Centre.
I have commented before on the excellence of the simple lunches on offer pre-concert –soup, filled rolls, cake (and a drinks licence).
“All the ingredients are bought on the morning of the concert and prepared here in-house,” Richard Bratby informs me. And very nice too.