On Sunday 12 June, as part of the #CityofSounds Festival, the Birmingham Gay Symphony Orchestra will be making their final visit to the Adrian Boult Hall. With an afternoon concert (3pm start) of classics from previous concerts and famous pieces which are new to the orchestra, they hope to thoroughly entertain their loyal audience, as well as celebrate their seven year history of performing at the Conservatoire.
The orchestra will perform orchestral classics such as Dvorak’s Largo from his New World Symphony and the second movement from Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto (performed by BGSO Principal Clarinetist, Philip Mills). In addition they will play the Hoedown from Copland’s ballet, Rodeo, and the thrilling Montagues and Capulets, by Prokofiev to really get the hearts pumping. Variety is the theme of the evening with something everyone will enjoy, whether they are in to their Brahms, Debussy Khachaturian, or even a spot of Jonathan Creek i.e. Saint-Saëns haunting Danse Macabre, with BGSO Leader, Kat Galbraith taking the main role.
We caught up with Kat who is also the Chair of the BGSO to find out more about this special orchestra and their upcoming concert.
How/when/why was the orchestra formed?
The founding members of the BGSO (quite literally two violins, a flute, an oboe, a trumpet and a French horn) responded to an advert in Midland Zone in 2008, turning up to a cramped office space in the Custard Factory, where they played through musical theatre medley after musical theatre medley sitting on deckchairs using anything to hand as a music stand! Humble beginnings, but for the musicians involved it gave them a place to come together, play together and have fun together. People who hadn’t played their instrument in years sat next to music students and professional players. It was love at first blow, or pluck depending on your instrument!
The BGSO first performed publicly in 2008 in The Loft Lounge and The Village Inn, playing Christmas carols and raising money for ABPlus. Back then we comprised of approximately a dozen players. I joined in April 2009 when we were preparing to be part of the Pride Celebration concert, and perform at start of the Birmingham Pride parade. By this point we’d swelled to around 25 players marking the beginning of the BGSO as we know it today. By the end of that year we’d started rehearsing at the Conservatoire and were preparing to put on our first proper concert at the ABH.
What does it mean to be a LGBT orchestra?
The LGBT scene in Birmingham and the West Midlands is an immensely diverse community. We know this, but it isn’t always evident from the outside looking in. When people think of LGBT social scenes they tend to think of the bars and clubs, however not everyone who identifies as LGBT is into that kind of scene. It can be hard to find alternative ways to meet people with shared interests.
As an LGBT orchestra we are able to provide a safe ‘non-scene’ environment centred around a shared interest where people can come together to express who they are without any additional pressure or expectations. This is as important now as it ever was. Whilst the situation for people who identify as LGBT in the UK is infinitely better than it has been in the past, there is still some way to go. It is important for us to be visible as the Birmingham Gay Symphony Orchestra.
Our orchestra is fully inclusive and welcomes all musicians of any standard whether they identify as LGBT or not. We promote talent and musicianship directly from within the LGBT community illuminating the diversity that exists within it to the wider community and beyond. It makes us very proud to be one of only two LGBT orchestras in the country at the moment, and we hope that other cities can take inspiration and seek to support and promote their own LGBT community in this way. To quote one of our members, “every city should have one… like a cathedral”.
Birmingham has a thriving cultural scene, and one of the best LGBT scenes in the UK. Is there anywhere that these things come together?
Over the last seven years we’ve forged strong links with other organisations within the LGBT community, and strive to support their projects whenever and wherever we can. We have a fantastic cultural scene and we want people to know about it! We have been invited to play at key events in the LGBT calendar, such as the opening of Birmingham’s LGBT centre, Pride, Shout Festival, World Aids Day & L-Fest. We are particularly excited to be spearheading the launch of the Pride Arts Consortium later this year which aims to bring together LGBT Art groups from across the Midlands to strengthen and promote the fantastic work that we are all individually and together for Arts within our community.
How many times/how long have you been performing in the ABH?
Our first performance in the ABH was our ‘BGSO does Christmas’ concert on 13th December 2009. I don’t think any of us walking out on that stage that night could have anticipated that we would continue to perform there for the next seven years and would be one of the last orchestras to play there. It’s going to be emotional for many of us when we play there for the last time on the 12th of June.
What does it mean to play in a hall like the ABH?
It means everything! All of us in BGSO love playing together and that is a beautiful thing in and of itself; I have always felt that we would be driven to come together whether we put on formal concerts or not. However, there is something very special about walking out on the stage together at ABH. We love the hall for its warm acoustics and it is the greatest thrill to hear the sound we make together on concert night. It allows us to showcase the music talent that exists within the LGBT community in the West Midlands, and for an audience to gather at a great performance venue to hear us at our absolute best.
You are performing some terrific music. Why did you choose these pieces?
These are some of our favourite pieces many of which we’ve played in previous concerts in the ABH. It seemed fitting that we revisited these on our last ever concert there. I’m very lucky that we are playing two of my favourite pieces – Khachaturian’s ‘Adagio from Spartacus’ and my favourite piece of all time Debussy’s ‘Clair de Lune’. All the pieces mean something to each of us and we hope that will come across in our performance on the night.
Are you excited for the new building? Will you be performing concerts there?
We certainly hope so! We’ve seen the plans and are very excited by what the future holds for music making in the city – we want to be a part it!
What are your future concert plans?
On December 17th we return to St Pauls in the Jewellery Quarter for a Christmas concert. Our Christmas concerts are always a firm favourite with our audience – who doesn’t love a Christmas concert! This year we will be performing Tchaikovsky’s Sleeping Beauty alongside all the usual festive classics our audience members love. Going into 2017 we have concerts scheduled for 18th March & June 10th – keep an eye out for details on our website.