BGSO Hall of Fame @ City of Sounds

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.

BGSO and Chorus on stage at the Adrian Boult Hall at the end of their BGSO Pride Proms concert in 2015

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.


BGSO Leader Kat Galbraith on stage at St. Paul’s, Jewellery Quarter

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.

BGSO Principal Clarinettist, Philip Mills on stage at St. Paul’s Church, Jewellery Quarter

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.

BGSO members letting their hair down after their performance at L-Fest in 2015

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!

The BGSO at St. Paul’s in the Jewellery Quarter

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.

You can buy tickets for the BGSO concert on 12 June Birmingham-Box and follow the orchestra on Facebook and Twitter.


CBSO @ City of Sounds Festival

The relationship between the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and the Birmingham Conservatoire is arguably closer any other between a music college and an orchestra in the UK. The two organisations are so linked together that the collaborations, the mentoring of staff to students and the  shared pride in celebrating Birmingham and the beyond attracts attention from around the world.

Birmingham Conservatoire support the CBSO at Birmingham Symphony Hall. Birmingham Conservatoire support the CBSO at Birmingham Symphony Hall.

Birmingham Conservatoire Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Michael Seal support the CBSO at Birmingham Symphony Hall.

On Saturday, 4 June at 7:30pm, the CBSO will be making their final appearance on the Adrian Boult Hall stage as part of Birmingham Conservatoire’s City of Sounds Festival, celebrating 25 years of working together. They will be led by CBSO Associate Conductor and Conservatoire alumnus, Michael Seal, who will share the podium with Conservatoire Principal, Julian Lloyd Webber. Julian will lead Eduardo Vassallo, CBSO principal cellist and Cello Tutor at Birmingham Conservatoire in Haydn’s Cello Concerto No. 1 in C, and Michael will conduct Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro Overture and Beethoven’s ‘Eroica’ symphony.


CBSO Principal Cellist and Birmingham Conservatoire Cello Tutor, Eduardo Vassallo

The ABH was once the home of CBSO. Gone are the days when a bright-eyed undergraduate might end up in the queue behind Simon Rattle buying a cup of tea. But students still get to see a large number of CBSO musicians  wandering the corridors of the Conservatoire, teaching, leading sectionals, attending meetings, or perhaps themselves grabbing a cup of tea and bite to eat in the cafe. CBSO musicians are so entrenched in the daily life of the Conservatoire it is hard to distinguish where one organisation ends and the other begins. And with CBSO Centre and Symphony Hall only a few minutes down the road the opportunities for students to observe rehearsals and meet other musicians is a great way to learn and develop.

I caught up with Julian Lloyd Webber to talk about his debut with the CBSO as a conductor and asked him about his memories of the Haydn concerto…

Am I right in saying this is you first performance with them as conductor?

Yes it is!

But you have performed with them before as a soloist?

Yes – I go back a long way with the CBSO – I remember playing Tchaikovsky’s Rococo Variations with the orchestra in 1973 in Kidderminster! One special memory is giving the first public performance of Frank Bridge’s wonderful Oration for Cello and Orchestra at the 1979 Bromsgrove Festival.

How special is it for you to conduct with Eduardo Vassallo as the soloist?

This is very special. Eduardo is a wonderful cellist and he is one of our most valued teachers – so this feels entirely natural.

Obviously this is a concerto you know very well, how might that make its way in to your conducting?

Hopefully I will know it inside out! More importantly the fact that I know it so well will enable me to respond to everything Eduardo wants.

Do you have any special memories of performing the Haydn yourself?

I played this concerto all over the world. I especially remember one performance in Tokyo with Yehudi Menuhin conducting. It was the first item on the programme and he refused to go on stage until his wife arrived – she was stuck in the Tokyo traffic. So I was getting ever more nervous – and we started the concert ONE HOUR late!

Tickets are still available from the THSH website, but are going fast. Get yours now to avoid disappointment.



Stereo is King @ City of Sounds Festival

The percussion department is always busy doing something, whether it is putting on a concert for schools using everything you would find in the cupboard under the stairs to travelling to Brazil to train with one of the country’s top samba schools. June 20th sees them take part in the final week of the City of Sounds Festival performing classics by Cage and Reich alongside new works by Bates and Norman in what will be a rhythmic and sonic feast.

Birmingham Conservatoire percussion students and Sophie Hastings (Head of World Percussion) in Brazil

Birmingham Conservatoire percussion students and Sophie Hastings (Head of Drum Kit, Rhythm and World Percussion) in Brazil

The title, ‘Stereo is King’ is taken from the Mason Bates’ piece of the same name which will be performed alongside works by Steve Reich (‘Music for Pieces of Wood’), Cage (‘First Construction (in Metal)’), Chick Corea (‘Sicily’), Christopher Tyler Nickel (‘Firedance’) and Mark Norman (‘Longshore Drift’).

Bates’ composition is a collection of six pieces by the young American composer, most of which were written during a residency with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. With an overall emphasis on rhythm, his work can be described as distantly rooted in the minimalist tradition – fitting then to have the masters of that great school of composition, Cage and Reich in the same programme. Bates also includes electronics in two of the pieces, and also manages to evoke popular styles such as blues or funk, but carefully avoids falling in to the realms of “crossover” by developing his rhythmic ideas rather than allowing them to firm the structural basis of a piece. He also, in the title track, uses electronics within the acoustic ensemble to effectively evoke the ‘concertante’ style which was prevalent in Baroque music which all contributes towards his post-minimalist language.

Cage’s ‘First Construction (in Metal)’ was composed in 1939 and is written for six percussionists and an assistant (whose job it is to apply a metal rod to the strings of a piano). The percussionists use, among other things, Japanese and Balinese gongs, Chinese and Turkish cymbals, brake drums, anvils and a water gong (which is a gong placed in water whilst vibrating) and the set up is a spectacle to behold.

Set up for John Cage's 'First Construction (in Metal)' on stage at Symphony Hall, Birmingham

Set up for John Cage’s ‘First Construction (in Metal)’ on stage at Symphony Hall, Birmingham

Steve Reich is one of the world’s greatest living composers, this year celebrating his 80th Birthday. The percussion department performed his iconic masterpiece ‘Drumming’ back in December 2015 which was inspired by his studies in Ghana using the transcendent and dramatic tapestry of bongos, marimbas, glockenspiels and females voices, with an irremissible sense of momentum. ‘Music for Pieces of Wood’ on the other hand uses a much simpler instrumentation, five pairs of tuned claves, and is a fine example of how only using basic elements can still produce something of great interest and impact. The composer describes the piece as “one of the loudest” he ever composed, but uses no sort of amplification whatsoever. With 58 kaleidoscopic shifts of pattern, the pieces consists of three sections, each one progressively building the density of the music based upon a simple quaver (quarter note) pulse laid down by the first player.

Tickets for ‘Stereo is King’ featuring the Percussive Sounds Ensemble of Birmingham Conservatoire’s percussion department are available from here. The concert is on 20 June at 7pm.

Keep up to date with the percussion department on Facebook or follow them on Twitter.

In A Strange Land – Ex Cathedra’s farewell concert to the Adrian Boult Hall

Leading UK choir and early music ensemble Ex Cathedra are renowned for delivering performances of authority, style and passion. On Thursday 26 May, they take to the Adrian Boult Hall stage for a spectacular choral send off. We spoke to Peter Tretheway, Ex Cathedra’s  General Manager, to get a flavour of what’s in store for this eagerly anticipated  concert…

Ex Cathedra Hereford Cathedral 2014 - credit Neil Pugh

Credit: Neil Pugh

What can we expect from this performance?

A mixture of exquisite English and New World choral music spanning 500 years, sung by Ex Cathedra’s highly-acclaimed consort of singers, conducted by Jeffrey Skidmore, OBE, Artistic Director of Early Music at Birmingham Conservatoire, and Artistic Director of Ex Cathedra.

Why should somebody who has never seen an early music ensemble before, buy a ticket to this concert?

Firstly, the outstanding quality of the singers and conductor! Ex Cathedra are widely renowned for their early music performances. In terms of the programme – the first half is more ‘traditional’ choral music, so it would be a good ‘way in’ for a new audience member, whereas the second half of the concert will be full of more unusual choral gems from South America, so the listener will immediately be ahead of the crowd having heard this music!

EC Consort in library rotunda - cropped credit Andrew Fox

Credit: Andrew Fox

How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land? Why was this particular verse from Psalm 137 chosen for the theme of this concert?

Psalm 137, the hymn of captivity and longing for homeland and religious freedom, give this programme its title and its theme. The programme explores man’s personal search for heaven and earth in the New and the Old World in the world-changing and turbulent years of the 16th and 17th century.  The title verse seemed to most appropriately capture that theme.

Candlelight Shrewsbury 2015 - credit Roger Cable - smaller

Credit: Roger Cable

In A Strange Land With Ex Cathedra takes place on Thursday 20 May. Tickets are available here.

See here for a full programme listing.

Music to Go with BCMG and Via Nova @ City of Sounds Festival

This Friday (20 May) sees Birmingham Contemporary Music Group (BCMG) collaborate with Via Nova in a concert in the Adrian Boult Hall (ABH). BCMG, which was founded in 1987 and is now of the Europe’s leading contemporary music ensembles, used to be based at the Conservatoire and used the ABH as a rehearsal and performance venue. The ensemble consists of many musicians who teach at Birmingham Conservatoire, and also play with the CBSO. Via Nova is an exciting contemporary choir made up of students and graduates of the Conservatoire and led by the dynamic conductor, Daniel Galbreath. This concert sees BCMG and Via Nova unite to perform music by Charlotte Bray, Betsy Jones, Morton Feldman and Howard Skempton.


Conductor, Daniel Galbreath rehearsing members of BCMG and Via Nova. Image credit: BCMG

Howard, Lecturer in Composition at Birmingham Conservatoire, will have two works performed on Friday, including the BCMG commission, Six Figures, written for Ulrich Heinen, co-founder of BCMG. I asked Uli about the history of the piece and how it feels to have something written for you:

“In 1998 or so, BCMG and CBSO moved into the CBSO-Centre and I adored this new performance space. I decided I wanted to perform all of Bach’s cello suites in there, mixed with contemporary works for cello. I asked Howard if was willing to write me a piece and he did! I knew Howard from our collaboration on ‘Delicate’, a ballet scored for 2 cellos and percussion. Six Figures is very special! I kind of feel responsible for its well-being. It is not particularly daunting to have Howard there, either. He is so understanding and accommodating. I am used to his presence anyway. Last year we did about a dozen performances of Field Notes and he was there for all of them!”

Daniel Galbreath describes the concert as “centred, to a degree, on the work of our own Howard Skempton”. Via Nova will also be performing a work by Howard, called The Flight of Song, which he describes as “elegantly simple, yet powerfully expressive”. Similar to Feldman’s Rothko Chapel which is also on the programme, both pieces exhibit what Daniel says he loves about both composers’ work: “There’s clarity, such thoughtful, intuitive (but un-fussy) precision, that you don’t realise for a while that you’ve been led into what is also a powerfully emotional landscape”.

via nova

Members of Via Nova in performance. Image Credit: Via Nova

I asked Daniel about his feelings of working on a piece written by a composer you know:

“It’s always great for the singers – and me – to perform works by composers we know, but it’s especially special to work with Howard. He’s acted as a mentor to me since I first moved to England, actually (I acutely remember a 2-hour long coffee at Starbucks when I first arrived, feeling very anxious and alone, talking mostly about Vaughan Williams and Shostakovich), so having his work as part of what is a tremendous opportunity for Via Nova means a great deal to me. We’re honoured to work with a composer of such standing, but also of such insight.”

One of BCMG’s greatest achievements is its reputation for commissioning and performing new music, and they work closely with the Conservatoire’s own Composition Department. As well as coaching players of the Conservatoire’s Thallein Ensemble, BCMG also run workshops for composition students and regularly read-through works of students, providing invaluable feedback. Uli spoke to me about how the students benefit from this close relationship:

“I think the composition students love the challenge to write for BCMG and seem to be pleased with our performance of their work. We love playing new works and as the standard of composing has become so high in recent years it is a pleasure for us to get to know them and their work!”

Uli also spoke to me about how the ensemble has “grown enormously” since it was founded in 1987. With around 75 works commissioned as part of their ‘Sound Investment’ scheme, the work of BCMG is now considered “world-class”. Uli says that with BCMG, the composer comes first. They have “free range of the instrumentation and other indicators”, and they will endeavour to keep the work within their repertoire, rather than putting the work back on the shelf, never to be heard again.


Conductor, Daniel Galbreath rehearsaing members of BCMG and Via Nova. Image Credit: BCMG

Via Nova, the brainchild of Daniel Galbreath, who is a Conservatoire PhD candidate, and Ed Denham, a recent graduate, specialises in performing contemporary choral music, and often work with composers on new works and run workshops in writing for the voice – most recently as part of the conservatoire’s Frontiers Festival. Daniel spoke to me about how Via Nova was formed.

“Via Nova was founded several years ago for a several different projects, and gained momentum from there. We’ve been lucky to do some very exciting performances, including the UK premiere of Morton Feldman’s Swallows of Salangan, which was broadcast on BBC Radio 3. We’ve also worked a great deal with Conservatoire student composers, which I hope to continue doing.”

The two ensembles clearly have similar aims, working closely with composers to perform their work and providing guidance for student composers for example, but differ in their age and experience. Daniel, a graduate from the University of Wyoming, told me that BCMG are “not just great because of the skill of the players or the boldness of their programming, though – their engagement with the wider Birmingham musical community seems, to me, to be a central part of what makes them a relevant and extraordinary organisation.” “This event continues their tradition of engaging with, and supporting, Conservatoire musicians. Via Nova, though not a ‘student choir’, strictly speaking, is comprised of students/emerging professionals, and it’s exactly this sort of opportunity that gives them experience of the profession at the highest possible level.”


BCMG co-founder and cellist, Ulrich Heinen. Image Credit: BCMG

The mentoring of BCMG has clearly rubbed off on Via Nova. The choir hope to “continue the kind of collaborations and community engagement that has been so important” to them thus far. They would also like to start recording and there is a big project in the pipeline to mark this year’s Shakespeare celebrations. “Our aspirations are nothing if not ambitious!” says Daniel, which is perhaps the best way to be.

Birmingham has a thriving cultural scene embracing music, dance, art and literature from around the world. Constantly delivering world-class and though-provoking performances and exhibitions by artists, groups and institutions such as Birmingham Royal Ballet, the Ikon gallery, the CBSO, Vanley Burke, Graham Vick (Birmingham Opera Company), The REP Theatre, Laura Mvula and The Custard Factory to name but a few. I asked Uli why BCMG is so important for composers from Birmingham and beyond:

“Composers need a group like ours who commissions and expertly performs their work to a very high standard. This is good for the UK as it is for Birmingham, because flourishing contemporary art is a vital indicator of a ‘healthy’ society.”

Come and hear BCMG and Via Nova in concert on Friday 20 May, 7:30pm in the Adrian Boult Hall, Birmingham Conservatoire. Tickets available here.

Via Nova’s Website

BCMG’s Website

Birmingham Citadel Band @ City of Sounds Festival

Join the Birmingham Citadel Band for an evening of high quality brass band music on Sat 7 May featuring special guest compere and conductor William Himes (OF), soloists Derick Kane (euphonium) and Stephen Kane (baritone), with bandmaster Gavin R Lamplough.

7 May Citadel Band

We caught up with Bandmaster Gavin R Lamplough ahead of the concert to get a flavour of what audiences should expect.

Having performed here many times before, do you have any specifically fond memories of performing at Adrian Boult Hall?

We have had the great pleasure of sharing the stage with a number of well known guests including brass band stars Roger Webster and Phillip McCann and from the orchestral world LSO Principal Trumpet Phil Cobb and LSO trombonist Dudley Bright.
It is always a place that we are proud to invite celebrated guests to perform at and a venue that we are proud to have in our city.

What can audiences expect from the concert and what pieces will they hear?

This promises to be our best concert yet!  It’s going to be action packed with music from the band including established Brass Band repertoire and two world premieres, whilst Saint-Saen’s Marche Militaire Francaise reflects the many orchestral transcriptions that exist for Brass Band.

In addition we have two outstanding guest soloists.  Derrick Kane has been principal euphonium of the International Staff Band for 40 years and his son Stephen is currently the Baritone soloist with the number one ranked band in the world, The Cory Band.  But it doesn’t stop there!  Our third guest will be William Himes from Chicago, USA. Mr Himes is a world renowned composer, conductor and clinician and as well as being our guest compere for the evening the band will feature his music in the second half.

We will be playing a blend of his compositions that display his versatility as a writer. You’ll hear his marches, an extended work and even a piece for band and narrator!

Why have you selected those particular pieces?

Our programmes always aim to have “something for everyone”.  There are extended works alongside lighter entertainment pieces and there is always room for a meditative hymn tune setting for which Brass Bands are famous for!  We hope that there will be something to make you smile, something to inspire, moments to laugh and moments when you will be “challenged”.

For those who have not been to a brass band concert before, why should they come to this concert?

There is nothing quite like the sound of a brass band!  It is a group that has diversity and versatility at its core and this is reflected in our choice of repertoire.  We would urge people who have not been to a Brass Band concert before to come and give it a go and allow the Birmingham Citadel Band to take you on a roller-coaster ride of emotions through our music.  We promise you won’t regret it!

Join the Birmingham Citadel Band on Sat 7 May at Adrian Boult Hall at 7pm as part of City of Sounds Festival. Tickets available from