What’s On at Birmingham Conservatoire Autumn 2016

As we count down towards our arrival at the new Conservatoire in less than a year’s time, things are undoubtedly different this year.

But, although we have lost our beloved Adrian Boult Hall, we have taken this as an opportunity to get ‘out and about’ in the city and we will be performing at Symphony Hall, Town Hall, the cathedrals of St Philip’s and St Chad’s, the CBSO Centre and St Paul’s Church in the Jewellery Quarter to name but a few.

At the Conservatoire itself we continue to offer world renowned artists at less than half the price you can hear them anywhere else! Singers are particularly well represented this autumn with concerts and masterclasses from charismatic
soprano Danielle de Niese and distinguished tenor Christoph Prégardien (will you EVER get the chance to hear such artists at such close quarters again?)

Johannes Goritzki (cello)

Reger Centenary Festival: Johannes Goritzki (cello) Celebrity Recital

And our exciting Max Reger Festival includes recitals by organist Thomas Trotter and cellist Johannes Goritzki, who will be partnered by our own Head of Keyboard Studies, John Thwaites.

So, as always, much to discover, learn and enjoy this autumn at the Conservatoire and once again. I urge you to ‘comb through’ this diary’s pages very carefully so that you don’t miss out!

Julian Lloyd Webber
Principal, Birmingham Conservatoire

Read the Concert Diary here.

Please note that advance tickets will be on sale soon.


Big bass man flies in to say goodbye to the ABH


Dave Holland in Birmingham (Picture Russ Escritt) Dave Holland in Birmingham (Picture Russ Escritt)

Bassist Dave Holland will be in the city centre on Friday evening, along with saxophonist Stan Sulzmann, drummer Nate Smith and the Birmingham Conservatoire Jazz Orchestra, to bid a final jazz farewell to the Adrian Boult Hall.

He’ll be the last of many jazz masters to have played in this hall down the decades. They include Jack DeJohnette, Charlie Haden, Joshua Redman, David Murray, Kenny Wheeler, John Zorn, Bill Frisell, John Scofield, Henry Threadgill, Michael Brecker, Joachim Kühn, Michael Wolny… and those are just the ones I remember as I write.

Holland has had a close relationship with the Conservatoire’s jazz students, and for a few years he was an annual visiting teacher and guide (the picture above is from one of those visits and was taken by the late and much-missed Russ Escritt). It’ll be a fitting sending-off for the old hall to…

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‘We have to get on well and use plenty of deodorant.’

19 Jun Folk Ensemble

Personal hygiene is important. So too is personnel hygiene when you’re part of such a super-huge, energetic (and often sweaty) outfit like the Birmingham Conservatoire Folk Ensemble.

Boasting dozens of immensely-skilled musicians, all putting their collective backs into electrifying performances, the ensemble, led by Joe Broughton (Albion Band, The Urban Folk Quartet, Joss Stone) are joining forces with The Destroyers for Destruction Party – a rabble -and rubble- rousing send off for the Adrian Boult Hall (ABH) on Sunday 19 June.

We caught up with Joe to talk about the gig, Gremlins and anti-perspirant…

There is an awful lot of you. How do you manage to all be in the same place at the same time?

Easy! Everyone wants to get together to play some great music so quite frankly why wouldn’t you want to be there!

It looks like incredible fun to be part of, what can we expect to see at the Destruction Party? I’m assuming no dour Joy Division covers…

I would sincerely hope not! You can expect to see 70 musicians on stage together ripping it up and absolutely giving their all. Wherever we go we are the biggest band there and generally people don’t ask us to collaborate on things for fear of stages collapsing under the weight of suspect folk dance moves but the Destroyers are made of stronger stuff and the ABH… well the ABH is due to be demolished anyway so this is it, it may never happen again but the Folk Ensemble at nearly 20 years old is ready to party like 20-year olds do.

Can anybody bring an instrument and join in, or do you have specific requirements for playing with the ensemble?

To join the folk ensemble you need to be studying at BCU but we don’t run auditions, we take any instrument and anyone with any level of folk experience. Sometimes the best ideas come from the people with the least experience and sometimes the best playing comes from those who are not playing their first study instruments.

I love the folk process where everyone brings something to the mix… The Folk Ensemble always sounds like the Folk Ensemble but every year it has a new twist as different people come in and out of the band. This year we have three electric guitar players – that’s a first and makes it extra noisy, just the way I like it.

Did you always intend to have such a big ensemble, or has it just kept on multiplying? Did you once get a fiddle player wet, Gremlins style?

People just kept joining the folk ensemble… it’s infectious and people never want to leave, apart from me perhaps but that’s because I have to do the paper work… Gremlins? I don’t know about that but there was once an incident with a goat, a tuba and a soil profile diagram.

How much of your material is pre-written? It must be hard for that many of you not to get carried away. Is improvisation encouraged? It certainly appears very spontaneous.

Everything we play is devised by the band standing round in a room together. Written music is never used. The band members have never seen a single note of any of the music written down. In that sense we’re really a very traditional outfit, learning by ear, passing tunes on to each other, responding to the present world around us. For me, that is folk music. The fact that you might hear an out and out funk or ska groove is really beside the point. We live in Birmingham, what’s trad folk here and now? Heavy metal?!

Your recent Sunday Classics gig at the Spotted Dog was pretty rammed, not least because of the amount of musicians on stage – I bet there aren’t many claustrophobics in the band?

We do end up in some pretty tight spaces, you can find a youtube film of 47 of us playing in a small tent for Bob Harris a few years back… we have to get on well and use plenty of deodorant.

You’ve played some incredible places and festivals such as the Royal Albert Hall and Shambala. Do you have any specific memories of performing there? And do you have any fond memories of Adrian Boult Hall?

It’s great playing on these famous stages of the world and it’s always nice for this band to play on a stage that is big enough to fit us on! A home town gig is always a special one though. I remember playing my first solo on the stage at the ABH back in 1995 and I loved every second of it.

In the ABH, over the years, I have done workshops with primary school children, played with the folk ensemble, done solos and put on big concerts, I’ve seen more outstanding concerts than I can remember and now that it is coming to the end I’m so pleased that the band I have invested so much in over the last 19 years can make a final salute to this great venue.

The Birmingham Conservatoire Folk Ensemble join The Destroyers for Destruction Party at Adrian Boult Hall on Sunday 19 June.

Book now at THSH.co.uk

Read an interview with The Destroyers here.

Di Xiao performing Mozart & Ravel @ City of Sounds

On Saturday 11 June, the Birmingham Philharmonic Orchestra (BPO) will take the to Adrian Boult Hall (ABH) stage for the final time. Birmingham Conservatoire alumna, Di Xiao will perform with the BPO in two piano concertos, the Mozart d minor (No. 20) and Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G, conducted by Michael Lloyd.

To make this concert even more special, they will be joined in the first half by the LEAP ensemble, consisting of talented young musicians from the Conservatoire’s Aspire programme performing orchestral favourites selected from the pioneering BBC Ten Pieces initiative.

We spoke to Di Xiao, a tutor and former student at the Birmingham Conservatoire to get her thoughts ahead of the concert

Birmingham Conservatoire alumna and tutor, Di Xiao

Have you performed with Birmingham Philharmonic Orchestra  or Michael Lloyd before?

I have met Michael and know he is an excellent conductor but this will be my first performance with the BPO, which I am really looking forward to.

Can you talk about your role as ‘an ambassador for the piano’? Is education and passing on passion for music to young people an important part of your career?

Sharing the beauty of music on the platform, in the studio, lecture hall or wherever it may take me is my passion and has given me so much. I was born & trained in China then developed a base in the UK, my cultural background, language skills and understanding of both systems gives me a unique perspective. I am a very sociable person and have a real zest for art and performance so acting as an ambassador to bring people from different backgrounds together through music, and show them how exciting classical music and performance can be is a real privilege.

I enjoy passing on my knowledge and find teaching extremely rewarding, I am very fortunate to have many mentors in my life and without them I could never have achieved half that I have.  I feel a sense of duty as well as honour to do the same for my students. My career on the stage and in the classroom enrich each other,  my own performance experience refreshes and injects new ideas into my teaching.  Then through explaining and teaching, it comes full circle and deepen my own understanding in music further still.

You are learning two concertos for this concert, Ravel and Mozart. Is that particularly challenging? Have you discovered anything about the two pieces/composers which complement each other?

Ravel & Mozart are two composers I greatly admire and feel very close to, their compositions are both ingenious and charismatic. These two concertos are in 2 completely different characters: Ravel G Maj is a playful and dazzling piece, but the Mozart D minor is tragic and dramatic.  What they have in common is that they both have the most breathtakingly beautiful slow movements. I think their contrasting moods will bring a beautiful balance to the evening.

Birmingham Conservatoire alumna and tutor, Di Xiao

As a graduate and tutor of Birmingham Conservatoire, you must have fond memories of the ABH. What are you going to miss the most about it? Are you excited for the new performance spaces in the new building?

Yes I have lots of wonderful memories of the hall: I won many awards including the symphony hall prize in the ABH when I was a student and that led to a recital at the Symphony Hall and many more performance opportunities. I have listened to so many great concerts and met many great musicians in the ABH as well as sat exams, given performance classes, adjudicated on competitions, given concerts and master classes and attended ceremonies.  It is the atmosphere and spirit of the hall I will miss the most. However, the future is very exciting so I look forward to the new performance spaces in our new home. It’s giving to be great to have all those facilities and specially design spaces.

How special did you find Birmingham Conservatoire when you were studying here? What was it that made you want to learn here, and ultimately become a tutor here as well? Are you proud to work for the Conservatoire, and why?

I think everyone who has studied in the Birmingham conservatoire will agree it is a very special place. What makes a place special is the people here, the friendliness, everyone willing to help, they not only do their job, but really invest in the institution and truly believe in what they are doing.  I feel so proud to be part of this family and I feel a sense of duty to give my all to help our students to find their own path, to reach their full potential and be the best that they can be, after all  that’s what I learned and achieved with my student years and now I am passionate about helping other young musicians to do the same.

The concert on Saturday 11 June starts at 7:30pm. Tickets are available from the THSH website.

You can read more about the BPO on their website and Di Xiao’s website can be found here.

Summer Chamber Music Celebrations

Chamber music is flourishing as never before at the Conservatoire and we are pleased to present a very special edition of the Conservatoire’s summer chamber music celebrations for City of Sounds.

Featuring all of Shostakovich’s String Quartets, performed by students and former students, we also welcome the Gildas QuartetSchubert Ensemble, Atéa Wind Quintet and Cassia Quartet.

12 June Schubert Ensemble by jack liebeck

The Schubert Ensemble – 14 June. Photo by Jack Liebeck

The festival provides a showcase for student ensembles from each department in the Conservatoire, as well as an opportunity to hear some of our superb Ensembles in Residence and teaching staff.

One of the highlights will be the performance of Shostakovich’s great Piano Trio performed by Oliver Willie, Alexander Baillie and Daniel Tong, three celebrated musicians who are currently playing a big role in the Conservatoire as teachers.

15 June Gildas Quartet

The Gildas Quartet – 15 June

This year the Strings students are taking on the challenge of presenting the cycle of 15 Quartets by Shostakovich. This is testimony to the breadth of talent and growth of experience in the arena of Chamber Music at the conservatoire in recent years. The experience of listening to the Shostakovich cycle of quartets is extraordinarily powerful, revealing as it does the inner life of one of the 20th century’s great musical geniuses, as well as one of its most tormented.

The dark side of these works is only part of the full spectrum of human experience they express, from childlike innocence, tenderness and playfulness to great exuberance and irrepressible energy. You are enthusiastically invited to come to as many concerts as you can fit in!

Festival events:

Appetite for Destruction

MegaFolk misfits, The Destroyers have made a name for themselves as a band who break through the walls of musical genres.

However, this will be the first time that they have been invited to a venue which will become little more than a demolition site shortly after their performance. But before the  Adrian Boult Hall is blown to smithereens, The Destroyers will be joined by the incredible 49-piece Conservatoire Folk Ensemble for a double-headed Destruction party on Sun 19 June.


We spoke to the band to get an idea of what we should expect and whether we should fear the intriguingly/worryingly named ‘Vortex Cannon’…

As this concert is named ‘Destruction Party’ will you be handing out hard hats for the audience?

We were hoping that we could stretch to some mild destruction of the Adrian Boult Hall during the show – maybe removing a couple of breeze-blocks from a non-supporting wall or two.  But we’ve been told that this would be frowned on.


You’ve made a name for yourselves on the live music scene – for anyone who’s been living under a pile of rubble, what can they expect from your show?

They would probably just be relieved to be out from under the pile of rubble for an hour or so.  Anyway we’d describe it as sort of balkan/klezmer influenced party music, featuring instrumental virtuosity, audience participation and a bit of stage theatrics.  Our aim is to make the audience go a bit wild, even in a conventional concert venue like the ABH we expect to get them off their seats and dancing in the aisles.


Will there be anything left of the ABH once you’ve finished playing? We kind of need it for the rest of City of Sounds…

It is our policy to always adhere to the laws of physics, including local sub-regulations.  We actively monitor our compliance with the above, and any discrepancies are subject to a prompt and rigorous internal investigation so that lessons can be learned moving forwards.


Erm, what’s a ‘vortex cannon’? And should we be worried about you using it on stage?

The vortex cannon has the charming ability to make adults behave like children as they leap up to try and catch the vortices.  It is a weapon of love, not war.  It fires smoke rings which drift out over the audience representing the fragile patterns that emerge heroically from the beauty of the earth.

We didn’t invent it, however ours is the most beautiful because it has been expertly decorated with shiny things.


This gig coincides with the release of your ‘License to Sing’ EP. Sounds like a good idea, have you heard my next door neighbour? She’s awful. I’ve had to call the police on several occasions -frankly I’d like to ban her from ever opening her mouth again. What can we expect to hear on the record?

The title track ‘Licence to Sing’ a playful exploration of the paradox that any intangible thing – including recorded music – is infinitely reproducible for free, and yet impossible to sell without artificially restricting access to it.  The epitome of this being the way that it is illegal to sing or play anything in public if it was written by someone else, unless the place you’re in has the appropriate licence.  Their motivation is honourable but some of the consequences are perverse or stiflingly bureaucratic.  So next time you call the police on your neighbour, if she is not singing all her own material and doesn’t have a PRS licence then maybe they can lock her up for that, rather than just her lack of vocal talent.


Apart from that, the EP contains a couple of storming instrumentals, one of which ‘One more tune!’ we’ve used as our encore for years, and fans always ask us which CD its on, but we never recorded it before so hopefully this’ll make them happy.  It also includes the song ‘Sorrows Tears and Woes’ which somehow constructs a louisiana-style singalong knees-up from the iniquities and menace of late-era capitalism.   The Licence to Sing EP is phase two of a three-year writing and recording project which started last year with The Vortex EP and culminates in our much awaited third album next year.  Meanwhile Licence to Sing will be officially released on Fri 17th Jun and the Adrian Boult Hall gig on Jun 19th will be the first chance to get a signed copy!

Destruction Party takes place at Adrian Boult Hall on Sun 19 June with The Destroyers and The Conservatoire Folk Ensemble. Book now via THSH.co.uk