In a new feature we look at what makes us proud to be Brummies. This month it’s the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra
When you make a shortlist of the great orchestras of the world, the CBSO will be right up there at the top. Renowned for its ability to search out relatively unknown musicians and turn them into superstars, the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra is woven into the fabric of Brum life. It’s an institution which carries the name of Birmingham with pride around the world, while here at home it touches the lives of thousands of Brummies every year. Not just in its varied programme of concerts at Symphony Hall and the CBSO Centre in Berkley Street, but at many different levels – some of which may truly surprise you! In fact ‘surprising’ is a perfect adjective to describe the CBSO.
It’s most famous of course for its wonderful musicians and musical directors. The CBSO is where the likes of a young Sir Simon Rattle cut his musical teeth and waved his baton with distinction. Current musical director Andris Nelsons was a relative unknown when plucked from his native Latvia seven years ago. Now he is one of the most sought-after conductors on the international scene and is a regular guest at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden and the Metropolitan Opera New York. Under his director, the CBSO was named the best orchestra in Japan following its recent tour to the Far East. The CBSO’s most public face is as resident orchestra and chorus at Birmingham Symphony Hall. But its working home in Berkley Street is where most days of the week you’ll find its auditorium and studios bussing with auditions, educational schemes and concerts and workshops. Importantly, it’s also the hub for the continually expanding outreach projects with the local and business communities.
In any given year this Pied Piper of culture will interact with up to 35,000 schoolchildren and young people in the region in dozens of different initiatives. All have the same core aim – to bring as many of Birmingham’s young people as possible into contact with music and instruments at as early an age as possible. But we’re not talking serious classical stuff here – the last initiative for example saw the CBSO and legal firm DBS Law working in partnership to present a road safety message through music to more than 2,000 schoolchildren. The message was successfully delivered, the kids saw music in an exciting new light – and they had fun, too! “Partnerships with business are becoming ever more important to the orchestra as we look to widen our role in the community at a time when traditional support through grants and subsidies are continually being cut,” says communications manager Ruth Green. “The CBSO brings so much to Birmingham both here in the city and on the international stage. We are recognised as being worldclass and we are very proud of that. We think it is very important we give as much back to the city and community as possible and we work very hard to do that. One of the key areas is to bring youth into contact with music as much as possible and make it accessible to those who otherwise might never have the chance. That’s where working closely with business helps us to deliver.”
Banking giant, Deutsche Bank, is one of the orchestra’s key players as a sole supporter for work with the schools. Their financial backing allows the CBSO to send its musicians out to the schools to give concerts and hold masterclasses, workshops and ensembles. Discussions are ongoing with other major business supporters to widen still further the reach and depth of the CBSO’s youth programmes. There are plans to launch a project which aims to transform the lives of young people and their communities through music-making. This will see the CBSO select a school within a deprived community and give the children free instruments with a planned programme of musical education and development, leading to a coherent school orchestra. A radical project is also being discussed to bring children with extreme disabilities in touch with music. “Life has never been busier here than it is now. The CBSO is an exciting place to be as we move forward,” says Ruth Green. Reflecting the sense of endeavor and confidence, the CBSO Centre is also about to get a £1.5million pound makeover thanks to grants from the Arts Council and the Garfield Weston Foundation. This will see upgraded performance facilities with state-of-the-art acoustics and new seating and lighting as well as a contemporary makeover for the building’s interior and exterior.
FIVE FACTS ABOUT THE CBSO
- The CBSO was founded in 1920 and its inaugural concert was conducted by Sir Edward Elgar
- The orchestra performs around 130 concerts a year, regionally, nationally and internationally
- Its wide-reaching programme covers everything from Beethoven to Bollywood
- The CBSO also includes the CBSO Youth Orchestra, Chorus, Children’s and Youth Choruses, SO Vocal in Sellyoak, Handsworth Community Choir and the CBSO Young Voices
- As well as teaming up with some of the world’s leading musical artists, it has performed with unlikely personalities such as TV gardener Alan Titchmarsh and Great British Bake Off presenter Sue Perkins.