Why Brum beats London for classical music

The City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra will present its new music director, Mirga Grazinyte-Tyla, at the BBC Proms on Saturday night.

Mirga is smart, sharp and 30.

London orchs are conducted by grizzled blokes who have been doing the same thing for years.

Richard Bratby in the Spectator explains why Brum gets it right where London goes wrong.

Birmingham’s energy comes from a very un-English willingness to live in the moment: and then to push on to the next big thing. New is good. Tastefully repurposed heritage building, or shiny new shopping centre? No contest. Birmingham has always been about commerce, progress, change: the values embodied by 18th-century innovators like Matthew Boulton and James Watt, whose statues, coated in dazzling gold bling, stand across Broad Street from Symphony Hall. It doesn’t yell about how tolerant, lively and diverse it is: it just gets on and does it. Birmingham has had three Muslim mayors.

Read on here.

laura_mvula st pancras

pic: Brum’s Laura Mvula

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  • Pure, divisive, clickbait from a writer based in the Midlands and former member of the CBSO.

    And presumably, Mr Lebrecht, you are in the process of moving to Birmingham, if you haven’t already done so, to get away from all those “grizzled blokes”, and to enjoy the succession of Muslim mayors?

    This is poor stuff by any standards.

    • Petros, we have visiting orchestras who perform historically informed performances and when the CBSO play pure classical, eg Haydn, Mozart or Beethoven, they use the correct size orchestra, use no vibrato, valveless trumpets and the old style of timpani with hard sticks. This is perfectly possible in the superb acoustics in Symphony Hall. Playing that way in the Festival Hall is a waste of time due to it’s dreadful acoustics!

      Obviously Symphony Hall does not try and compete with Wigmore Hall as that wonderful hall is unique.

      There are also superb new halls at the University (Elgar Hall) and Ruddock Hall at the King Edwards School, plus the historic Barber Institute Hall, where Janet Baker sang many times before she became famous and we will have a new hall here in Birmingham in September 2017 when the new Birmingham Conservatoire opens.

      • “we have visiting orchestras who perform historically informed performances and when the CBSO play pure classical, eg Haydn, Mozart or Beethoven, they use the correct size orchestra, use no vibrato, valveless trumpets and the old style of timpani with hard sticks. This is perfectly possible in the superb acoustics in Symphony Hall. Playing that way in the Festival Hall is a waste of time due to it’s dreadful acoustics!”

        Well it sounds like you’ve got a very nice recipe for Historical Performance there in Birmingham! Very good! Good luck with that “pure classical” and “no vibrato”. By the way, if the festival hall’s acoustic is so poor, why even bother playing well at all, much less any old fangled way?

  • Saw her recently with a German top orchestra…Give me any of those grizzled blokes(Oramo???,Jurowski???,Rattle???,Pappano???,Dutoit???,Noseda???)instead of her karaoke conducting…

  • Allen, Jealousy will get you know where. Richard Bratby worked for the CBSO, he was not a member of the Orchestra and I can assure you, that now, as a independent journalist – who I have known for years – would not let that interfere with his comments. Richard calls a spade a spade if he needs to regardless of who he is writing about.

    I have lived in Birmingham for most of my life and have attended more concerts at Symphony Hall than anyone else – over 2300 so far – and can assure you that what he says is accurate.

    People that only go to London concerts are missing a great deal because Birmingham has two concert Halls (with Town Hall) that can put on orchestral concerts with better acoustics than London. There is no excuse for not coming up to Birmingham as there are two weekday trains (22.10 and 23.10) that you can use to get back to London after a Birmingham concerts (5 minutes walk from Town Hall and 10 from Symphony Hall).

    As far as I know Norman also does not live up here as I rarely see him at a concert – Why not, I have no idea!!

    • Seems to me that dishing it out on behalf of Birmingham is OK, but taking it is a more sensitive matter entirely.

      I’m not in the least bit jealous of Mr Bratby, even though he is clearly the bee’s knees. However, so far as his past is concerned, he might introduce a little more clarity into the wording on his web site:

      “As a former orchestral cellist and latterly a concerts manager with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic and City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestras…”

      So where did he play?

      • He was a concert manager at the CBSO Centre. I had no idea about his cellist past but it wasn’t at the CBSO so I can only ghess that it must have been in Liverpool. All I was saying that the reviews and programme notes by R B have always been excellent and I’ve heard more than once, in pre concert talks, conductors and soloists state that RB’s programme notes are the best they’ve ever read.

        I don’t work or have any connection with RB, but I defend my right to comment on stupid statements by someone who has no personal knowledge of a person in question. Whoever that might be.

        I wasn’t trying to infer that you were jealous of Richard Bratby, I was referring to Birmingham and as I was born hear and I p[resume you were not I will also rubbish comments against Birmingham if they are not warranted.

      • Have only just seen this exchange, thanks to a freakishly out-of-date Google notification and can only say that I’m sorry I missed all the fun! ‘m delighted to see that my opinions generated such interest. Life would be boring if we all agreed (though thank you for batting on my behalf, Mr Walton!). Let a thousand flowers bloom.

        And if you’re genuinely interested in my career; I was principal cello in the Lanka Philharmonic, Colombo from 1994-1996 – a paid part-time post – and played very occasionally as a freelance in the UK after that, though with no pretensions to (or indeed interest in) making a career of it. I was Acting Concerts Manager at the RLPO and held a succession of different concerts management posts at the CBSO from 1998 to 2015, when I became a full time freelance writer. I’d only add that while my full-time employment (obviously) circumscribed in what I could write prior to 2015, this is no longer the case.

  • This is absolutely ridiculuos! I mean the intruductory comment by Mr.Leberecht.Has he ever heard of the old grizzler Esa Pekka Salonen and his ground breaking projects with the Philharmonia?Or of the old grizzler Vladimir Jurowski and his LPO revitalizing?Or of the LSO’s educational work…(i bet the LSO is in for much more innovation under Sir Simon…)
    Just hiring a hip under 30 year old lady conductor seems to be enough….Her PromsDebut shows no innovative strains… repeating two pieces Andris Nelsons did stunningly, the Tchaikovsky also on a fabulous recording with the CBSO..
    If there’s any necessary proof for the vanity and shallowness of today’s music journalism,and sadly,musical life in General,it’s this opening paragraph!Unbelievable and sad…

  • My my. Seems like Londoners must be mighty insecure about their status for a simple article like this to receive the reaction it has. (Note the comment thread on the article itself.)

    • Yes they are Bruce, and they will be even more insecure after the fantastic CBSO Prom and all the tremendous reviews.

      What a shame!

  • “Give me any of those grizzled blokes(Oramo???,Jurowski???,Rattle???,Pappano???,Dutoit???,Noseda???)instead of her karaoke conducting…”

    In principle, Harold Braun, you are obviously as entitled to express an opinion as anyone else. In practice, I suspect most people reading the above will assume it to be shockingly rooted in prejudice. The reference to MGT as “a lady conductor” in your subsequent post is quite a giveaway.

    Consider this. There are many very sharp and sophisticated musicians in the CBSO who have spent the last two years auditioning a wide range of ambitious young conductors in a meticulous and unhurried search for a worthy successor to Andris Nelsons. Several of these candidates acquitted themselves with considerable distinction. I believe most reasonable people would find it simply implausible that at the end of this process the players would knowingly (because obviously they would know, wouldn’t they?) choose to become partners in a karaoke act.

    On the wider issue of the merits of Birmingham’s musical life versus London’s, I think it’s a pointless argument. Leaving aside the fact that the acoustics of Symphony Hall are widely accepted as superior to those of its London counterparts, I would just say that Birmingham’s merits are sufficiently robust to stand on their own feet, without sniping at the capital. There is a lot to be said in favour of Birmingham’s musical scene, but it’s inevitably a lot smaller than London’s.

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