100 years of Britten - Birmingham celebrates in style

From poetically inspired orchestral works to opera and children’s music, Benjamin Britten is one of Britain’s best loved and most widely performed composers. From January 2013, Birmingham stages the first major UK series of Britten’s music in his centenary year, featuring performances from the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, The Birmingham International Concert Season and Ex Cathedra join forces in A Boy Was Born, a Birmingham-wide celebration of his centenary.

The celebrations begin on 12 January with a performance of some of Britten’s best loved works for a cappella choir and choir and organ in Town Hall Birmingham given by top choir Ex Cathedra under its Director Jeffrey Skidmore. The programme includes Britten’s remarkable youthful compositions, A Hymn to the Virgin and the choral variations A Boy was Born as well as A Hymn to St Cecilia and the festival cantata Rejoice in the Lamb.

Also at Town Hall Birmingham on 13 January, the first of the BICS concerts sees the outstanding Britten Sinfonia performing two of Britten’s most precocious early works – Simple Symphony and Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge, a homage to the composer’s teacher. These popular pieces are partnered with two other exuberant masterworks also written by composers in their twenties: Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 2 and Prokofiev’s Classical Symphony (No. 1).

Benjamin Britten had a genius for setting texts, and, along with his partner Peter Pears, was a noted interpreter of Winterreise, Schubert’s dark journey of the soul in a bleak winter landscape. Tenor Ian Bostridge and pianist Julius Drake feature this work alongside Britten’s own Winter Words, set to texts by Thomas Hardy (16 January, Town Hall).

The CBSO begin their celebrations with Britten’s rarely heard Spring Symphony (January 17 & 19, Symphony Hall). Conducted by principal guest conductor Edward Gardner, the magical masterpiece is a quirky mixture of poems, including work by W H Auden, alongside a handful of folksongs. It’s an unmissable performance that will bring together CBSO Children’s Chorus, the CBSO Youth Chorus and the CBSO Chorus along with an all-star cast.

In February, guest conductor IIan Volkov will join the CBSO for a performance of Britten’s Piano Concerto featuring Steven Osborne (February 6, SH), and in March Ian Bostridge returns to join CBSO associate conductor, Michael Seal, in Britten’s sensuous, glittering song-cycle, Les Illuminations (6 March, SH).

Following the critically acclaimed 50th Anniversary performance of War Requiem in Coventry Cathedral, Music Director Andris Nelsons brings the stellar cast of singers and massed voices of the CBSO Choruses back together as part of the Britten celebrations (28 May, SH). Expect an emotional performance of the piece of music that has become synonymous with Birmingham’s Orchestra who performed the premiere more than half a century ago.

A Britten Discovery Day on 12 January (CBSO Centre) offers a chance to experience Britten’s life and works through a day-long series of talks, live music and discussion ending with Ex Cathedra’s concert A Boy was Born. And on July 1, there’s an opportunity to hear some of today’s foremost Britten interpreters, the Belcea Quartet, perform the composer’s magical First String Quartet in the last of three appearances at Town Hall this season.

The celebrations continue later in the year, with the opening concert of the 2013/14 Birmingham International Concert Season – a concert performance of Peter Grimes featuring an all-star cast and the London Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Vladimir Jurowski – sure to be an unmissable autumn highlight. Then, in November, the Choir of Kings College, Cambridge, and the Britten Sinfonia will perform the much-loved Christmas cantata, St. Nicolas.

Stephen Maddock, CBSO chief executive said: ‘Britten is one of the greatest composers of the twentieth century and we are thrilled that the CBSO family will be joining forces with our Birmingham colleagues to celebrate such an auspicious centenary. In particular, we’re looking forward to welcoming back the internationally acclaimed performers that joined us for the sold-out performance for War Requiem in May 2012. It’s a great opportunity for those who couldn’t join us in person, or who were blown away by the live televised European wide coverage, which also appeared on www.thespace.org, to experience the chemistry of a piece of music that forms part of our heritage in the acoustically stunning setting of Symphony Hall.’

Andrew Jowett OBE, director of Town Hall and Symphony Hall Birmingham said: ‘This celebration of Britten’s music is a collaborative offering from three of the city’s great arts organisations. The wide-ranging programme – from small-scale vocal and chamber music, to choral and orchestral symphonies – is something that only Birmingham could produce.’

For more information on Britten centenary events in Birmingham, and to book tickets, visit www.birminghambritten.co.uk .Box office contact details can be found in the relevant notes sections below.
More information on the Britten centenary can be found at www.britten100.org

Two new events added to Birmingham’s Britten celebrations

Birmingham Contemporary Music Group perform music from young Britten – Elegy, Going downhill on a bicycle, Suite and Phantasy Quartet – alongside works by Berg, Copland, Knussen and Henze (Illuminating Britten, 18 May 2013, CBSO Centre)

Birmingham Royal Ballet’s award-winning director David Bintley presents a new version of Britten’s only ballet score, The Prince of the Pagodas, at Birmingham Hippodrome in February 2014. Tickets on sale from March 2013.


Note to Editors

Selected Listings
A Boy Was Born – 12 January, 7.30pm, Town Hall
Ex Cathedra Choir/ Academy of Vocal Music/ Jeffrey Skidmore conductor/ Alexander Mason organ

Britten Discovery Day – 12 January, 10.30am – 5pm, CBSO Centre

BICS: Young Britten and Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No 2 – 13 January, 5.30pm, Town Hall
Britten Sinfonia/ Angela Hewitt piano

BICS: Winter Words from Ian Bostridge – 16 January, 7.30pm, Town Hall
Ian Bostridge tenor/ Julius Drake piano

A Spring Symphony – 17 January, 7.30pm & 19 January, 7pm, Town Hall
City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra/ Edward Gardner conductor/ Susan Gritton soprano/ Allan Clayton tenor/ Kelley O’ Connor alto/ CBSO Chorus/ CBSO Youth Chorus/ CBSO Children’s Chorus

Illuminating Britten – 18 May, 7.30pm, CBSO Centre
Birmingham Contemporary Music Group/ John Woolrich BCMG Artist-in-Association

Founded in 1920 by the civic leaders of the city of Birmingham, the CBSO has a world-wide reputation as a pioneer for music, whilst also being deeply rooted at the heart of the UK’s second city. The quality, range and scale of the programme delivered by the CBSO’s family of orchestral musicians, conductors and choruses is unrivalled anywhere in the world and, as it nears its centenary in 2020, it will continue to push the boundaries to secure a great future for music in Birmingham. In residence at Symphony Hall, Birmingham, the Orchestra performs around 130 concerts each year, at home in Birmingham, across the UK and internationally. Critically acclaimed, they’re famed for presenting audiences with star-studded operas, fresh sounding symphonies, and ground-breaking premieres, alongside silent movies, Broadway classics, Bollywood hits and family shows. Whilst inviting some of the world’s greatest musicians to the city to perform, the CBSO is also focused on developing future talent. Whether it is investing in up-and-coming artists, supporting four exceptional Choruses and Youth Orchestra, or involving over 36,000 people each year in an extensive learning and participation programme, the CBSO is a proud ambassador and cultural icon for Birmingham. www.cbso.co.uk
Ruth Green, Communications Manager on: 0121 616 6511 or 07813 162334, rgreen@cbso.co.uk

2. Birmingham International Concert Season is Town Hall and Symphony Hall’s flagship classical series of visiting international orchestras and musicians, and is one of the largest in the UK. Town Hall and Symphony Hall are managed together by Performances Birmingham Limited, a Registered Charity No 1053937. Between them, the two halls present an exciting and varied programme of over 600 concerts and events a year, connecting people of all ages and backgrounds to music from jazz, folk, world, roots and classical, to rock and pop. Over 500,000 people visit Town Hall and Symphony Hall annually, and almost 12,000 young people and 6,000 adults participate in the thriving Education and Community programme. Town Hall Birmingham re-opened in October 2007 following a £35m renovation funded by Birmingham City Council (£18.3m), Heritage Lottery Fund (£13.7m), European Regional Development Fund (£3m). www.thsh.co.uk
Fiona Fraser, Press & PR Manager – fiona.fraser@thsh.co.uk 0121 644 5008
Lyle Bignon, Assistant Press & Pr Manager – lyle.bignon@thsh.co.uk 0121 644 6028
Abi Barrington, Press Assistant – abi.barrington@thsh.co.uk 0121 644 6078

3. Ex Cathedra
Founded and based in Birmingham, Ex Cathedra is one of the UK’s leading choral ensembles dedicated to seeking out the best, the unexpected and the neglected in the choral repertoire and to encouraging new choral writing. It runs its own annual concert series in Birmingham but is also regularly invited to perform internationally and across the UK. Ex Cathedra’s distinctive strengths and values come from the artistic vision and leadership of its founder and Director, Jeffrey Skidmore, whose driving passion has been to refresh and reinvigorate the choral repertoire and to make it accessible to as many people as possible, both now and in the future. Its community of gifted and dedicated musicians are committed to excellence in every aspect of the company’s work from performance, research and commissioning to training, education and community engagement. In addition to its Choir, Consort and Baroque Orchestra, Ex Cathedra runs two training choirs and an extensive children’s vocal education programme. In 2012/13, it will be delivering its ground-breaking Singing Playgrounds in more than 200 Primary schools in Birmingham alone. As an ardent advocate for Birmingham, Ex Cathedra aims to revitalise the city’s great choral tradition and make it the UK’s first Singing City. www.excathedra.co.uk
Jill Robinson, Press & PR Manager – jill@excathedra.co.uk 0121 616 3410 / 07904 265941

4. Birmingham Contemporary Music Group celebrates its 25th anniversary season in 2012/13. Emerging from within the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra in 1987, the Group quickly established a reputation for brilliant performances, ambitious commissions, innovative collaborations, and a vibrant learning programme. With a central commitment to composers and the presentation of new work, BCMG’s open and inclusive approach takes people of all ages through the rich and fascinating world of contemporary music. BCMG has premiered over 160 new works, many commissioned through its pioneering Sound Investment scheme. In addition to a busy schedule of concerts in the UK and abroad, BCMG runs an extensive learning and participation programme, working with young people in and out of school and with adults in a range of community settings, as well as presenting ground-breaking Family and Schools Concerts. The Group has two Artists-in-Association, Oliver Knussen and John Woolrich, and Sir Simon Rattle is Founding Patron. BCMG has received a clutch of prestigious awards, has an extensive catalogue of CD recordings and broadcasts regularly on BBC radio. www.bcmg.org.uk
Faith Wilson, BCMG Press Consultant – faith@faithwilsonartspublicity.com 020 7635 9775 / 0794 113 7453

Updated 20 December 2012