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Britten 100: Birmingham celebrations begin

“It is cruel, you know, that music should be so beautiful. It has the beauty of loneliness of pain: of strength and freedom. The beauty of disappointment and never-satisfied love. The cruel beauty of nature and everlasting beauty of monotony.”

2013 promises to mark a number of major musical anniversaries, amongst them 200 years since the birth of Richard Wagner and Guiseppe Verdi, 50 years since the death of Francis Poulenc, and perhaps most significantly for the UK, the centenary of that quintessentially English composer, Benjamin Britten.

At 7.30pm tomorrow (Saturday 12 January), Birmingham’s official celebrations of what would have been Benjamin Britten’s hundredth year begin with a concert from Ex Cathedra at Town Hall, entitled A Boy Was Born.

Under the leadership of conductor and artistic director Jeffrey Skidmore, the Birmingham-based choral and early music ensemble will perform six pieces, including 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.

This opening concert is the first major series of Britten’s music to be performed in 2013, and is part of the Birmingham Britten series – a project which will see Town Hall & Symphony Hall, the CBSO, Ex Cathedra, BCMG and Birmingham Royal Ballet join forces to present works by the composer such as Spring Symphony, Les illuminations, War Requiem, Peter Grimes and First String Quartet.

In addition, the Britten Discovery Day, a day-long series of talks, live music and discussion exploring Benjamin Britten’s music, word-setting and his association with literature will take place from 10.30am tomorrow (Saturday 12 January) at the CBSO Centre.

Birmingham Britten also features the outstanding Britten Sinfonia performing Simple Symphony and Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge, joined by pianist Angela Hewitt playing Beethoven’s Second Piano Concerto on Sunday 13 January at Town Hall, and Ian Bostridge – one of today’s greatest interpreters of the music of Britten and Pears – playing Schubert’s Winterreise and Britten’s own Winter Words on Wednesday 16 January at Town Hall.

Read: The road to perfection: Ian Bostridge’s best of Benjamin Britten (The Guardian)