The Sinking of the Titanic

Birmingham London performances of classic experimental work commemorate Titanic centenary weekend



£15.00 – £25.00

The influential and experimental 1969 Gavin Bryars composition The Sinking of the Titanic is to be performed live by the composer and his ensemble at two special concerts in Birmingham and London in April, marking the centenary of the 1912 maritime disaster.

The work, inspired by reports that the RMS Titanic’s string ensemble continued to play the hymn Autumn as the ship sank in April 1912, was written as an ‘indeterminate’ and open work; intended to evolve with the addition of new elements.

The Gavin Bryars Ensemble will play the work at Birmingham’s Grade I listed music venue Town Hall on Friday 13 April, accompanied by samples from turntablist Philip Jeck and hazy archival film footage from artists Bill Morrison and Laurie Olinder. A second performance on Sunday 15 April at the Barbican Hall in London marks 100 years to the day of the sinking of the Titanic in the North Atlantic Ocean.

Throughout the 72 minute performance Bryars and the ensemble weave refrains from Autumn with layers of Jeck’s sample-based materials, creating, at times, clamouring waves of sound that suggest the great engines and massive bulk of the vessel and the ocean that swallowed it. The result is a heart-achingly intimate and direct work.

In Birmingham, the premiere of a special commission of music inspired by the famous sinking of the Titanic, written by young composer and jazz bassist Hamish Livingstone will precede the concert. The Music of the Titanic will be performed at the regular Rush Hour Blues session in Symphony Hall’s Cafe Bar at 5.30pm on Friday 13 April 2012. There will be also a small display of Titanic memorabilia in the Town Hall foyer on Friday 13 April, courtesy of the Avery Historical Museum.

‘Devastatingly poignant.’ Uncut ★★★★★

Composed in 1969, performed in 1972 and first recorded for Brian Eno’s Obscure label in 1975, Gavin Bryars’ The Sinking of the Titanic was originally scored for small orchestra and tapes. Bryars’ exquisite piece has been interpreted, adapted and performed in innumerable subsequent configurations. It has been performed, among other spaces, in a Napoleonic-era water tower, a Belgian art nouveau swimming pool, a 1950s Swedish dance hall, a Huddersfield night-club, and the Guggenheim Museum, New York.

The Sinking of the Titanic is the oldest piece in my catalogue but, partly because of its openness, is one that I revisit and renew. Like its companion piece Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet (the “B” side of the 1975 LP recording) it still touches me after all these years. In a sense both pieces reflect on imminent death: through the selfless and noble demeanour of the ship’s musicians; or through the simple faith and good-natured optimism of a homeless old man’s singing.

– Gavin Bryars

Pre-concert conversations with Gavin Bryars and writer and broadcaster Brian Morton will take place in both Birmingham and London.


Notes to editor:


The Sinking of the Titanic
7.30pm, Friday 13 April
Town Hall, Birmingham
£15.00* – Box Office 0121 780 3333 /

Pre-concert conversation with Gavin Bryars, writer and broadcaster Brian Morton, and Andy Lound, Titanic expert and Curator of the Avery Historical Museum takes place in the Town Hall at 6.15pm and is free to The Sinking of the Titanic ticket-holders.

*£2 fee per transaction on all bookings except those made in person at the box office, £2.50 from April 2012

The Sinking of the Titanic
8.00pm, Sunday 15 April
Barbican Hall, London
£15.00 – £25.00

Pre-concert conversation with Gavin Bryars and writer and broadcaster Brian Morton takes place in the Fountain Room at 7.15pm and is free to The Sinking of the Titanic ticket-holders.


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, designed to appeal to people of all ages and backgrounds. Over 500,000 people visit Town Hall and Symphony Hall annually, and almost 12,000 young people and 6,000 adults participate in a thriving Education and Community programme.

About the Barbican
A world-class arts and learning organisation, the Barbican pushes the boundaries of all major art forms including dance, film, music, theatre and visual arts. Our creative learning programme further underpins everything we do. In 2012 we celebrate the Olympic year with many of our projects forming part of the Cultural Olympiad and London 2012 Festival – it is also our 30th birthday year. Over 1.5 million people pass through our doors each year, hundreds of artists and performers are featured, and more than 300 staff work onsite. Our architecturally renowned centre opened in 1982 and comprises the Barbican Hall, Barbican Theatre, the Pit theatre, a cinema (with two new cinemas to open in September), the Barbican Art Gallery, a second gallery The Curve, foyers and public spaces, a library, Lakeside Terrace, a glasshouse conservatory, conference facilities and three restaurants.

Media contacts:

Lyle Bignon
Assistant Press & PR Manager, Town Hall & Symphony Hall Birmingham
T +44 (0) 121 644 6028

Sabine Kindel
Senior Media Relations Officer, Barbican Centre London
T +44 (0) 20 7382 6199

Roisin Stimpson
Communications Manager, Forma
T +44 (0) 20 7456 7823

Issue date:

Tuesday 6 March