Thursday, 2 May 2019

Celebrating the past and looking to the future: the CBSO looks to its centenary in 2020

Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla and the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra (Photo CBSO)
Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla and the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra (Photo CBSO)
The City of Birmingham Symphony (CBSO) was founded in 1920, and so the orchestra's 2019/20 represents the advanced guard of its centenary celebrations. Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla returns as the CBSO's music director for her fourth season, leading over 40 concerts during a season in which the orchestra uses the centenary celebrations as an excuse both to look back, celebrating the past, and to look forward with new commissions.

Musical celebrations in the West Midlands have played a significant role in the UK's musical life, notably the Birmingham Triennial Festival. The CBSO is celebrating this with performances of Mendelssohn’s Elijah (premiered in Birmingham in 1846), Elgar’s The Dream of Gerontius (premiered in Birmingham in 1900) and Handel’s Messiah (the bedrock on which Birmingham’s famous Triennial Festivals were built). Another West Midlands first was Britten's War Requiem (given its world premiere by the CBSO in Coventry Cathedral in 1962), and the final large scale choral work is Mahler’s Symphony of a Thousand (intended to receive its UK premiere by the CBSO in 1921).

The orchestra has a strong relationship with composers conducting their own work, including Holst, Vaughan Williams, Walton, Sibelius and Knussen. Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla will be conducting three works originally performed under their composers by the CBSO, Elgar’s Cello Concerto (also marking its centenary in 2019) with soloist Sheku Kanneh-Mason, Tippett’s A Child of Our Time, and the Symphony No.2 by Ruth Gipps, a former CBSO oboist.

The orchestra has commissioned 20 composers for new works to be premiered during the 2019-20 and 2020-21 seasons, and in this first batch there is a new cello concerto by former CBSO Composer in Association Julian Anderson and the first symphony by Thomas Adès, and works by Gary Carpenter, Unsuk Chin, Grace-Evangeline Mason, Thea Musgrave, Jörg Widmann and Stef Conner. In addition 20 young composers (under 30) are being chosen by the CBSO and their works performed as encores during the season for the CBSO Encores Project.

Another anniversary is that of the CBSO Youth Orchestra, which celebrates its 15th birthday with the ensemble’s first ever performance of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring, with conductor Andrew Gourlay. Joining the orchestra in this concert will be BBC Young Musician 2018 Lauren Zhang to perform Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No.2.

Full details from the CBSO website.

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