As is the case with nearly all British composers, it’s a rare event for me to hear some of my own music in a concert hall programme by a British orchestra. So I expectantly travelled to Birmingham to hear a performance of Storm perfomed by CBSO and their Youth and Children’s Choruses conducted by Simon Halsey. I’m not unfamiliar with Symphony Hall – I spent memorable years as CBSO’s associate composer when the auditorium was fairly new, with bright orange and chrome décor which I used to think it was visually ‘very Birmingham’. But the vivid, clear acoustic in such a comfortable place to sit and hear – that ‘s still impressive today.
My CBSO years started in 1995, just after Simon Halsey had founded these two Choruses (for Children aged 8-12 and Youth, ie girls, aged 13-18). I well remember a conversation at that time, when Simon explained that he’d taken these big steps partly out of a concern that singing was disappearing from everyday life. A remarkable revival since has taken place thanks to such bold enterprises; the ever-rising popularity of choral singing is the big success story in British music at present.
And of course these particular ensembles have attained spectacular levels of expertise. Any twelve-year-old at present in the CBSO Children’s Chorus may well have sung a St Matthew Passion with Simon Rattle, a Mahler 3 with Andris Nelsons and a run of Khovanshchina with Birmingham Opera Company. These are thoroughly professional-level musicians. It didn’t surprise me that the evening’s performance was one of the most perfectly achieved, secure experiences of my own work I can remember attending in any concert hall.