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Contemporary Birmingham

The tectonic plates are shifting in Birmingham – literally so, you might think while walking around the middle of town and viewing the demolition of as much concrete as you could ever hope to see in one place. I think the shaft pictured was once part of the Library: of course real Old Birmingham people remember the earlier Central Reference Library occupying almost the same spot. From pictures, that must have been a wonderful building, whose total removal, together with much of Birmingham’s Victorian heritage, is difficult to credit from this vantage. Terry Grimley, the Birmingham Post’s former arts editor once recalled that in the 1970s, after acres of wholesale destruction, a protest group gathered outside the likely next victim, the Head Post Office building in Victoria Square. A small child stood with a handwritten sign bearing the very true remark “All it needs is a clean”. (The good news – the campaign was successful, it’s still there as an office building.)

Be that as it may, the musical scene is shifting too, let’s hope in plausible new directions. At CBSO, conductor Mirga Grazinyte-Tyle takes over next season, and Birmingham Conservatoire (itself headed by a newish director, Julian Lloyd-Webber) once its own concrete is demolished, will move down hill, geographically speaking, to a new building which just has to be an improvement on the previous one. And BCMG now have entirely new senior management because of the departure this month of Jackie and Stephen Newbould, who have each given almost thirty years’ service to this world-renowned ensemble.

Their wonderful, generous era was celebrated in an end-of-season BCMG concert characteristically full of premieres and people listening to them. Many of the regular audience had funded these new works under the group’s Sound Investment scheme, which has raised £350,000 for commissioning, an astonishing achievement in the present funding climate. On the night it was a pleasure to see Simon Clugston, the group’s first director and one of its two founders; the other founder, Simon’s fellow ex-CBSO cellist Uli Heinen was also present as usual, playing in the group as he has done for the last thirty years, come rain or shine, whatever appears on the music stand.





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