Brass in Birmingham


My main reason for visiting Birmingham this week was to see Michael Zev Gordon's new opera Raising Icarus (a good one I thought, with a gripping score and striking libretto.) But as ever, I immediately collided with much more art than I was expecting. Just as I'd set foot in Centenary Square, looking in wonder at the vast expanses of still-empty new tramways, this really wonderful little brass band (pictured) marched onto a makeshift podium and started to play. The weather was freezing, and I so admired both the performers at work, and the young Brummies pictured in deck chairs listening.


This was the European Youth Brass Band, no less, and I had effortlessly stumbled upon the opening of the European Brass Band Festival, with several days of all things brass to come. It's heartening whenever we in the UK are still included in European-wide events, and surely in this context our very strong banding presence would be missed if we weren't there anymore. In particular I was thrilled to learn that Grimethorpe Colliery Band would be playing three finalist pieces in the European Composers' Competition (scored for brass band, obvs.). I marvelled at the modernist seriousness of the titles they would play: "Insecurity" (Thibaut Bruniaux); "Machiavelli, Ruminations on The Prince" (Andy Wareham) and "Stendhal's Syndrome" (Theo Rossier). It's wonderful that Grimethorpe are in business, a symbol of local pride after the pit closed in the early 1990s. I was surprised also to remind myself that Harrison Birtwistle's ground-breaking (in an artistic rather than coal mining sense) Grimethorpe Aria was written as long ago as 1973.


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JUDITH WEIR

Composer