CBSO, Seeing the Wood


Visiting Birmingham for an early afternoon concert by CBSO, which opened with my piece Heroic Strokes of the Bow, was a big deal. The orchestra was 80-strong, easily the largest group I've heard live in the pandemic era, and it sounded wonderful. The programme ended with Beethoven's 7th Symphony, in a thrilling performance under stand-in conductor Joshua Weilerstein, who seems to be a most interesting and very wide ranging musician. CBSO's director Stephen Maddock informed us that this was the orchestra's first Beethoven Symphony in 18 months "and none of my predecessors could have said that!"


Such was the effect of Beethoven's sonic energy that I fancied I could imagine the atmosphere of the premiere of the symphony which has been so fascinatingly chronicled. In fact, getting this many musicians onstage at a safe distance had required some ingenuity at Symphony Hall. Habitues will notice from my photo that the risers at the back of the platform have gone, and there are some tall wooden panels, excellent for sound reflection, which no-one has seen before, as they've been hidden by a curtain all these thirty years since the hall opened. Refurbing these unloved panels apparently took some traditional West Midlands industrial energy - a visit to a local panel beaters was necessary. But the musical effect was great, and I hope we haven't seen the last of them.


And indeed there are some other things I'd like to keep, such as the 90-minute programme with no interval - containing lots of good music (the above titles plus imaginative, intelligent Alina Ibragimova in Prokoviev Concerto no 1) but short enough for us to be out in time to meet our friends for tea. Another gain (though I may be imagining this on behalf of others) is the freedom for string players to play one to a stand with a good amount of personal space around them. Having written a piece about "Heroic Strokes of the Bow" I particularly appreciated this, and put it to the management that they should aim to abolish desk partners (the practice of seating two string players at one music stand). "It's a lot of work for the librarians, putting in twice the amount of bowings" was the, reasonable I suppose, reply. And, they might have added, extra costly on top of the already rather large sums charged for hiring a set of parts when new music is played.

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JUDITH WEIR

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