Platinum in Birmingham


After two days of London's Jubilee, it was a pleasure to escape to Birmingham. Having chaired the jury of the West Midlands Platinum Jubilee Composition Competition, I was anxious to find out how it would all turn out. This ambitious event was the brainchild of a very young man, Khadeem Duncan-Bannerjee, and had a long gestation leading to the weekend's premiere concert in Symphony Hall. The idea was to ask West Midlands based music students to write a Jubilee anthem. Question one, using which words? We were very fortunate that Fatma Mohiuddin, Birmingham's Young Poet Laureate quickly got to work, and produced a really appropriate, singable lyric.


Musical settings (at that time vocal score only) were then invited. I actually wondered if we'd get any - were students at all interested in the Jubilee? But lo and behold, a good set of entries arrived , several of which would have been fun to perform. With much precision of thought, my expert choral director colleagues on the jury (Hilary Campbell, Carl Jackson and Simon Toye) honed in the version by RBC student Oliver Hayne as being probably the most singable by a young chorus. I remained in touch with Oli while he orchestrated his setting, at some speed, for the concert. I was struck by his resourcefulness, practicality and adaptability. Writing an orchestral score for a choral work is a particular skill, in particular needing awareness of the confusion the chorus can feel when the familiar piano part they've rehearsed with is replaced by the complexity of an orchestra. Oliver had never written for this situation before, but handled it brilliantly.


Meanwhile, a group of school choirs around the region was practising the anthem. The amazing part really is the level of professional honour afforded to this event. With incredible generosity, CBSO presented an orchestral ensemble for the premiere concert, and Symphony Hall was also made available to us. Remarkably, Simon Halsey , probably the most in-demand choral conductor anywhere, found the time to rehearse and conduct - so graciously - this concert, which also included other English repertoire, including a particularly lovely little sliver of Elgar's Serenade. Underlining the really high standards of this whole enterprise, an excellent video was made and is freely available on YouTube.

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JUDITH WEIR

Composer