You can find full gallery at: https://photos.app.goo.gl/4aeBdjx3MnxtmJ5D9
Once upon a time …
A video directed by Wai Ho Chui, a pupil of King Edward’s School.
Sunday 23rd June 2019
Ruddock Hall, 16.30
Featuring guest professional musicians:
Joe Thompson, piano (Ivy Club London, ITV’s Daily Show, Queen Elizabeth II’s 90th Birthday party, Prince Charles’ 70th (pretty much the Royal Birthday Pianist!), and his long suffering colleague:
Robert Rickenberg, bass
Plus Senior Swing Band with student vocalists:
and many more:
Tara Desai & Sanjana Sudeshkumar
Priyanka Chaudhuri & Emil Ali
Joe Ward & Shivanii Arun
and even more!
Arun Ramanathan, voice
Nathan Cornish, trombone
Naomi Bazlov, piano & George Roberts, bass
i. Allegro moderato
ii. Adagio di molto
iii. Allegro, ma non tanto
It was in 1903, with his successful second symphony behind him, that the Finnish composer, Sibelius, wrote his violin concerto. It was the only concerto he ever composed and had long been promised to Willy Burmester, a prominent soloist of the day. Sibelius was himself a violin virtuoso and described as a “genius” by one of his teachers in Helsinki. However, he appeared to have lost confidence and it was not without regret that he accepted his future as a composer rather than a violinist. This concerto was written during one of the most turbulent periods of his life where he was a heavy drinker and had mounting debts. His wife had regularly to seek him out and take him from the fashionable clubs and bars of Helsinki to encourage him to work on the score. Once completed, he could not afford to fly Burmester to Finland to perform the piece and therefore he asked the Czech violinist Victor Nováček to play it. However, Nováček was not equal to the technical challenges of the work and the concerto met with incomprehension and disapproval; one critic of the time writing, “a red-faced and perspiring Nováček fought a losing battle with a solo part that bristled with … great difficulties.” After the lacklustre debut, Sibelius revised and condensed the work and Burmester again offered to play it, writing, “All of my twenty-five years’ stage experience, my artistry and insight will be at the service of this work … I shall play the concerto in Helsinki in such a way that the city will be at your feet.” However, Sibelius’ German publisher wanted Karl Halir, a violinist and the concertmaster in Berlin, to undertake the solo part and Sibelius agreed. Burmester was understandably outraged and vowed never to play the work, a promise which he kept. The revised version was heard in 1905, Richard Strauss conducting the Berlin Philharmonic.
Despite the frailties displayed by Sibelius in his personal life, there are no signs of weakness in the concerto. That said, there is certainly Nordic melancholy, and powerful emotions are expressed throughout. The concerto follows the classical tradition and retains the usual three-movement form. The soloist takes charge from the beginning of the expansive first movement with a long lyrical paragraph which is beautifully shaped over the tapestry of the accompanying divided violins. The second theme is impassioned, initially appearing in the orchestra, anticipated by the bassoons and clarinets, and taken up by the solo part. This is followed by the orchestra’s introduction of a third thematic idea. Sibelius replaces the development section with a solo cadenza and this is followed by a recapitulation. An aching nostalgia is displayed in the three-part second movement, a woodwind introduction with a melody in thirds preparing for the broad, singing theme of the solo violin. The mood changes dramatically at the opening of the third and final movement which is a restless scherzo in rondo form. Over the rhythmic ostinato of the orchestra, the virtuosity of the violin is displayed most clearly, often in the violin’s highest range and the strong march-like tune passes back and forth between violin and orchestra. Its dance-like energy prompted the British musicologist, Donald Francis Tovey, to describe it as a “polonaise for polar bears.” However, this was clearly not intended to be derogatory as he went on: “In the … looser concerto forms invented by Mendelssohn and Schumann, I have not met a more original, a more masterly and a more exhilarating work than the Sibelius violin concerto”.
Charlotte Howdle, Upper Sixths
Some projects are a long time in the making, but often all the more satisfying because of it. Earlier this week I was in Birmingham for the culmination of a glorious, ambitious, beautiful project, hosted by King Edward School and their music teacher/conductor Dr Martin Leigh, music teacher Keith Farr, and embracing seven other schools in the Birmingham area.
With the idea of using story and art in music as an aid to inspire primary school children to compose their own music, I helped develop a book for schools, “Exploring Music through Stories”, full of useful teaching notes. Meanwhile Martin and Keith were actively involved in working directly with schools and teachers to encourage the children to create something wonderful – and they did!
They should be named: Hallmoor (who presented – and charmingly acted – songs from Hansel and Gretel); Bourneville and Tiverton (who offered a fresh look at Peter and the Wolf); Brownmead (who conjured the witch Baba Yaga with a beautifully slavic sounding song); The Oval (I loved their midnight clock for Cinderella!); Elms Farm (Their “Snegurochka” song touched the heart in their version of The Snow Maiden) and Hillstone (who brilliantly used percussion and all kinds of unusual sounds to share the underwater world of Sadko – amazing!). Huge congratulations to them all – it was truly wonderful to witness! all the children, shining with pride and achievement!
Afterwards, in keeping with the Russian Fairy Tale theme, I narrated and illustrated the original version of Peter and the Wolf by Prokofiev, plus a couple of extracts from Stravinsky’s Firebird, with the KES symphony orchestra, who played superbly.
But that wasn’t all – there then followed an evening performance of Peter and the Wolf and the full 1919 suite from The Firebird. A pretty full day! For me, the challenge was to learn the narration for Peter and the Wolf and many complicated cues, by heart. As I was illustrating the tale simultaneously, at my easel, it wasn’t possible to use a score, so it all had to be firmly embedded in my memory. Happily I survived both times without mishap, and the lovely warm Birmingham audience made me most welcome.
My thanks to and admiration for Keith and Martin are boundless. The way Martin thanked every single student in the orchestra, as they left the stage, was utterly heartwarming. Also thanks to Sarah Mullen of the brilliant Busy Parents Network, who so ably supported this glorious, unforgettable event. One of the best I’ve ever been involved in.
I’m now looking forward to returning to Birmingham for several Busy Parent Network events at their Bournville Book Fest in March, including another concert, with Birmingham opera singer Abigail Kelly, an event full of art and arias as I accompany her singing with painting! You can find out more here:
Peter & the Wolf: Bourville and Tiverton Primary Schools
Pupils at Bourville and Tiverton Primary schools are working very hard on their composition pieces to be performed on 5 February at the Ruddock Hall.
This is just the taster of the musical soundscape they created. We are all very excited to hear their live performance!
So………..serialism. That great musical genre, of harmony, tunefulness and beautifulness. Unfortunately, it wasn’t anything like that. Our compositions were full of increasingly obscure intervals and notes which clash and produce a dissonance that would usually mean your music is awful. But no, not serialism. It can sound as unusual and un-’musical’ as you want. I think that’s the really interesting aspect of our compositions is that we can break the majority of the rules we thought existed. Thus, the creations had rhythms that were harder to notate than play, titles which seemed like the composer was going mad while writing them and notes which had no musical bearing to their surroundings, save the matrix which we so faithfully trusted.
We embarked on our ‘creations’ towards the end of our fourth year and finally at the end of the autumn term in fifths our pieces got recorded by a remarkable set of players: Kate Suthers, CBSO principal second violin; Kate Oswin, CBSO first violin; Adam Römer, CBSO principal viola; Richard Jenkinson, ex-CBSO ‘cello, Mark Walkem, double bass extraordinaire and Sara Wilander, pianist of note. On that Friday, these players all came together to give life to our pieces and a recording of our pieces that even the titan of Sibelius (the musical composition software not the man himself…) could reproduce.
Arush’s piece Twisted Flamingoes, untwisted into particularly difficult slow triplet minims. We then had a sad moment when Rohan’s Orangutans died, so we had to play them a funeral piece, which was handily composed by Rohan. Then as time flew along we had Louis’ Tempus, and no sooner had we started the baroque-styled piece we moved on. We then had Heftigkeit (violence) by Gokul, which was lost over the summer and then refound (i.e. Gokul re-wrote it). We then tamed Jacob’s Wild Beasts, which turned out to be the middle strings.
Then, we had the piano pieces. These came about due to our rebellious nature: Dr Leigh said do a string quartet, so I did a piano sextet, Shirom a piano trio and Jiaqi a piano quartet. I got the prize for the longest title being: A three legged waltz, a bridge, hell and back again. Then Shirom had his Notes- The exploration of serialism through the transcendence of life and love, which had some interesting rhythms and some challenging double stopping that even the CBSO found tricky. Finally Jiaqi, the most rebellious one. He had a ‘normal’ piece after giving up on his serialist one. It had a piano part that wouldn’t be amiss in a Rachmaninov prelude and had some recognisable motifs, at least to the CBSO.
So, all I need do now is say thank you to the players and to Dr. Leigh for making this happen.
George Roberts, Fifths
The team behind the Peter and the Wolf project convened again at Hillstone Primary School last Thursday. They explored further the model for composition work and also introduced the visual part of the project. The workshop was led by James Mayhew and some truly outstanding masterpieces were created.
Saturday, 12 May at 1300 on BBC Radio 3
A new series in which each week a musician reveals a selection of music – from the inside.
Today, bassoonist and principal contrabassoonist of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, and woodwind tutor at King Edward’s School, Margaret Cookhorn shares her excitement about a rare experience – playing the contrabassoon in chamber music by Mozart. She also analyses how Richard Strauss brings exotic flavours to the orchestra in his take on Salome’s Dance of the Seven Veils, and explains her fascination for patterns in the music of Benjamin Britten. Margaret’s choices range from a miniature by Elgar played by violinist Nigel Kennedy to part of Messiaen’s massive Turangalila Symphony, plus vocal acrobatics from Ella Fitzgerald and Bobby McFerrin.
At 2 o’clock Margaret introduces her Must Listen piece – something she thinks everyone should hear at least once in their life – as she says: “it contains one of the most exciting and rhythmic endings to a symphony ever written”.
You can read more at the programme by visiting:
There has been speculation that there is, somewhere in the world, a mobile safe haven for violas. Its existence has since been confirmed, as the viola tribe manifested itself in the form of the Cecil Aronowitz International Viola Competition at the Birmingham conservatoire during the penultimate week of November. Violists and other supporters flocked from far and wide to listen and participate in a week of masterclasses, recitals workshops and, of course, the main event: the international competition itself.
Several members of symphony orchestra headed down on Monday to get a piece of the action: Naina played in a masterclass with Timothy Ridout and later joined the rest of the merry band in a workshop hosted by the Absolute Zero (temperature, not skill) viola quartet – yes, viola quartets do exist. The workshop was an amusing time where arrangements for viola ensemble were played and new techniques picked up. They also watched Round 2 of the competition.
The Robin Ireland evening recital included one of his own works, Pairings II for two viola, a Bach Chaconne (played with a baroque bow), Seven Preludes by Shostakovich and Six pieces from Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet. A magical and inspirational performance by one of the viola greats.
All in all, it was an informative and fun experience – maybe next time we’ll be competing for real! … or not.
Gabriel and Junias Wong