Many of my friends are quite prejudiced about Birmingham as a place to work and live. Well, of course, living on the edge of Solihull as I do many of my neighbours and parishioners have little to do with the city of Birmingham! Indeed, you could argue that places like Solihull, and, to a lesser extent Sutton Coldfield, are defined simply by not being Birmingham.
While some of the planning and the architecture of the city is understandably rather regrettable – we should never lose sight of the vibrancy and richness of the city’s cultural life.
In particular we are blessed with the Symphony Hall and the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. In the middle on an unbelievably hectic and rather stressful week I travelled in to Birmingham to listen to some Schumann and Shostakovich with Heinrich Schiff who both played the ’cello and then conducted Schumann’s symphony No.2.
Unlike some of my sophisticated concert goers I had never heard either of the pieces of music played. Sadly, the programme did not seem to be popular enough to attract a decent crowd. I felt for those running the Symphony Hall as I looked round the concert hall to see so many empty seats. Such a crying shame – is there no way in which the Symphony Hall could offer these seats to any who might be interested?
Anyway, the stresses and strains of my ever expanding pending list were soon soothed by Shostakovich’s ’Cello Concerto no.1 in E flat. It was wonderfully quiet, meditative, probing. Strings and horn prepared the way for the ’cello, which enters with a sad, folk-like theme.
The Schumann symphony, probably the least known of all of his works, offered some wonderful themes and elements: the brooding, undulating string theme and a starkly simple tonic –dominant fanfare in the brass. It felt like a call to arms – a challenge to us to connect with something deeper, more mysterious, profound. It’s upward flourishes and songful melodies offer hope, calm and a language for the soul which is almost impossible to sum up in words.
I cannot comment on any technical excellence. I do not know any background or even enough of either of these masters’ music to comment any further than to say this music was quite wonderful and has been ringing in my ears days later.
So before those people dismiss Birmingham, its accents, industry and people – I hope that the city and its life will continue to support the wonderful excellence of the Symphony orchestra.