Now That’s What I Call 175: Royal Birmingham Conservatoire 175th Anniversary

As a part of the ‘That’s What I Call 175’ events being held in commemoration of Birmingham City University’s 175th anniversary, The Royal Birmingham Conservatoire hosted a celebratory concert to showcase the finest music to have been created in and linked to the country’s second city.

The event was hosted by Classic FM’s John Suchet and featured performances by students, staff and alumni from the Conservatoire. The audience were treated to an impressive programme of locally sourced music ranging from iconic composers such as Sir Edward Elgar and Felix Mendolssohn all the way to songs by Electric Light Orchestra and Dexys Midnight Runners.

The night’s performances were preceded by the revealing of the top 10 BCU 175: Brummies Who Inspire as voted for by the public. A longlist of 175 nominees was selected by the university in recognition of the city’s most inspirational figures and the top 10 consisted of industrial and scientific pioneers John Cadbury and Joseph Priestley, cultural icons J.R.R Tolkien and Dame Judi Dench and inspirational Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai.

The Royal Birmingham Conservatoire Singers, accompanied by Senior Tutor in Accompaniment Jonathan French, continued the evening’s celebration of all things Brummie with performances of Mendelssohn’s ‘Es Weiss und Rät es Doch Keiner’ followed by ‘Lord God of Abraham’ from his oratorio ‘Elijah’. The popular oratorio premiered in 1846 at the Birmingham Festival a year before his death and secured helped to secure his place as one of the most significant composers of the Romantic era.

Following this were pieces by the likes of Sir Granville Bantock, the first full-time principal of the Birmingham and Midland Institute School of Music, Birmingham resident John Joubert, and Michael Wolters, the Conservatoire’s Deputy Head of Composition. Having journeyed chronologically with pieces from the 19th century onwards, all four singers joined for a re-worked version of Jacques Hass’ ‘Chokoladen Walzerlied’ in a tribute to Cadbury’s, highlighting the legacy left by Brummies globally.

Conservatoire alumni Punch The Sky then turned up the atmosphere with a contagiously energetic throwback to the city’s contributions to popular music. The self-described World-Rock Party Band performed their own takes on ‘Geno’ by Dexys Midnight Runners and ‘Sweet Talkin’ Woman’ by Electric Light Orchestra with virtuosic saxophones solos and exhilarating vocals.

The evening was brought to a close by the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire Symphony Orchestra and Chorus with conductor Michael Seal, the Associate Conductor of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. Their performance of Birmingham born Albert Ketèlby’s ‘In a Monastery Garden’ filled the hall with soaring atmospherics and sentimental melodies. Although mainly known for ‘light orchestral’ works, Ketèlby’s ability to depict idyllic scenes and locations through his compositions secured his place among the city’s leading cultural figures.

To conclude the night, the triumphant Variation XIV (Finale: Allegro) “E.D.U.” by the West Midlands’ own Sir Edward Elgar delighted the audience with its exultant brass melodies and soaring strings. Elgar’s iconic Enigma Variations was his first major work and laid the foundations for his illustrious career which saw him revive England’s compositional traditions and renew the country’s musical reputation during the late-Romantic era, leading to the ascent of the likes of later composers Vaughan-Williams and Delius.

As the night ended with thunderous applause, those present made their way out of the stunning Bradshaw Hall feeling a sense of pride and recognition for the city’s history of serving the economy and society at the heart of the city’s life.

I’ve contributed to GSG since October 2018. I enjoy a wide array of music - especially Midwest/revival emo, indie and alternative rock. As well being a musician, a regular gig-goer and a collector of vinyl, I’m also passionate about football, American football, history and literature. My favourite artists currently are: Tiny Moving Parts, Bay Faction, Julien Baker, Mom Jeans and Michael Cera Palin.

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