Sir Lenny Henry at The Royal Birmingham Conservatoire by Christopher MorleyAnyone who has never seen a crabby old music critic smile and LOL should have been in the wonderful concert hall of Royal Birmingham Conservatoire last Friday, when Sir Lenny Henry had us all in stitches with his genial narration of Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf. As Chancellor of Birmingham City University Sir Lenny could have been a mere attendee at this first concert of RBC's year-long Opening Festival. Instead he bounced onto the stage, throat-miked and relaxed, to join the RBC Pops Orchestra under conductor Christopher Houlding, bantering both with the maestro and the audience. He stuck to the original po-faced text, but enlivened it with a mischievous mixture of voices and accents, from Gornal Wood to Jamaica (actually drawing on his own West Indian and Dudley roots), as well as ad-libs  (even a reference to Nando's thrown in, as well as Dudley Zoo)) and gestures. And for all the clowning, this was an immensely musical performance, Henry phrasing with shape and point in response to Houlding's suave cueing, and the RBC students collaborating with professionalism, wit, and indeed nobility (the horns in the concluding procession). These young people launched the evening with a zinging Bernstein "Wonderful Town" Overture, their authentic show-biz pit sound and immense sense of style promising much for their future as possible session musicians. But a thought. There is an encouraging mix of international students  in the orchestra, a microcosm of the situation in all our universities. Is inward-looking little nationalism going to bring an end to this? *Broadcast on ClassicFM on May 11 (8pm). Christopher Morley

Anyone who has never seen a crabby old music critic smile and LOL should have been in the wonderful concert hall of Royal Birmingham Conservatoire last Friday, when Sir Lenny Henry had us all in stitches with his genial narration of Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf.
As Chancellor of Birmingham City University Sir Lenny could have been a mere attendee at this first concert of RBC's year-long Opening Festival. Instead he bounced onto the stage, throat-miked and relaxed, to join the RBC Pops Orchestra under conductor Christopher Houlding, bantering both with the maestro and the audience.
He stuck to the original po-faced text, but enlivened it with a mischievous mixture of voices and accents, from Gornal Wood to Jamaica (actually drawing on his own West Indian and Dudley roots), as well as ad-libs  (even a reference to Nando's thrown in, as well as Dudley Zoo)) and gestures.
And for all the clowning, this was an immensely musical performance, Henry phrasing with shape and point in response to Houlding's suave cueing, and the RBC students collaborating with professionalism, wit, and indeed nobility (the horns in the concluding procession).
These young people launched the evening with a zinging Bernstein "Wonderful Town" Overture, their authentic show-biz pit sound and immense sense of style promising much for their future as possible session musicians.
But a thought. There is an encouraging mix of international students  in the orchestra, a microcosm of the situation in all our universities. Is inward-looking little nationalism going to bring an end to this?
*Broadcast on ClassicFM on May 11 (8pm).
Christopher Morley

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