ORCHESTRA OF THE SWAN LAUNCHES ITS NEW SEASON AT ROYAL BIRMINGHAM CONSERVATOIRE by Christopher Morley

A new home means a new beginning, and Orchestra of the Swan is launching its new residency at Royal Birmingham Conservatoire with a range of fresh initiatives.

Though its home is in Stratford-upon-Avon, OOTS has long used Birmingham Town Hall, where it was Artist-in-Association, as its city base for Wednesday matinee concerts, but various factors have led to this change of venue, not least, I suspect, the sheer dauntingness of the building-site obstacle-course which surrounds Victoria Square and Paradise Circus.

To soften the pill of this move slightly out of Birmingham city centre and on into Eastside, the burgeoning campus of Birmingham City University of which RBC is part, Orchestra of the Swan has negotiated an attractive deal with the Clayton Hotel.

The Clayton is a useful stopping-point on the 10 to 15-minute walk from Moor Street railway station (New Street and Snow Hill are not much further away), and is just adjacent to the many bus stops which serve the area. They tell me its Alva Bar is the longest in Birmingham (whatever happened to the Swan in Yardley?), and there OOTS supporters can get 15% discount off their bill for coffee and other drinks, snacks and meals on production of their OOTS tickets for that day.

Once at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire, the audience can relax in the splendidly comfortable Bradshaw Hall with its miraculous acoustic, in anticipation of a programme in which every concert during the season will feature a new work commissioned from a student of the RBC. One of the programmes will also include a work by the much-loved RBC head of composition Joe Cutler, which he will introduce in a pre-concert conversation with me.

And that is another innovation in Orchestra of the Swan's planning for Birmingham, when I will discuss with performers and composers aspects pertinent to the performance which is to follow.

The season's opening concert (November 7) frames the new student composition with works by Mozart and Mendelssohn, RBC Principal Julian Lloyd Webber conducting. I will be discussing with him the opportunities for talented aspiring young musicians in today's competitive and cut-throat arts sector, and violinist Tai Murray (she is one of the comparatively few African-American to be involved in classical music) will be joining us.

On December 5 Michael Collins will consider the history and complexity of directing an orchestra from a solo instrument, before he does just that very thing with the Mozart Clarinet Concerto. Mozart's Symphony no.40 and two neo-baroque concertos by Stravinsky complete the programme.

February 6 sees two violinists closely lined with Orchestra of the Swan (artistic director and concertmaster David Le Page, and one-time Associate Artist Tasmin Little) tussling in Double Concertos by Vivaldi and Bach. Tasmin Little will go on to bring all her flair to Vivaldi's Four Seasons, of which Le Page himself is no mean exponent. Hardly surprisingly, their pre-concert conversation with me will centre on the competitiveness of the concerto repertoire for two violins.

Himself a graduate of Birmingham Conservatoire before it gained the "Royal" appellation, Daniele Rosina conducts OOTS' March 6 concert, in a programme of Haydn, Joe Cutler and Beethoven. We will also hear Lachrymae, Benjamin Britten's response to John Dowland for viola and strings, with Rose Redgrave the soloist.

Bravely she will join Daniele and me for a puzzling question; why are there so many anti-viola jokes? Bring your digital recorders to keep a record of them all.

The composer (and Mahler and Britten expert) David Matthews, currently deservedly much in the limelight in this, his 75th birthday year joins with me and Kenneth Woods, one-time OOTS Principal Guest Conductor and now Principal Conductor of the English Symphony Orchestra, in a discussion of the influence wielded by Mahler on 20th- and 21st-century composers, before we hear in this April 3 concert Matthews'own Winter Remembered, the opening movement of Mahler's valedictory Symphony no.10 arranged for string orchestra. Mozart's Adagio and Fugue for string orchestra, and Britten's kaleidoscopic Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge.

Another previous OOTS Associate Artist, Peter Donohoe, is soloist in Mozart's K25 Piano Concerto, in a programme also including Vaughan Williams' Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis and his Fifth Symphony (May 1). In our pre-concert talk Peter, conductor Jason Lai and I will look forward to the China West Midlands 2020 celebration of the cultural ties between the West Midlands and China.

Orchestra of the Swan's inaugural season at Royal Birmingham Conservatoire ends on June 19 with a concert featuring the winner of the RBC's chamber concerto prize. The eminent, much-respected composer Thea Musgrave will be present to hear her composition "Green", and she and I will be joined by the competition-winner and a student composer to discuss the challenges and demands faced by young classical composers and soloists today.

*All concerts begin at 2.30pm, with pre-concert talks at 1.30pm. Details on 0121-331 5909, bcu.ac.uk/concerts

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