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                                    BIRMINGHAMCONTEMPORARY MUSIC GROUP
                                    
CHRISTOPHER MORLEY PREVIEWS TWO FASCINATING CONCERTS FROM BCMG
                                    
 
Birmingham Contemporary Music Group's concerts on November 18 andDecember 9 will be both a poignant looking-back and an optimistic step into thefuture.
 
Oliver Knussen, BCMG's long-term Artist-in-Association, was to haveconducted the November 18 concert, but following his sadly premature death onlyin his mid-60s on July 8 this year, his place on the podium will be taken byStefan Asbury.
 
But Olly will be a major presence here, with the Birmingham premiere ofhis O Hototogisu, funded through BCMG's remarkable crowd-funding SoundInvestment scheme.  This beautiful setting ofselected haiku for soprano, solo flute and ensemble was in fact his lastcommission, and the texts weave an intricate image of the Hototogisu - theLesser Cuckoo - as it calls out high above a Japanese city in the shadow of amountain. In haiku, its cry simultaneously signals the coming summer and isbelieved to be a voice from the land of the dead.
 
I heard its world premiere last year at the Aldeburgh Festival, withKnussen conducting the BCMG, and with Claire Booth the soprano soloist alterego'd by flautist Marie-Christine Zupancic, who recently reminisced with meabout that occasion.
 
Knussen was notoriously lax in his keeping to deadlines, and hiscomposing of O Hototogisu was true to form, so much so that he wanted to cancelthe performance. "But the Festival insisted," says Marie-Christine,"and I remember him about a week before the premiere writing furiously inthe CBSO Centre to achieve a temporary ending. Who knows what he would haveadded as a conclusion."
 
·        This concert also features the world premiere of David Sawer's Caravanserai, commissioned by BCMG and the FeeneyTrust, whose munificence over many decades has brought so much benefit to thearts in the city. The piece sees musical ideas passed from musician to musicianalong a line, like goods exchanged along the caravans of history. David Sawerwill discuss this intriguing work in a pre-concert talk at 3pm.
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·        Marking 100 years since the death ofDebussy, who was such an influence on subsequent generations of composers, theconcert opens with his gently erotic Chansons de Bilitis. We will also hear theBirmingham premiere of the complete cycle of Harrison Birtwistle's Three Songsfrom 'The Holy Forest'; settings of Robin Blaser's poems 'TheLiteralist', 'dear dusty moth' and 'The Borrower'.
December 9 brings"a massive hope for the future" (as Elgar said of his FirstSymphony), when BCMG performs its first concert in the Bradshaw Hall at RoyalBirmingham Conservatoire. Those of us of a certain age will remember that BCMGgave its inaugural concerts in the Adrian Boult Hall of the old Conservatoirebuilding in Paradise Place.
Entitled "Idealand Flying Height", the concert marks the launch of NEXT, a new jointinitiative between BCMG and Royal Birmingham Conservatoire where emerging youngprofessional performers will train alongside BCMG musicians.
Reinforcing this, theprogramme decidedly and defiantly trumpets our region, appropriately so in thecase of Coventry-born Brian Ferneyhough, celebrating his 75th birthday thisyear, and once a trumpeter in the Midland Youth Orchestra.
I remember himhalf-a-century ago conducting a contemporary music ensemble at the BarberInstitute. Since those days his music has become renowned for its densecomplexity of texture which never clouds an intense feeling for expressivecommunication, and this concert brings the chance to savour several of hisworks, not least La Chute d'Icare which gives the title to the programme,joined by Funerailles I and II (commentaries on Liszt).
Continuing the localtheme, we also have works by Sutton Coldfield-born Jonathan Harvey (his Scenaof 1992), Charlotte Bray (RBC alumna and former BCMG Apprentice Composer inResidence), who is represented by her Beneath the Dawn Horizon, and MichaelWolters, deputy head of composition at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire, withhis Trauerkonzert.
Oliver Janes is soloclarinet in this programme, the Arditti Quartet, so adept in the music of BrianFerneyhough, Elliott Carter, and a whole panoply of the most technicallyexploratory composers, are guest artists, and Emilio Pomarico, a composerhimself as well as a passionate advocate of contemporary music, conducts.
BirminghamContemporary Music Group performs at the CBSO Centre, Berkley Street onNovember 18 (4pm, details on 0121-780 3333), and at the Royal BirminghamConservatoire on December 9 (4pm, pre-concert talk at 3pm, details on 0121-3315909).

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