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CULTURE : Director moves to pastures new; Christopher Morley looks back on Anthony Bradbury's time at the helm of Birmingham Festival Choral Society.

Byline: Christopher Morley

A long and successful association comes to an end tomorrow night, when Anthony Bradbury conducts his final concert as music director of Birmingham Festival Choral Society.

Though his tenure as 'boss man' has been a short one, Bradbury's connection with the respected choir, one of the oldest in the country, goes back many years.

'I actually sang with BFCS when I was in the sixth form at King Edward's College, Stourbridge,' he reminisces. 'At that stage I was the youngest member by some considerable margin, a situation I am delighted to say is very different now as we have been much more successful in recruiting 'twenty-somethings' into our ranks.'

Armed with an MA degree in music from Oxford University, he joined Birmingham Festival Choral Society 15 years ago as assistant conductor. In this capacity he provided support to music director Jeremy Patterson, sharing the rehearsals and conducting. Bradbury combined his BFCS duties with his responsibilities as conductor of the Midland Youth Orchestra, (of which he had once been a clarinettist member), and on one famous occasion he conducted the first half of an MYO concert and the second half of a BFCS concert in the same evening, sprinting down Colmore Row between venues, in his tails, during the interval.

'BFCS had employed assistant conductors in the past, but I was the first for 59 years,' continues Bradbury. 'Right from the start, Jeremy was very generous in sharing the conducting duties, not only in rehearsals but, importantly, at concerts too. By the time I became Associate Conductor in 1995, the partnership was effectively equal in terms of share of programmes, so from a relatively young age I was lucky enough to be gaining experience of conducting major works from the choral repertoire.

'Following Jeremy's departure last summer, the BFCS committee kindly offered me the post of music director but, with considerable regret, I did not feel able to take it on long term due to my many other commitments and the fact that, after 15 years with me and an additional 21 with Jeremy alone (he was appointed MD the year I was born!), I felt that the Society should be encouraged to move on to the next stage of its development with a new incumbent. However, I did agree to become Music Director for the 2004/5 season to allow the choir time to appoint a longer-term successor, and I have to say that I've enjoyed this season tremendously.'

He also enjoyed travelling with the choir on its many successful overseas tours: to Bulgaria, Poland, the Czech Republic, and the Low Countries. Another European trip provided a quirky anecdote, as Bradbury recounts.

'On tour to Leipzig and the former East Germany in the summer of 2001, I remember being especially delighted to see a packed house for our concert in Thalburgel - there was standing room only, and a great air of expectation.

'I put this down to effective publicity on the part of the festival organisers and got on with the job in hand; thankfully the concert went well. It was only afterwards that someone noticed a publicity poster on which the concert organisers had announced the conductor to be Sir Simon Rattle - no wonder the house was full!'

And Anthony Bradbury's association with Birmingham Festival Choral Society has brought him an unexpected bonus.

'Well, first and foremost, BFCS has given me a wife! Jenni and I met through the choir, and we have now been married for 8 years. There have been other non-musical benefits too: the friendships, the laughter, and the cultural experiences of foreign tours - especially those to Eastern Europe (for example, Bulgaria in the early 1990s, at a time when the country was only just beginning to emerge from its many years of Communist rule).

'From a musical point of view, the benefits are frankly too numerous to list - repertoire knowledge is the most obvious, but the opportunity of learning the 'craft of the trade' during my formative years has also been invaluable, such as rehearsal technique (the ability to inspire and motivate amateur singers on a weekday evening, especially when tackling a demanding piece of music, is a challenge which should never be underestimated!), rehearsal planning, and the most effective way of maximising every second of the crucial 3-hour dress rehearsal with soloists and orchestra when everything comes together for the first time.'

Anthony Bradbury also has strong links with the Midland Youth Orchestra, over which he presided during its final years after an illustrious near-half century of existence, and which he nursed into its new relationship with the CBSO Youth Orchestra last year.

'I actually played in the MYO as a clarinettist during 1985-7; I clearly remember the thrill of performing in Birmingham Town Hall, then the home of the CBSO of course, and tackling demanding repertoire which really stretched me.

'After taking up the BFCS post, I was looking for additional conducting opportunities, and I noticed an advert in Classical Music magazine, placed by the MYO's management team, for an Associate Conductor. I applied and, after two rounds of auditions, I joined the MYO's music staff in the autumn of 1991. I had 14 happy years with this marvellous institution and am thrilled to have helped oversee its metamorphosis into the new CBSO Youth Orchestra. As one of the CBSO family of ensembles, the new orchestra will be able to offer a tremendously wide range of opportunities to its players, and it's already got off to a flying start. I will be remaining closely involved, and there are lots of exciting developments in the pipeline.'

As there are for Bradbury himself, as he concludes: 'As principal conductor of the Central England Ensemble, I shall be continuing to work with this committed and enthusiastic group. I am also in discussion with a number of other groups concerning conducting engagements, including the Birmingham Philharmonic Orchestra and the Queens Park Sinfonia.

'Now that my weekly commitment with BFCS and MYO is coming to an end, I am hoping to adopt a more freelance modus operandi to accommodate conducting opportunities which I have had to turn down in the past. And this is in addition to my longer term aim of setting aside more time for arranging and composing . . . the only certainty is that I won't be struggling to fill my day!'

n Anthony Bradbury conducts Birmingham Festival Choral Society in 'A British Celebration' at Malvern Priory on Saturday June 25 (7.30pm). Details on 01684 892289


Anthony Bradbury conducts the Birmingham Festival Choral Society
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Jun 24, 2005
Previous Article:Anniversaries.
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