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Key players unlock classic potential; Christopher Morley looks at the highlights of a busy week in the region's classical music scene.

Byline: Christopher Morley

We are so lucky in Birmingham and our surrounding region to have such a wonderful kaleidoscope of musical events to tempt us. International artists are anxious to keep the city on their touring schedules, local groups grace our concert venues, and amateur music-making adds a valuable element to the concert calendar.

Tonight (Thursday) we greet one of the world's greatest pianists, Evgeny Kissin, making a welcome return to Symphony Hall. His programme, ranging from Haydn to Liszt, traces the incipient rise of romanticism in piano-writing. It will be interesting to hear how the selected instrument responds on this journey from restraint to exuberance.

One of our own great pianists, Leon McCawley, comes to the remarkably user-friendly Artrix in Bromsgrove tomorrow, bringing to Bromsgrove Concerts a recital of music encompassing a whole cornucopia of composers. Mozart is missing from the agenda, as are Haydn, Schubert, Mendelssohn, Schumann and Ravel, but all the rest are there in what looks like a blistering menu, beginning with Bach's Italian Concerto and ending with Beethoven's mighty Eroica Variations and Fugue.

We shift to another keyboard instrument on Monday when Dame Gillian Weir gives an organ recital at Symphony Hall, part of her farewell retirement tour which will come to its conclusion next month. Her career has been an amazing 48 years long, and her programme here includes music by Bach, Sweelinck, Saint-Saens and Widor, preceded by a 6.15pm pre-concert conversation with Lyndon Jenkins.

Moving away from keyboard instruments, Birmingham Conservatoire is the venue for a double bill of music by Mark-Anthony Turnage, once composer-in-association with the CBSO, and a continuing presence with Birmingham Contemporary Music Group.

Tonight Thumb, one of the Conservatoire's enterprising boundary-pushing contemporary ensembles, performs Turnage's Two Elegies Framing a Shout and Release, together with works created by composition students working at the Conservatoire. Dan Watson conducts.

And tomorrow, the world-renowned Sian Edwards, so adept in contemporary music, with a particular aptitude for the music of Sir Michael Tippett (one of Turnage's great influences), conducts the Conservatoire's long-renowned, student-led Thallein Ensemble, joined by members of Birmingham Conservatoire's Jazz Department, in Turnage's vivid, screaming Blood on the Floor.

Described by the composer as "the nastiest thing I have written", it includes reminiscences of the composer's younger brother, who died of a drug overdose. Conservatoire students have contributed their own orchestrations to the piece for this performance.

This weekend also sees sneak preview performances in the Elgar Concert Hall of University of Birmingham's new Bramall Music Building before its official opening, the final piece in the jigsaw to complete the gracious Italianate arc surrounding the Great Hall (about which, more next week).

On Saturday, the University Music Society's Wind Band and Saxophone Ensemble play works by William Himes, Edward Gregson, Eric Whitacre and Nigel Hess, and on Sunday, the Birmingham University Singers are conducted by the newly-appointed director of choral studies Simon Halsey (how does he manage to fit all this in between his work as director of the CBSO Chorus and the Berlin Radio Choir?) in a programme which includes works by the music department's first two Professors, Elgar and Granville Bantock, and one by Michael Zev Gordon, the current Professor of Composition. We return to Symphony Hall on Tuesday for the first instalment of Leif Ove Ansdnes' pilgrimage through all five of Beethoven's piano concertos. Here the Norwegian pianist, always a favourite in Birmingham, directs the Mahler Chamber Orchestra from the keyboard in the First and Third concertos, with the gripping Coriolan Overture as a starter. I'm not sure how the Stravinsky Octet will sit in the middle of this programme, but there it will be.

Wednesday afternoon brings the Orchestra of the Swan back to Birmingham Town Hall for the latest in its highly-popular matinee series. On offer this time are the third suite of Respighi's Ancient Airs and Dances, Peter Warlock's delicious Capriol Suite, and Vivaldi's Four Seasons, with the estimable David Le Page the violin soloist.

You might like to consider - or prefer to ignore - the pre-concert onstage interview with conductor David Curtis and the soloist with me at 1.30pm.

All Symphony Hall and Town Hall details on 0121 780 3333.

Bromsgrove Concerts on 01527 577330. Birmingham Conservatoire on 0121 245 4455.

Bramall Music Building on 0121 345 0492.


Leon McCawley brings us Bach and Beethoven at Bromsgrove's Artrix

Pianist Evgeny Kissin charts the rise of romanticism in piano-writing. Above, Dame Gillian Weir gives an organ recital. Both at the Symphony Hall.
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Nov 15, 2012
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