CBSO Summer Tour Update!

Hello Gentle Readers, I have just arrived home and in an experimental moment, have found that the problem with uploading photos has been resolved! I shall, therefore,in the next few days be giving you a retrospective of the last three days with a bumper crop of pictures.

Here, as a taster are a random selection to whet your appetite.

Time to recover from travelling from Lucern via Zurich, Heathrow and a coach back to Birmingham.

Keep an eye out and I’ll have a full report in the next day or two

Thank you for reading, Here are the pictures.

(remember to click for bigger, sharper versions)

God bless, Julian Robinson







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CBSO Summer Tour Day Three Grafenegg Again.

Good evening Gentle Readers, I am sad to tell you that the problem with the photo’s is as yet unresolved. It is not at my end and nor is it a problem at CBSO “Headquarters”.
Since I am going home early on Sunday morning, it seems the best thing to do is to take more pictures each day and give you a bumper post covering my part of the tour in one go. I have been doing this with the pictures for such a long time now that I find it hard to get the process going without the images to work with.

My sincere apologies to all,  I hope to be up and running properly by the time we go to Bonn for the Beethoven cycle in just over a weeks time.

In the mean time, I will do everything in my power resume normal service as soon as possible.
Good Night and God bless, keep popping back for a quick check and I’ll see you soon.
Love and best wishes -
Julian Robinson

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CBSO Summer Tour – Day Two Grafenegg

Good evening gentle readers.

I am having problems uploading photos to the blog for some, as yet unknown reason. Rest assured that the folks back in Berkley Street are working with me to solve this.

I will do one of two things – if I can manage to get some pictures to our office some other way there will be a post tomorrow.

If not, I solemnly promise that there will be a retrospective as soon as I get back and we have solved the problem!

In the mean time I’ll tell you a little about Grafenegg -

I was mistaken yesterday when I told you we were indoors, in fact we played in the same extraordinary outdoor amphitheatre as before.

See here for a picture -

Listening to the first half, which I wasn’t in, the sound is actually very good, though I think its electronically reinforced, since there were mic’s on stage. The only thing, which I don’t think the audience hear, is apparent from around the back of the building.

The sound goes out and then it hits the front of the old Schloss and echoes back about a quarter of a second later! Very odd.

Herr Buchbinder played The Emperor Concerto in fine style, and he seems a very amiable and pleasant gentleman, he certainly had no objection to me taking pictures!

I’m not entirely certain that the audience were “at one” with Elgar’s beautiful Second Symphony though. Its difficult to tell when an audience is out doors, but I got the impression they were a bit perplexed by it.

Tomorrows programme, with a first half devoted to Wagner and Beethoven’s Seventh symphony in the second half should do the trick!

In the meantime I’m going to edit some pictures and hope to find a way to get them to you!

Good night and God bless,

Julian Robinson

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Warming Up!


Spotty tag

Hello Gentle Readers!

It has been a while, but your Orchestral Blogger, Julian Robinson, is back for a short but busy  trip, from tomorrow (Thursday the 28th of August) until next Sunday.

I shall be reporting from Grafenegg in Austria and Lucerne in Switzerland.

The main body of the orchestra is already in Austria, giving an all Beethoven concert tonight in Villach. I ,along  with a few others on the CBSO team, am in the exalted surroundings of a certain hotel chain who guarantee  you “A Great Nights Sleep” at Heathrow.

(Actually its very comfy!)

Tomorrow morning  we fly to Vienna to join our musicians in the  Castle Concert Hall  at Schloss Grafenegg.


Previously we have played  at the extraordinary open air auditorium there.

The Director of the festival is the acclaimed pianist and Beethoven expert Rudolph Buchbinder, he will also be the soloist tomorrow in the “Emperor” concert with Andris Nelsons at the helm.

So, now for a the promised “Great Nights Sleep”

Back tomorrow with photos and comment.

Good night and God bless!

Julian Robinson

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Huānyíng to Birmingham!

A CBSO brass quintet gave passengers on the first direct charter flight from China to Birmingham a rousing welcome, upon their arrival on Tuesday 22 July.

You can watch a clip of our performance here

The 6am call time didn’t deter Johnathan Holland, Mark Phillips, Graham Sibley, Alan Edward Thomas and Julian Turner from packing their passports to go airside and perform for the delighted tourists.

As they performed ‘Four Hits For Five’ by George Gershwin and ‘Fancies, Toyes and Dreams’ by Giles Farnaby, passengers disembarked and rushed to have their photos taken in front of the  ensemble. Four TV cameras zoomed in and hundreds of cameras flashed as the ensemble played on.

The historic inaugural flight from Beijing touched down at 6.40am as the airport celebrated becoming the UK’s first gateway outside of London to offer direct charter flights. The 248 seat  A330-200, operated by China Southern Airways, is the first of six flights bringing tourists to the West Midlands in July and August utilising the airport’s new £40m runway extension.

Birmingham is now the 4th most popular destination for Chinese visitors in England, so it was an honour to be asked to play during this historic occasion.

This isn’t the first time that BHX has resounded to the sound of live classical music from the CBSO though. Last Summer passengers in the departure lounge of the airport were entertained by a CBSO pop-up, to mark three new BMI flights to Gothenburg, Lyon and Toulouse.

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CBSO Centre Refurbishment

The CBSO Centre is currently undergoing a major upgrade to improve the facilities and environment so that we can give our customers the best possible experience. We have appointed Spelling Metcalfe, one of the UK’s leading construction companies, to make these improvements, which are scheduled to be complete at the end of September.

To give you a real-time preview of the changes being made, Spelling Metcalfe will be posting monthly updates on their blog, which you can read here.

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Der Rosenkavalier in numbers

Tomorrow afternoon the CBSO will perform Strauss’ Der Rosenkavalier, as part of our 2013-14 season at Symphony Hall. The concert is a huge and ambitious project which, after more than 2 years of planning, will combine the talents of an international cast of distinguished soloists, the CBSO Chorus and CBSO Youth Chorus plus of course the Orchestra themselves. To celebrate this momentous concert we thought it would be fun to tot up a few stats which demonstrate just how spectacular tomorrow will be….

A grand total of 220 singers and players will take to the stage…

…including 11 internationally renowned soloists performing 15 roles, 93 orchestral players, 52 string players, 13 woodwind players, 13 brass players, 7 percussionists and 2 harpists.

There’s also an on-stage band of 6 musicians in addition to the orchestra.

Plus the vocal talents of 90 members of the CBSO Chorus, 26 singers from the CBSO Youth Chorus and 4 step-out soloists from the Chorus.

This incredible group of musicians have rehearsed the 523 pages of music for 33 hours. The final performance will be over 200 minutes long (with 2 intervals!) all performed for one night only, on one stage in Symphony Hall. Oh and there’s one rose!

Stephens Image


Der Rosenkavalier will be performed on Saturday 24 May at 4pm. There are still a small amount of tickets left for tomorrow’s performance – to book click here

Image: Rehearsal in Symphony Hall, photographer Stephen Maddock


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What’s it like to play a concerto?

Margaret Cookhorn, contrabassoonSebastian Huckle, CBSO marketing officer, spoke to Margaret Cookhorn, contrabassoon, about what it is like to play your very own concerto.

When my Chair Endower came to me in 2008 and said “how about we have a contrabassoon piece written” I was delighted. I made a list of all the people I wanted to work with and eventually chose John Woolrich because he writes really well for the contrabassoon, and I know him really well through playing his pieces at Birmingham Contemporary Music Group which I also play for.

He writes so well for bass instruments and I knew he had written several great concertos for other people (like the Oboe Concerto we played for in Aldeburgh back in 2004) and he said yes!

The first thing we did was to have a long meeting about what to write and what not to write because I wanted a concerto that other players would play and enjoy playing. What John wrote is wonderful. When I play, I’ve got a very sparse background so that I’m not overwhelmed by the other players in the orchestra – and I am mic’d up slightly so that my voice does carry all the way to the Grand Tier in Symphony Hall.

I can’t wait to play it again. I last played it at its premiere in 2009. Throughout my career I thought I would never, ever have the opportunity to be at the very front of the stage and actually play a concerto with the orchestra behind me. I didn’t think that would ever happen to me and when I did I thought “ooh this is great!”; I loved it, and I was so looking forward to doing it again straight away.

Preparing for a concerto such as John’s is to practice, practice practice. When I knew I was doing this a year ago I got all the music together and started to work it in to my rehearsal schedule. I actually started focus-practicing in January because it’s like preparing for a race. You have to train and get all the lip muscles going and I also had to have all my reeds ready so I am totally prepared on the day of the concert.

The reception after I played Falling Down last time was incredible. I was actually quite surprised! People who I don’t even know, absolute strangers, came and said how much they enjoyed it. I can’t wait for people to hear it again.

Hear more new music on 11 June.

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How to Make A Season

With the launch of our 2014/15 season fast approaching, Liz Baines, CBSO Planning & Tours Manager, tells us what it’s like to plan and organise the CBSO concert season and, following one of the busiest touring seasons, the Orchestra’s international tours.

Planning up to 130 concerts per year, liaising with dozens of conductors and soloists and arranging international tours takes many months and a lot of hard work from a huge number of people, but after it all you feel fantastic – there’s nothing like the sensation you get seeing Andris Nelsons, music director, walk on the stage at the start of a season and knowing that you made it happen.

So how do we go about planning a season? We’re always working up to two years in advance ensuring that we’ve booked Symphony Hall, where we are the resident orchestra, and other venues but the planning really kicks in around the New Year. At that point, we will have had many conversations about repertoire with Andris and most of his programmes will be finalised. It’s always exciting knowing what he has in store because he has such a variety of repertoire that he likes to perform.

Planning the season starts with Andris

Planning the season starts with Andris

Simultaneously, we look to guest conductors to start to plan the other parts of the season. We have a regular pool of guest conductors that we like to work with every year, and it’s always great to be able to invite them back – people like Vassily Sinaisky, Andrew Litton and, of course Edward Gardner, our principal guest conductor.

Guest conductors usually provide quite a few ideas of pieces they’d like to perform and suggest soloists with whom they would like to work. Most of them conductors always want to work with our fabulous CBSO Chorus, but the Chorus is so in demand by other UK and international orchestras that we need to ensure we get some prime dates with them with Andris Nelsons and Edward Gardner so their diary fills up very quickly. One of the CBSO Chorus dates include a Singalong with Simon Halsey, chorus director, and we liaise with Simon to ensure we choose an appropriate choral work to entice a large number of people who wish to participate.

This is always an ongoing dialogue concerning repertoire with conductors. Where there are differences of opinion we have to negotiate – for example, the conductor might suggest some pieces they would like to do but that aren’t going to quite work for us for any one of a number of reasons – perhaps we performed it last year or actually, we don’t think the audience would like it. Eventually, we find a balance which everyone is happy with.

As well as the main classical series, we also programme lighter concerts, our Friday Night Classics concert series. This is often our opportunity to try out some new ideas and our recent ABBA concert was one of those such concerts. It was so much fun and fantastic to see the musicians dressing up and letting their hair down. We’ve got something new for our Friday night concerts next season and, without revealing what this is yet, we very much hope it will be just as popular and as much fun!

Our Friday Night Classics concerts give us a chance to have fun!

Our Friday Night Classics concerts give us a chance to have fun!

We also of course have our Family Concerts and Schools’ Concerts appealing to our younger audiences and we liaise with the Learning & Participation team for their thoughts on suitable programmes and presenters. Again these are great fun. If you haven’t been to one with the whole family, I’d thoroughly recommend them – you really get to see the Orchestra’s lighter side.

In addition to our Birmingham season, our overseas touring schedule has been busy over the last few years with Andris. To organise them, we work with his agents, who have a touring department based in Hanover. Once we have decided on the dates we will be touring, they go about selling the CBSO to the concert halls and promoters worldwide. Of course, we want to have as many concert dates as possible but you also have to have in the back of your mind – “can we physically get from Paris to Vienna overnight?” often the Orchestra members could do this but we also have a truck full of equipment and instruments which could prove to be a sticking point and make this a step too far!

There are so many people involved in organising a tour – after all, you’re transporting nearly a hundred people around the world – so you can’t leave anything to chance. It’s a truly international affair with the agents in Hanover to talk to about the travel and hotel bookings and all the team in Birmingham as well. There’s the platform manager who has to work out how to get the truck from A to B, there’s the orchestra manager ensuring we have the correct musicians required for each programme, the assistant orchestra manager helping with all the paperwork like visas and tax forms, and of course, ensuring that all the musicians and artists are in the right place at the right time.

It’s a busy role but incredible. You know all that work, all those months of planning, all the heartache and persuasion that you’ve done along the way, you know that it’s all been absolutely worthwhile and this year, it’s going to be an extra special season. One which I personally can’t wait for!

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CBSO Centre – An arts centre for the future

Our headquarters and rehearsal venue, CBSO Centre, which also doubles up as a small scale performance venue and is also home for Ex Cathedra and BCMG, will soon be undergoing a transformation to ensure its facilities and infrastructure are equipped  for the future. This is all thanks to the successful Stage 2 Capital Funding award from the Arts Council England and subsequent donations by the following: The Garfield Weston Foundation, the Wolfson Foundation, the Limoges Charitable Trust, the Edward Cadbury Charitable Trust, the Rowlands Foundation, and the Oakley Charitable Trust.


Through the blog, you can follow our journey as we go through plans, introduce contractors and even give you a sneak peek behind the scenes as and when things happen.

In our first blog, Annmarie Wallis (Director of Finance) talks about the Centre works due to commence in May 2014 and run through to  October 2014 and what it means to the CBSO, and the other resident arts organisations, to have an home that is  fit for the future.

One of the greatest benefits of CBSO Centre has been that it was constructed to be low in maintenance with moderate energy bills, giving the CBSO and its other resident organisations an affordable base. However, 15 years on and with major advances in technology, the current infrastructure is somewhat outdated, inefficient and will become increasingly expensive to maintain, thus reducing the financial security that it was intended to provide; and at a time when the Orchestra is also under pressure from cuts in its public funding. So our c£2m ‘upgrade and refresh’ project includes work in five distinct areas:

  • Internal works to the foyer, common room and kitchen
  • Works within the main Hall (lighting & acoustic improvements, and new seating)
  • External works to the building fabric including roof repairs and replacement of the unsightly window blinds on the Holliday Street elevation
  • General energy/climate-related replacements (new office lighting and boilers)
  • Other sundry works within the building (e.g. public meeting room upgrades)

We expect these improvements to deliver significant benefits going forward, including lower maintenance/energy costs and an improved visitor experience leading to increased visitor numbers. A further benefit will be the reduction in our carbon footprint.

How and when do we plan on completing the work?

Our plans are quite ambitious and we could not have hoped to achieve them without the help of others. In 2011 Arts Council England launched their large Capital programme to ‘support organisations to develop resilience by giving them the right buildings and equipment to deliver their work… investment will prioritise the consolidation and improvement of existing arts buildings’. A total fund of £219.6m was made available, with organisations invited to apply in one of three grant windows for awards from £0.5m upwards.

As an existing ‘arts’ building, CBSO Centre was a clear match with this programme, and after taking some time to consider the level of our application we opted for the second grant window, making our Stage 1 application in August 2012. In January 2013 we were delighted to hear that we had passed the first level assessment and were invited to make a Stage 2 application… and so the real hard work began.

The first thing we did was select a team of experts to help us with this more complex application process, knowing that whomever we appointed would be with us for the duration of the project. From a strong shortlist, Associated Architects, who were involved in the original construction and are based here in Birmingham, were appointed to work on the detailed project designs. They assembled a wider team of experts including structural and mechanical engineers and together we worked up our Stage 2 plans. We set ourselves a tight timeframe and despite a few challenges along the way were ready to submit as planned in July 2013.

While we waited for a final decision from Arts Council England we turned our attention to our own fundraising plans, it being a requirement of the Capital programme that the applicant raise one third of the funds themselves: £610k in our case. Working with our external fundraiser, James Eaves, we developed a detailed fundraising plan covering £1.17m of applications to four major and 26 smaller trusts.

In October 2013 we were successful on two fronts:

  • Arts Council England accepted our Stage 2 application, awarding us the requested £1.223m
  • The Garfield Weston Foundation, one of our four major trust supporters, approved in full our £250k request for funds…and so we realised that after all the hard work and planning, it was really going to happen!

The appointment of a contractor to do the physical on-site work is the key task for the first quarter of 2014, and the actual works are planned to be completed during May-September 2014.

We do expect there to be some disruption for the Orchestra, staff and other users of the building, but in our detailed planning of the separate work strands we are working hard to keep this to a minimum. July and August in particular are quiet/holiday times for the Orchestra and with the schools on a break too, there will be fewer demands on the centre as a whole. Two short orchestra tours in late August/early September 2014 will also help to minimise the disruption. At the same time we are already looking at alternative venues for chorus and orchestra rehearsals and will be restricting any external bookings.

We expect to be fully open for business at the beginning of October 2014 and whilst we haven’t planned anything yet, there are sure to be some celebrations so that we can show off our improvements.

If you would like to know more about our plans or see the designs for the foyer/reception area, then please come along to our ‘stakeholder session’. Once we have finalised the date the details will be available on our website,, and around the building. You are also welcome to get in touch about this project at any time – contact Niki Longhurst, CBSO Centre Manager, on 0121 616 6532 or
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