Commissioning “Passchendaele” – Richard Bratby

One of the most satisfying aspects of managing the CBSO Youth Orchestra has been commissioning and premiering new music. Contemporary music is a vital part of the training of 21st century orchestral players, and over the ten years since we launched the Youth Orchestra in 2004, we’ve been lucky to work with some of the most exciting of the rising generation of British composers. Tansy Davies’ Streamlines (2007), Luke Bedford’s Più Mosso (2009), Ben Foskett’s Leckey (2011) and Charlotte Bray’s Black Rainbow (February this year) are all striking, colourful and powerfully original – and have been thoroughly enjoyed by our young players.

Obviously we wanted to commission something special for the Orchestra’s 10th birthday in November 2014 – so when an old friend of the CBSO, Mark-Anthony Turnage, let us know that he was planning an orchestral work to commemorate the anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War, we jumped at the chance. It’s a co-commission with the Brugge Concertgebouw in Belgium and the Orange County Youth Symphony in the USA; we agreed that the CBSO Youth Orchestra would give its UK premiere. When we learned that he’d called it Passchendaele – after the savage battle on the Belgian section of the Western Front in the autumn of 1917 – we knew to expect to expect something personal and deeply-felt; after all, Turnage has already addressed the Great War unforgettably in his BCMG commission The Torn Fields and his opera The Silver Tassie.


Four days into rehearsals, it’s already made a powerful impact on us. I’m not giving too much away to say that it begins with a lamenting solo trombone and fades to silence with a quiet horn call. In between, in just 10 minutes, it moves through hope, pain and sorrow: there are distant trumpets, haunted string melodies, and great jagged eruptions of feeling. I keep being reminded of a sort of modern answer to Butterworth’s A Shropshire Lad, written with the benefit of a century of painful hindsight. Passchendaele is raw, lyrical and poetic without a trace of sentimentality: in other words, exactly what we’d hoped for from Turnage. It’ll fit perfectly before Vaughan Williams’ On Wenlock Edge and Holst’s The Planets at its UK premiere on Sunday: new music with a timeless appeal.


Ivan Hewett in The Telegraph, ‘Can Composers ever effectively commemorate WWI

Richard Bratby

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CBSO Youth Orchestra at 10 years old – Charlotte Howdle: Violin 2013 – present


CBSO Youth Orchestra rehearses in 2013 with Ilan Volkov

Charlotte Howdle

Violin 2013 – present

Current Member

I remember being quite nervous before my first rehearsal as I didn’t really have any friends in the orchestra and I was worried that everyone would be much older than me. But by the end of just the first day, I had loved playing Debussy’s La Mer and had started to make friends very quickly. In fact, I couldn’t wait for day 2! Simply put, I have had a fabulous year with the Youth Orchestra and have been given the opportunity to work alongside some of the world’s greatest conductors, including Jac Van Steen and Ilan Volkov. I have also met some great (and very funny!) friends.

Sunday 3 November 2013

Ilan Volkov  conductor
Allison Bell  soprano

Debussy  La Mer

Messiaen  Poèmes pour Mi
Sibelius  Symphony No.5

Conductor Ilan Volkov meticulously focused on balance and dynamics (sometimes with a finger to his lips) to turn it into a tapestry of almost pointillistic delicacy. The Dialogue du vent et de la mer was particularly well ordered, allowing brass and woodwind details to emerge from the maelstrom like shafts of brilliant sunlight. 

David Hart, The Birmingham Post

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CBSO Youth Orchestra at 10 years old – Zulu Irminger: Violin 2010-2013


John Wilson rehearses CBSO Youth Orchestra in 2011. Photo: Jas Sansi

Zulu Irminger

Violin 2010-2013

Photographer and Travel Writer

I joined the CBSO Youth Orchestra in 2010, not entirely sure of what to expect. What I found was a group of like-minded young people, eager to make the music that I had been listening to for nineteen years. For the next three seasons, I was given the opportunity to play with some of the most respected musicians in the profession, including Andrew Litton, Jac van Steen, Michael Seal and Jean-Efflam Bavouzet. One of my fondest memories is performing under the baton of John Wilson in Gershwin’s Piano Concerto and Vaughan Williams’ Sixth Symphony. Since leaving Birmingham, I have taken my photography hobby on the road, travelling to thirty countries. I still make time to attend concerts and I am indebted to the CBSO for having given me the most musically inspiring three years of my life.


Sunday 27 February 2011

John Wilson conductor
Leon McCawley piano

Debussy Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune

Gershwin Concerto in F
Vaughan Williams Symphony No.6

Rich, sumptuous tone at every dynamic level, even in the hushed, testing extended finale of Vaughan Williams’ Sixth Symphony, purity of intonation, a capacity to colour delivery appropriate to the music: I was not the only member of the enthusiastic audience to comment on this.

Christopher Morley, The Birmingham Post

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CBSO Youth Orchestra at 10 years old – Sarah Thornett: 2004-2011


CBSO Youth Orchestra rehearsing in Worcester Cathedral under the baton of Michael Seal, 2008

Sarah Thornett

Violin 2004-2011, leader of the orchestra 2009-10

First violin, Welsh National Opera

I loved all my time in the youth orchestra! Particular favourite concerts were Mahler 7 with Jac van Steen, Beethoven 7 with Michael Seal, and Ravel with Andris Nelsons and Shostakovich 11 with Alan Buribayev. All very different but thrilling concerts. I also remember (not very well – must have blocked some of it from my memory…) having a go at conducting on one of Michael Seal’s Academy courses despite having no experience whatsoever. Mike was very nice to me and it was certainly an experience that I am grateful for.

Sunday 22 February 2009

Andris Nelsons  conductor
Christine Rice  mezzo

Ravel  Daphnis et Chloé – Suite 2
Ravel  Shéhérazade
Mussorgsky – Ravel  Pictures at an Exhibition

This was their first concert under the baton of the CBSO’s music director Andris Nelsons and the chemistry between conductor and players was evident from the opening bars of Ravel’s second suite from his ballet Daphnis et Chloé. From the barely audible chirruping of the flutes and hushed violins Ravel’s musical picture of a radiant dawn gradually blossomed into life.

Norman Stinchcombe, The Birmingham Post

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CBSO Youth Orchestra at 10 years old – Amy Littlewood: Violin 2004-2009


Amy Littlewood leading CBSO Youth Orchestra in 2009.

Amy Littlewood

Violin 2004-2009; leader of the orchestra 2007-2009
Violinist of the Hepplewhite Piano Trio

Playing in the orchestra had a mas
sive effect on me. It provided me with the best training ground – even over and above my training at music college. There are so many great memories, but playing the Ligeti Concert Românesc will always stick in my mind – for many reasons! A great piece, a great solo part and playing it in Symphony Hall alongside the CBSO with whom we shared the concert. I am now playing frequently as an extra player with the CBSO (it’s nice to know I started off in the youth orchestra!).

Saturday 11 October 2008

CBSO Youth Orchestra Academy – joint concert with CBSO

Michael Seal  conductor

Ligeti  Concert Românesc

Ligeti’s folk-tinged Concert Romãnesc follows, performed in four movements – it’s a good test of the orchestra’s adaptability. The piece develops a distinct gypsy feel, with a vibrant solo from Orchestra co-leader, Amy Littlewood.

Steve Beauchampé,  The Stirrer

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CBSO Youth Orchestra at 10 years old – Alpesh Chauhan: Cello 2006-2010


Alpesh Chauhan leading the CBSO Youth Orchestra cello section in February 2009

Alpesh Chauhan

Cello, 2006-2010

CBSO Assistant Conductor

I feel very lucky to have been a member of CBSO Youth Orchestra. I started as a cellist wanting to play lots of orchestral music and left as so much more. While in the Youth Orchestra I started conducting in Michael Seal’s conducting workshop in 2007 and it was the beginning of really fulfilling my musical passions. The CBSO Youth Orchestra has provided me musical experiences that I won’t forget, including playing Mahler 7 in Symphony Hall with Jac van Steen and Pictures at an Exhibition with Andris Nelsons. I am so glad to be invited back to help out with rehearsals in my new capacity as CBSO Assistant Conductor – a post that being in the youth orchestra really helped me to achieve.


Friday 31 October 2008

Jac van Steen  conductor

Mahler  Symphony No.7

Jac van Steen, inspiring immense confidence in his gifted young charges, rose to the challenge with calm authority. This was undoubtedly the most difficult piece the CBSOYO has tackled in its short life, demanding both individual virtuosity and mass unanimity …the performance was a triumph of musicianship, technique, rehearsal, preparation and organisation.

Christopher Morley The Birmingham Post


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CBSO Youth Orchestra at 10 years old – Jamie Phillips: Trumpet 2006-2011


The CBSO Youth Orchestra brass section in 2009. Jamie Phillips is fourth from the left.

Jamie Phillips
Trumpet 2006-2011
Assistant Conductor, The Hallé

I can honestly say that my years in the CBSO Youth Orchestra were some of the most inspiring of my whole musical training. The wonderful thing that makes the orchestra stand out from other youth orchestras is the brilliantly inventive programming, giving members the opportunity to explore repertoire which most others wouldn’t dare touch! Where else could you get the chance to play Nielsen 4, Mahler 7, Walton 1 and Prokofiev 5 all within a couple of years? I’m still drawing on the wonderful experiences I gained in the orchestra in my role as conductor of the Hallé Youth Orchestra.

Sunday 28 October 2007 – Symphony Hall

Michael Seal  conductor
Alexander Melnikov  piano

Bernstein  Divertimento
Rachmaninov  Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini
Nielsen  Symphony No.4 (The Inextinguishable)

For conductor Michael Seal, stepping in at short notice for an indisposed Sakari Oramo, it was a personal triumph. The CBSO Youth Orchestra held all the aces when it came to energy and freshness, welding the disparate elements (this is after all a symphony of shifting emotions rather than sustained argument) into a cogently shaped, powerfully exciting display of orchestral brilliance.

David Hart, The Birmingham Post

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CBSO Youth Orchestra at 10 years old – Christina Slominska: Percussion 2004-2009


Christina Slominska (bottom left) at the first rehearsal of CBSO Youth Orchestra in 2004

Christina Slominska
Percussion, Midland Youth Orchestra 2003-2004, CBSO Youth Orchestra 2004-2009

Freelance timpanist and percussionist

Every Saturday afternoon I would go along to MYO rehearsals, excited to see my new friends and terrified as I had only recently started playing percussion. But under the kind guidance of Anthony Bradbury, my confidence flourished. Fast forward to the first course of the CBSO Youth Orchestra, I absolutely loved it. Exciting music, fun with my friends, the fabulous tuition from Annie Oakley: I was hooked. Every half term I couldn’t wait to do these courses, I made some fabulous friends who I am still in touch with. I was given a fantastic grounding, and these courses helped me gain a place and an entrance scholarship to The Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama. I graduated in 2011 with First Class Honours and I’m now a professional player, freelancing with BBC National Orchestra of Wales (I am a part of their “Ten Pieces” project), the Royal Ballet Sinfonia and I do education projects with CBSO!

Tickets are still available for CBSO Youth Orchestra concert on 2 November: 

Sunday 31 October 2004: Inaugural Concert

Sakari Oramo conductor *
Anthony Bradbury conductor #
Eduardo Vassallo cello

Khachaturian  Spartacus – excerpts #

Tchaikovsky  Rococo Variations #
Sibelius  Symphony No.2 *

The birth of an amazing new addition to the CBSO extended family was witnessed by a sell-out audience filling the Adrian Boult Hall on Sunday, and rarely can so many smiles have radiated such immense pleasure. Put quite simply, the CBSO Youth Orchestra, less than a week after meeting for the first time, is already performing to a standard which would be the envy of many professional groups.

Christopher Morley, The Birmingham Post

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CBSO Youth Orchestra at 10 years old – Hannah Morgan: Oboe 2005-2008

Oboe Section

The CBSO Youth Orchestra Oboe Section in 2007

Hannah Morgan

Oboe 2005-2008 First Prize winner, 2014 Barbirolli International Oboe Competition

I am now at the Karajan Akademie, playing the oboe alongside the Berlin Philharmonic, and owe my progress in part to the CBSO Youth Orchestra. I really enjoyed my sectional rehearsals with Jenni Phillips and I learned so much from her and the team of CBSO players. I loved my part in John Adams’ The Chairman Dances but was most envious of a particular boy playing sandpaper blocks in the percussion section; I still don’t know his name but the whole orchestra referred to him as ‘Sandpaper Guy’. Being a member of the CBSO Youth Orchestra offered a wealth of opportunities, friendship and fun. One of my favourite memories is of the biscuits provided for us in rehearsal breaks. There were always hundreds of them, arranged in wonderfully complex patterns – a welcome treat for exhausted musicians!

Sunday 30 October 2005

Paul Daniel  conductor
Joanna MacGregor  piano

Adams The Chairman Dances
Bartók Piano Concerto No.3
Tchaikovsky Symphony No.6 (Pathétique)

The result was stunning, beginning with an account of John Adams’ The Chairman Dances of which any ensemble would have been proud. Concentration throughout its desperately searching motor-rhythms was intense and tight, balances were finely judged by Daniel and dynamic hairpins were naturally shaded.

Christopher Morley, The Birmingham Post

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CBSO Centre reopens after £1.8m transformation

After several months of building works, accompanied by the sounds of drilling and hammering, CBSO Centre re-openend in grand style on Wednesday, 1 October as our patron, His Royal Highness The Earl of Wessex, came along to unveil the plaque.

The re-opening followed a £1.8million major development which has seen the whole of the reception area transformed and a number of changes made in the auditorium to enhance acoustics, lighting and seating.

The morning of Wednesday 1 October found us arranging flowers, setting up the commemorative plaque on a music stand and even using sticky tape to remove some dropped biscuit crumbs from the new carpet in reception. Everything looked perfect as CBSO chief executive Stephen Maddock and the welcoming committee lined up to receive our special guests.

New state-of-the-art digital screens in reception were showing a live feed of the Orchestra in rehearsal, conducted by Ryan Wigglesworth; the first rehearsal to take place in the newly enhanced auditorium.

Upon arrival, HRH The Earl of Wessex was taken into the auditorium to see the Orchestra, conducted by Ryan Wigglesworth, rehearsing Debussy’s La mer in advance of the Romantic Journeys concert the following evening.

After speaking to the Orchestra, His Royal Highness met with several of our invited guests, including the Centre redevelopment project architects Associated Architects and the building contractors, Speller Metcalfe. Then followed an a cappella performance by pupils from Shenley Academy before His Royal Highness returned to the ground floor to unveil the commemorative plaque in reception.

The day was exciting for all involved and the enhancements made to CBSO Centre will help ensure that the CBSO, CBSO Chorus and all other activities stay at the heart of musical excellence in the Midlands and beyond in the lead up to our centenary in 2020.

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reception long view
data screens bar area

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