Abu Dahbi Day three.

Good evening gentle readers, and, from the privacy of my music room near Bournville, I welcome you back to the final bit of the blog about Abu Dahbi.

Our last day was a fascinating one, and featured  a venue I shall remember forever. The 19th century fort at Al Jalil was a  unique place to play. Especially, as whilst rehearsing, we paused the proceedings for prayer and could hear the calls of the Mezzuein  echoing around the towers as the sun set. What was also quite astonishing was the fineness of the sand. You can see from the photo of my concert shoes that it was like talcum powder! The concert of film music, one of the many things our conductor Michael Seal is so good at, was very well received. I heard a lady tell one of our cellists afterwards that her six year old daughters dream had come true when she heard the ET theme played live!

Little else remains to say, except to remark on the truly wonderful hospitality we were shown at every turn, especially the packed supper boxes we were given post concert for our late night, ninety mile journey back to the hotel. I was very impressed by Abu Dahbi in general, the amazing modern buildings, the huge new and almost fairytale mosque near the hotel, the incredible demonstration of what unlimited funds coupled with the will to impress can achieve. I was also inclined to reflect what will happen to such magnificent achievements, here in the west, in the middle east and the far east, when the wealth, and the will are gone.

I recalled Shelly’s poem Ozimandias


I met a traveller from an antique land,
Who said—“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. . . . Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal, these words appear:
My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

I wish you all a happy holiday, Christmas, Saturnalia, Midwinter or which ever title you prefer or none.

See you in May 2015 Good night and God bless.

Julian Robinson


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Al Jahlili Fort “Teaser Trailer”

Good evening gentle readers, just arrived back in Abu Dahbi at ten to one am, happy but very tired! Wonderful concert of film music conducted by Mike Seal with his usual panache. Leaving later this morning to fly home, I will catch up with you  over the next few days. Keep checking!

In the mean time here is a night picture of tonights venue. Without a doubt THE most unusual and exotic place I have ever played!

Good night and God bless. As-salamu alaykum.


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Corniche Breakwater Floating Stage Abu Dhabi

Good evening gentle readers, you find me tonight with little to say, as I failed to awake until 14:30 today Abu Dhabi time and so I got little done other than to get up, sort my self out and report for duty! However I was rewarded with an unusual venue, with an extraordinarily spectacular backdrop.

The Floating Stage at the Corniche Breakwater (not really floating actually built on scaffolding, but, presumably designed to look as though it’s floating) is one of the most unusual places I have played! It’s up there with the jumbo jet factory in Bremen and the marine engine factory in Innsbruck.


As you will see from the photographs, the backdrop is the city of Abu Dhabi mostly seen by us and by the audience in its night-time guise. Because it was breezy we had the additional complication of keeping the music attached to the stands with clothes pegs. This is an unfamiliar situation for us, but much more familiar for many, many freelance players who do a lot of “muddy field dates”. That is, marquees, outdoor stages and the like. However we coped (mostly). Nothing much more to report, tomorrow we are off into the desert to the Al Ain Jahil Fort, with a spectacular program of film music.

I suspect that tomorrow night’s blog, much like tonight’s will mostly consist of photographs, however it is possible I may have something else to say you never know! Until tomorrow, here are the pictures. (remember to click on them for bigger higher resolution ones!)

Good night and God Bless. Yarhamuka Allah

Julian Robinson




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Abu Dahbi 03:49 am!

Good morning gentle readers, just to let you know we have arrived safely. Glad to see we are being advertised at the airport!




Here are a couple of quick night shots of the view from my hotel room (The Ritz Carlton)

Thats an almost perfect crescent moon, most appropriate! If it’s clear tomorrow night I’ll try to capture it more sharply.

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I’m off to bed now, until tomorrow God Bless “as-Salâm Alaikum” “Gods peace be upon you”

Julian Robinson

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Off To The middle East!

Spotty tag


Hello Gentle readers! Tomorrow morning I shall be leaving the Misty Moisty Mornings of Kings Norton for the lands of Sun, Camels, Magnificent Architecture, and the fabulously rich. There will be no scraping of the car windows for me for a few days!

As always, I shall keep you posted about our mini-tour of Abu Dahbi with the redoubtable Michael Seal at the helm and the Fine Canadian Violinist James Ehnes performing Bruch’s Violin Concerto. There are two concerts as part of the Abu Dhabi Classics Concert Series.

I shall give you details as we go along, Tomorrow (Sunday) we travel all day, so Ill try and get a post out to you on Monday night or sooner if I can.

Until then God Bless, or should I say “as-Salâm Alaikum” “Gods peace be upon you”

Julian Robinson


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CBSO Chorus at 40 years old: Rose Watts

Rose Watts cr Tom WhiteVoice type: Alto
Occupation: Producer of BBC Radio 4’s The Archers
Member of the chorus for 15 years

I vividly remember my first rehearsal with the chorus way back in the late 90’s. We were learning Harmonium by John Adams, an extraordinarily complex and relatively new work. I’d achieved a music degree some 15 years earlier, but hadn’t sung in a choir since, and I was a bit nervous. At that rehearsal I can just remember repeatedly singing ‘no, no, no, no, no, no’  and whipping over the pages of the score as quickly as I could; trying to turn the pages at the same time as everyone else, so they wouldn’t know I was lost!  I really wondered whether it had all been some ghastly mistake. But some 15 or so years later, I know joining the CBSO Chorus was the best thing I ever did. I’ve been lucky enough to perform with the fantastic CBSO and several other brilliant orchestras, under many talented conductors.  I’ve sung in concert halls across the UK, in France, Germany, Switzerland, Finland, Malaysia, Canada and Australia.

My abiding memory of Australia was singing Mahler’s Eighth Symphony for the first time at the opening concert of the Olympic Arts Festival at the Olympic Superdome in 2000. It was an extraordinary sound; the symphony is not called ‘the symphony of a thousand’ for nothing, as we joined choirs from across Australia under the baton of Edo de Waart. We all had great fun learning the Australian National Anthem, which we sang before the start of the concert. And singing  ‘Veni Creator Spiritus’ to an audience of over 17,000 was a truly uplifting experience, and something I’ll never forget

The Chorus should fit in with everything else in life, but I find that it’s often the other way round, and when I’m not singing, I’m proud to be working for Radio 4 at the BBC in Birmingham.  My partner Andy is a great support, and happy to wave me off to rehearsals which may occur three or four times a week.   I’m a bell ringer, and occasionally play the organ for church services.   I spend any free time I have left on my allotment.

The CBSO Chorus marks its anniversary with a performance of the UK Premiere of the CBSO co-commission, James MacMillan’s St Luke Passion, conducted by the composer himself. Tickets are still available, book now.

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CBSO Chorus at 40 years old: Charles Barwell

Charles Barwell with Bridget Blow and Simon Halsey cr Anthea BevanVoice type: Tenor
Occupation: Private Banker at Barclays Wealth & Investment Management
Deputy Chairman of the CBSO Board of Trustees
Member of the Chorus for 8 years

Singing in the CBSO Chorus is an honour and a pleasure. Its also so important in keeping perspective on the pressures of professional life for the volunteers of the Chorus many of whom have highly responsible and challenging careers. When you’re singing an engaging piece, focusing on the conductor, listening to our amazing orchestra, to your section and the other voices around you, and thinking ahead, your phone can’t ring, emails can’t be answered, and time sensitive projects just have to go on hold. What an inspiration and mental release this can be.

I’ve been so lucky, joining in 2005, to sing with some of the world’s great conductors in some simply amazing venues. Highlights beyond Birmingham include Mahler’s Second Symphony in Hong Kong and Vaughan Williams’ A Sea Symphony in Kuala Lumpur. Musically my most fulfilling experiences have been performing Elgar’s The Dream of Gerontius with the CBSO under Sakari Oramo at the Philharmonie in Berlin, Andris’s amazing and beautiful interpretation of Puccini’s La bohème in 2009 (even though the Chorus part is very small),  the exhausting performance of Brahms’s A German Requiem in 2008 when Sakari forgot that the Chorus needs a moment between movements to sit and catch one’s breath, and of course the extraordinarily emotional performance of Britten’s War Requiem in Coventry Cathedral in 2012 where almost everyone from Andris to the whole soprano section were moved to tears.

We’ve had some fun too. I’ll never forget the horn section of the Orchestre National de Lyon almost jumping out of their seats at the volume and precision of the Chorus entry “Freude” in Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. Only rarely do they hear a massed choir in France, so the reaction was tremendous. In Cologne after the performance all the performers are greeted back stage with a glass of local beer, that goes down extremely well – Symphony Hall take note!

Lastly, we have the privilege of being trained by one of the world’s great choral directors, Simon Halsey. Demanding, of course. Challenging, often. Precise, always. But respectful and appreciative of the commitment of so many volunteers who come together to make up one of Birmingham’s cultural jewels. CBSO and CBSO Chorus, thank you. Here’s to the next forty years!

The CBSO Chorus marks its anniversary with a performance of the UK Premiere of the CBSO co-commission, James MacMillan’s St Luke Passion, conducted by the composer himself. Tickets are still available, book now.

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CBSO Chorus at 40 years old: Alison Bownass

Alison Bownes cr Tom WhiteVoice type: Alto
Occupation: Priest in the Church of England
Member of the chorus for 34 years

The wonderful CBSO Chorus has been one of the main ‘constants’ in my life for the past thirty four years – through happy times and some very sad times. For most of that time Simon Halsey has been the person who has had the knack to lift me out of my ‘normal’ life in marvellously inspirational rehearsals on Wednesday evenings.

In the early 1980s my Wednesday evenings were my ‘escape to sanity’ and the ‘adult’ world away from a busy home life with very small children. The nature of our rehearsals means that you have to concentrate hard on the music in front of you – it can range from tricky sight-reading through to polishing a piece you know well in readiness for performance. The pace that we move at is very fast and as a result whatever your ‘normal’ life is throwing at you, it has to disappear into the background. I really value that! And – unlike other choirs I have sung with – there is no chatting allowed when we are working on a piece so much is achieved in a rehearsal.

Back in 1980 I had heard the chorus a number of times – most notably singing The Dream Of Gerontius very beautifully in Town Hall, Birmingham, a piece that I studied in A’ Level Music at school. It didn’t occur to me that I might try to join such a great choir. I was asked to accompany a friend who wanted to audition for the chorus – it was September 1980 and as we drove in I vividly remember our conversation along the Aston Expressway and it resulted in me agreeing to have a go also. I happened to have a hymn book in the car so randomly chose a hymn to sing – oh dear – that would not do nowadays would it?

Much to my delight I was asked to become a member – a First Alto – and so the journey began.

So many concerts and so many tours in my thirty-four years , but if you forced me to single one out as my most memorable project in the chorus it has to be the CBSO European Festivals Tour of 1992 with (the now Sir) Simon Rattle, Simon Halsey and Peter King who was our Deputy Chorus Director & Organist.

At the time I had two children of nine and seven years old and was working full time as a Primary School Teacher. My husband, Millar, had also joined the chorus by this time as a tenor so childcare had to be carefully organised.

The music was a delight:

  • Janacek’s Glagolitic Mass which we had just performed in a Prom Concert in the Royal Albert Hall, London, on 19th July
  • Durufle’s Requiem
  • Three Motets by Bruckner
  • Heilig & Kyrie by Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy

As I look at the beloved ‘scrap book’ of that project I am amazed to realise that the trip was for only a week – in my memory it was about two weeks in length or longer as we crammed so much in!

Even to go anywhere by plane was a great treat for us at that time – our holidays, if we had one, were very modest affairs in those days, for instance a short stay in a borrowed log cabin in North Wales in the pouring rain was typical.

Imagine our excitement when the schedule was released and the plan was to fly from Birmingham to Hamburg with coach transfer to the Forte Crest Hotel in Hamburg. Almost more exciting was the long train journey from Hamburg travelling via Nuremberg to Treuchtlingen fuelled with a lunch bag that had been provided with rather unusual food items!; then on by coach to the very beautiful minster church in medieval Ingolstadt. After what I described as a ‘magical experience’, performing the Requiem by Maurice Duruflé almost in the dark we went by coach to Munich where we stayed one night and gave a concert in St Matthew’s Church the following day.

The next day we travelled by coach through some sensational countryside to Salzburg in preparation for the highlight of the tour – a performance of Janacek’s Glagolitic Mass sung from memory in the famous Salzburg Festival. I found Salzburg to be utterly stunning – an incredibly beautiful city set in a magnificent landscape. For a number of years it became my most favourite place in the world. Millar & I returned there for our 25th Wedding Anniversary and had great time.

We performed in the amazing concert hall which is featured in the film The Sound of Music. I recall the whole experience as being totally exhilarating but also very frightening – partly because the Glagolitic Mass is a tricky work to do from memory (one is always terrified of coming in too early in a number of places in the score) but also because I was standing on the very back row with two other altos on a slightly wobbly piece of staging. We were incredibly well-received by the audience, many of whom were wearing beautiful traditional Austrian outfits. Sir Simon Rattle is the most remarkable conductor. He is a complete joy to work with and I can still remember so many very special piano rehearsals with him for many different works. He gives so much of himself and his vision for the piece that the most hard-hearted singer cannot fail to be uplifted and transported. For me it feels as if he has one in the palm of his hand.

What a fabulous trip! And that is only one of many wonderful trips with CBSO Chorus.

The CBSO Chorus marks its anniversary with a performance of the UK Premiere of the CBSO co-commission, James MacMillan’s St Luke Passion, conducted by the composer himself. Tickets are still available, book now.


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CBSO Chorus at 40 years old: Charlotte Roberts-Rhodes

Charlotte Roberts-Rhodes Landscape cr Tom WhiteVoice type: Soprano
Occupation: Medical Student at University of Birmingham
Member of the chorus for 2 years

I joined the CBSO Chorus in September 2012 having just started studying at the University of Birmingham. It was recommended to me by a friend I was in the National Youth Choir with, so I knew it must have been a high standard. And I was not disappointed in any way. Although technically an amateur choir, the sound produced is anything but, and I vividly remember the feeling after my first concert – stunned at the sound a full-bodied adult chorus could produce! Having come from an all-girl’s school, the roar of a fully-mature tenor and bass section was incredible.

One concert that will always stay with me was singing Britten’s War Requiem in St Paul’s Cathedral. Although the War Requiem is probably one of the most performed pieces by the Chorus, it was completely new to me, and is still one of my favourite pieces to sing. The atmosphere generated by the grandeur of the venue, plus some of the most emotive music I have ever had the pleasure of singing is going to be hard to beat in the future! However, knowing the excellent repertoire chosen by the CBSO team, it probably won’t be too long before it is challenged!

The CBSO Chorus marks its anniversary with a performance of the UK Premiere of the CBSO co-commission, James MacMillan’s St Luke Passion, conducted by the composer himself. Tickets are still available, book now.

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CBSO Chorus at 40 years old: Phil Rawle

Phil Rawle cr Tom WhiteVoice type: Bass
Occupation: Retired Teacher
Member of the chorus for 41 years

To select the most memorable moments from a 41 year association with the Chorus is almost an impossible task.

Here are some statistics that make it so difficult:

I have sung in nearly 850 concerts, under the direction of 110 conductors in over 100 different venues, with more than 40 orchestras, including over 30 tours and more than 50 recordings.

Where would you like me to start? Perhaps at the beginning.

The first concert was at Town Hall, Birmingham, January 31st 1974, with Louis Fremaux conducting the CBSO in Berlioz’s La damnation de Faust. The soloists were Anne Howles, William Dupre, Pierre Thau, and chorus member Tom Marsh.

The concert opened with the singing of the English and French national anthems. It was a great success and we were all relieved to get through our first performance without any major mishaps, especially as this was such a difficult work for a new chorus to attempt!

The next day we had our second concert which was the same programme at The Royal Festival Hall, London – this was very different! We were overawed by such a big, important venue, and suddenly it dawned on us that this was a serious business. Everybody was very nervous and on the edge of our seats. It was as if our continuing existence depended on giving the very best performance to the London audience.

It started magnificently with the Britten setting of the National Anthem. The first few bars were so quiet that I was not quite sure if anybody was singing! The tingle factor was tremendous and the whole event a triumph.

The rest, as they say, is history.

The CBSO Chorus marks its anniversary with a performance of the UK Premiere of the CBSO co-commission, James MacMillan’s St Luke Passion, conducted by the composer himself. Tickets are still available, book now.

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