Sir Edward Elgar conducted the inaugural concert of the City of Birmingham Orchestra in November 1920. Over the nine decades since, the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra (CBSO) has grown into a 90-piece ensemble with a worldwide reputation - but one rooted firmly in the City of Birmingham.
Under the direction of such conductors as Adrian Boult, Andrzej Panufnik and Louis Frémaux, the Orchestra’s reputation grew steadily. But it was the 18-year leadership of Sir Simon Rattle that truly put the CBSO – and Birmingham – on the international musical map. Since his departure in 1998, the CBSO has continued to flourish and grow, first under the baton of Sakari Oramo and since 2008 under the charismatic young Latvian Andris Nelsons. Nelsons remains at the helm of orchestra until Summer 2015 as the head of an artistic team that includes principal guest conductor Edward Gardner, associate conductor Michael Seal, and chorus director Simon Halsey.
As the resident orchestra of Symphony Hall, Birmingham, the CBSO performs the full symphonic repertoire, from Mozart and Bach to full-scale concert performances of major operas. The CBSO has an international reputation as a champion of contemporary music, while popular Friday night concerts of light music and family concerts aimed at all age groups bring world-class music making to the whole community.
A Worldwide Reputation
As an ambassador for the city of Birmingham, the CBSO tours extensively, performing major venues and at festivals across three continents. A Tokyo concert during the 2013 Far East tour was voted as Japan’s best orchestral performance in 2013 by the country’s leading music critics.
The Orchestra also continues to extend its sizeable discography. Under Sir Simon Rattle and Sakari Oramo, the Orchestra made numerous award-winning recordings: its disc of Saint-Saëns’ Piano Concertos with soloist Stephen Hough won both the 2002 Gramophone Record of the Year award, and Gramophone’s prestigious Gold Disc 2008 for most popular recording of the past 30 years. In June 2009 the CBSO’s first CD with music director Andris Nelsons was released, heralding the start of an ongoing relationship with the German label Orfeo. Several discs of music by Tchaikovsky, Stravinsky, Shostakovich and Richard Strauss have been released so far; several more are still pending release. The first releases in the CBSO’s Mendelssohn Symphony Cycle for Chandos records under principal guest conductor Edward Gardner have been widely acclaimed.
In the Community
The CBSO’s learning and participation work reaches over 72,000 people each year in diverse communities across the West Midlands, and ranges from projects bringing music to nurseries in disadvantaged areas of the city, to work developing the next generation of talented young musicians. The 110-piece CBSO Youth Orchestra, meanwhile, provides top-level training for the region’s best young orchestral players, performing to a professional standard under the tuition of the CBSO’s own players.
In Good Voice
The CBSO family also includes the CBSO Chorus; two auditioned choirs for young people, the CBSO Children’s and Youth Choruses; three unauditioned community choirs: the adult choir CBSO SO Vocal in Selly Oak, CBSO Handsworth Community Choir, and CBSO Young Voices in partnership with Birmingham Music Service. All are regularly in demand to perform with the CBSO and other leading orchestras and musical groups both in the UK and beyond.
CBSO Centre, situated on Berkley Street, doubles as the administrative and rehearsal base for the Orchestra and Choruses and is also a friendly and adaptable performance space. The Centre is home to CBSO Centre Stage – a series of relaxed chamber concerts by CBSO musicians and invited guest artists - and the CBSO’s innovative ‘toddler friendly’ Notelets series – concerts devised specially for the under-5s.