2020 was not how any of us imagined it would be. Despite the difficult circumstances, we still managed to achieve some wonderful things. We'd like to take the opportunity to look back at some of the highlights, as our eventful centenary year unfolded...
Our centenary year of 2020 started in style - Viennese style - as we transported audiences to the city of dreams for our first concert of the year at Symphony Hall. Our glamorous New Year celebration was generously received, complete with music from Johann Strauss and friends! January saw 13 Youth Ambassadors take full rein of the orchestra, with the opportunity to curate, programme and promote the first evening concert of the orchestra’s 2020 centenary year: A Vision of the Future.
Later in the month, our whole family, and some of our friends came together for Mahler's Symphony of a Thousand - two truly special 'full-house' performances conducted by Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla, the CBSO were joined on stage by soloists Erin Wall, Natalya Romaniw, Katja Stuber, Karen Cargill, Alice Coote, AJ Glueckert, Roland Wood, Morris Robinson along with the CBSO Chorus, CBSO Youth Chorus, CBSO Children’s Chorus, University of Birmingham Voices and Baltimore Choral Arts Society. An unforgettable moment in January - Mirga's Grammy Award nomination for the Best Orchestral Performance category at the 62nd Annual Grammy Awards for Weinberg: Symphonies Nos. 2 & 21. We finished the month with some new music - the UK premiere of one of our Centenary Commissions: SPIRA by Unsuk Chin, described by The Guardian as 'full of flair'!
February was a busy month - full of music making inside and outside Symphony Hall! We took part in the Beethoven Weekender at the Barbican, alongside 4 other UK orchestras, as well as performing an eclectic host of concerts at Symphony Hall including sell-out Nicola Benedetti: Tchaikovsky, spine-tingling Respighi’s Roman Trilogy, swinging Sounds of the 1920s and ghostly A London Symphony, which included Centenary Commission Ghost Songs by Gary Carpenter, sung by our Youth & Children’s Choruses. Our orchestra continued to deliver an extensive programme of music to reach new generations of music-lovers including We Got Rhythm a BSL-interpreted family concert presented by Owen Gunnell, KS1 concerts and a KS3 concert Feel The Music. For those who wanted to get in on the action and make their own music, we hosted our adult String Play-Along day, where amateur adult string players had the opportunity to be coached by, and play amongst, members of the CBSO.
A month we won't forget... March saw the CBSO sadly cancelling concerts, our European tour and shutting its doors to audiences. But, we did get the opportunity to perform live for the last time to audiences before our 7-month hiatus. Our last concert at Symphony Hall before lockdown was a beautiful Bartók and Bruckner. Although we could no longer play live music, we came together and created a portal of musical activity for audiences to enjoy during lockdown called Stay Tuned, complete with podcasts and short films from our musicians in a series of @ HOME videos, and a whole lot more! Together, we pulled together to find new ways to keep audiences connected to our orchestra during this uncertain and challenging time.
In April, we announced that we would be offering 5,000 free tickets available to NHS workers. With almost 700 people signed up to the scheme, we've already started distributing our tickets for our digital concerts. To mark the announcement, members of the CBSO Chorus released a video performing Somewhere Over the Rainbow from their homes. The CBSO Chorus is one of the world’s great choirs – with nearly 200 voluntary members who come together to sing symphonic choral music. Around 10% of the Chorus members themselves work for the NHS.
An exciting month for the Orchestra as we appointed our Leader Eugene Tzikindelean. Tzikindelean’s extensive work with the CBSO has included performances of Mahler’s Symphony of a Thousand, Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis and the Friday Night Classics concert Sounds of the 1920s at Birmingham’s Symphony Hall as well as Elgar’s Cello Concerto with Sheku Kanneh-Mason at the 2019 BBC Proms and Mahler’s 4th Symphony on tour in Austria and Germany. His CBSO debut was in the orchestra’s acclaimed Weinberg weekend in 2018, which included the UK premiere and the recording of a Grammy-winning CD of Weinberg’s Symphony No.21 for Deutsche Grammophon.
A special month indeed - Gramophone revealed that the CBSO was amongst 10 nominated ensembles worldwide for its 2020 Orchestra of the Year Award! With the help and support of our audiences, we managed to get to the top 3! A remarkable achievement during our centenary year.
As appetite for a much missed concert experience built from our audiences, we released our first digital concert: Mirga conducts Peer Gynt, a recording of a concert which was played live to audiences in 2019. Featuring Grieg's Peer Gynt: Incidental Music, the two digital concerts were complete with a Zoom chat with our CEO Stephen Maddock, who chatted about our future plans! And what plans they were...
The secret was out - 1 of 2 of our special centenary celebrations was revealed. We announced that we would celebrate our 100th anniversary of our first ever concert with a landmark performance featuring the full orchestra and filmed at a production warehouse in Birmingham.
The concert, CBSO's 100th Birthday Celebration, included a varied programme conducted by former Music Director Sir Simon Rattle, whilst our current Music Director, Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla, was on maternity leave. We also announced that we would be joined by cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason and sitar player Roopa Panesar, and that the performance would be presented by Birmingham-born actor Adrian Lester, all filmed socially-distanced at PRG’s Live Stage Studio, a warehouse and temporary production facility in Longbridge, without a live audience present.
An important moment in our calendar this year - our 100th birthday month. Our much anticipated birthday celebration took place on the 5th of September and what a joy it was to be reunited once again to perform for audiences on our special day! With over 176,000 views internationally, we were truly blown away by the support from our audiences, as well as praise from critics, including a 5-star review from The Times! You can read all about the momentous occasion here.
We were humbled by the generous support we received this month, including £850,000 committed by CBSO campaign board members to kick-start The Sound of the Future, a campaign launched to ensure the orchestra’s recovery from the Covid-19 crisis, and to redefine our future for the benefit of everyone across Birmingham and the West Midlands.
October was a month of wins for the CBSO! Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla and the CBSO triumphed at Gramophone Classical Music Awards 2020, scooping the much-coveted Recording of the Year for their debut recording on Deutsche Grammophon of Mieczysław Weinberg’s Symphonies Nos 2 & 21, with Gidon Kremer and Kremerata Baltica.
We were thrilled to bring back live music to our audience in our new series LIVE at the Centre, featuring mid-sized ensembles from the CBSO, performing repertoire that is rarely played live, at the Justham Auditorium in the CBSO Centre. In the midst of our centenary celebrations and programmed by the musicians themselves, the theme of these first concerts was A Toast to the Twenties - celebrating music from the era of when the CBSO began.
And the moment we were all waiting for - the CBSO announced its return to Symphony Hall, as its doors opened for the first time in over seven months to enable live concerts for socially-distanced audiences, thanks to the awards given to Town Hall Symphony Hall and the CBSO from the Culture Recovery Fund.
November was a month of highs and lows. Whilst we were thrilled to perform to audiences at Symphony Hall once again on Wednesday 4th of November with a programme including pieces by Brahms, Ligeti and Mozart, our subsequent concert, and the second of our special centenary celebrations Centenary of the First Concert, due to be played live at Symphony Hall, was cancelled due to Covid-19 restrictions. All was not lost - the orchestra was still able to come together and play the concert programme, just behind closed doors, filmed for audiences to enjoy in the comfort of their homes. This digital concert marked the start of our Digital Concert programme series!
We also launched a brand-new series of, Cuppa Concerts: At Home, for people being cared for at home or in a care setting. This unique programme features a series of filmed concerts, specially designed for older people being cared for, to enjoy from home anywhere in the UK.
In celebrating our 100th birthday and as part of The Sound of the Future campaign, we were delighted that two members of the CBSO Campaign Board generously committed to match all new donations received pound for pound, up to a total of £100,000.
We ended the month on a high - we were thrilled to learn of the nominations for The South Bank Sky Arts Award: Thea Musgrave's Trumpet Concerto has been nominated for the Classical Music award. The CBSO performed this piece at Cheltenham Music Festival in July 2019, Symphony Hall last October, as part of our special Centenary Commissions series and later the same month on tour in Hamburg and to audiences at the beautiful Elbphilharmonie. We were later thrilled to hear Musgrave won! Birmingham Opera Company were nominated for the Opera award for their production Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, which featured the CBSO and included the operatic debut of our former CBSO Assistant Conductor Alpesh Chauhan.
It's starting to sound a lot like Christmas... in the absence of our Christmas Concerts, this year we launched a musical advent calendar! Every day at 9am, from 1-24 December we're releasing a new video behind the advent window of our digital calendar for you to enjoy.
As well as these little musical treats, we're continuing to release new digital concerts, some of which you can book now and enjoy in the New Year: Alpesh conducts Mendelssohn, Beethoven: 250 Years Young, French Connections and Beethoven's Seventh.
Thank you for your support over the year, and we can't wait to spend 2021 with you all, once again.