Our Story

Under the baton of its Music Director, the young Lithuanian conductor Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla, the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra (CBSO) is the flagship of musical life in Birmingham and the West Midlands, and one of the world’s great orchestras.

Based in Symphony Hall, it gives over 150 concerts each year in Birmingham, the UK and around the world, playing music that ranges from classics to contemporary, film music and even symphonic disco. With a far-reaching community programme and a family of choruses and ensembles, it’s involved in every aspect of music-making in the Midlands. But at its centre is a team of 75 superb professional musicians, and a 100-year tradition of making the world’s greatest music, right here in the heart of Birmingham.

That local tradition started with the Orchestra’s very first symphonic concert in 1920 – conducted by Sir Edward Elgar. Ever since then, through war, recessions, social change and civic renewal, the CBSO has been proud to be Birmingham’s orchestra. Under principal conductors including Adrian Boult, George Weldon, Andrzej Panufnik and Louis Frémaux, the CBSO won an artistic reputation that spread far beyond the Midlands. But it was when it discovered the young British conductor Simon Rattle in 1980 that the CBSO became internationally famous – and showed how the arts can help give a new sense of direction to a whole city.

Home and Away

Rattle’s successors Sakari Oramo (1998-2008) and Andris Nelsons (2008-2015) helped cement that global reputation, and continued to build on the CBSO’s tradition of flying the flag for Birmingham. As the only professional symphony orchestra based between Bournemouth and Manchester, the Orchestra tours regularly in Britain – and much further afield. The Orchestra has travelled to Japan and the United Arab Emirates in previous seasons, and in December 2016 made its debut tour of China. And its recordings continue to win acclaim. In 2008, the CBSO’s recording of Saint-Saëns’ complete piano concertos was named the best classical recording of the last 30 years by Gramophone.

Now, under the dynamic leadership of Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla, associate conductor Michael Seal and assistant conductor Jaume Santonja Espinós, the CBSO continues to do what it does best – playing great music for the people of Birmingham and the Midlands. The forthcoming 2018-19 season celebrates 100 years since the creation of the Baltic States, with a series of concerts inspired by the different cultures of the region, including our own version of the traditional annual Song Festival, and a welcome to the legendary Latvian violinist Gidon Kremer as Artist in Residence, along with his orchestra, the Kremerata Baltica. There’s a focus on the music of Mieczysław Weinberg, and Sir Simon Rattle makes a much-anticipated return to conduct Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, in a concert that marks 25 years of the CBSO Youth and Children’s Choruses. We also welcome the dynamic young conductor Kazuki Yamada as our new Principal Guest Conductor, in three colourful concerts of music from Bernstein and Ravel to Prokofiev, Tchaikovsky and Mozart. In addition, our popular Friday night shows and lively family concerts offer world-class music making for all tastes and all ages.

Meet the Family

The CBSO Chorus – a symphonic choir made up of “amateur professionals”, trained by Simon Halsey CBE - is famous in its own right. The CBSO Children’s Chorus and Youth Chorus showcase singers as young as eight. Through its unauditioned community choir - CBSO SO Vocal in Selly Oak – the CBSO shares its know-how and passion for music with communities throughout the city. The CBSO Youth Orchestra gives that same opportunity to young instrumentalists aged 14-21, offering high-level training to the next generation of orchestral musicians alongside top international conductors and soloists.

These groups are sometimes called the “CBSO family” – over 650 amateur musicians of all ages and backgrounds, who work alongside the Orchestra to make and share great music. But the CBSO’s tradition of serving the community goes much further. Its Learning and Participation programme touches tens of thousands of lives a year, ranging from workshops in nurseries to projects that energise whole neighbourhoods. And everyone’s welcome at CBSO Centre on Berkley Street. As well as being a friendly, stylish performance venue for the lunchtime concert series Centre Stage and contemporary jazz concerts by Jazzlines, the CBSO’s rehearsal base is home to Birmingham Contemporary Music Group and Ex Cathedra. As it approaches its centenary in 2020, the CBSO, more than ever, remains the beating heart of musical life in the UK’s Second City. 

CBSO Centre
Situated on Berkley Street, CBSO Centre 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 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. The Centre also serves as the offices and performance base of for the internationally-renowned Birmingham Contemporary Music Group (BCMG). It’s the administrative home of Ex Cathedra and also hosts regular concerts by Jazzlines, Birmingham’s leading contemporary jazz promoter. The Centre is a friendly and adaptable venue, perfect for weddings, conferences, media events and fashion shows.