Issue 476
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THE CBSO IS CHANGING

In a Marks & Spencer "This Isn't Just Any Christmas Jumper" jersey and with his now trademark beaming smile, Kazuki Yamada is speaking to a sea of oldies — respectfully, I count myself as one of them. We're hanging on his every word, his apology for his excellent English completely unnecessary. Behind him, and through the giant glass panes of Symphony Hall's window is the twisting and turning neons and screams of Centenary Square's Christmas funfair populated by youngsters who, I'd wager, are completely unaware that world class classical music is about to take place a stone's throw from where they thrill seek.

Therein lies the problem. The City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra's audience isn't getting any younger. So they're doing something about it.
In a vision statement published in November, the CBSO new leadership – Chief Executive, Emma Stenning, Chief Conductor, Kazuki and Chair of the Board, Lord Tony Hall – announced plans for an 18-month period of exploration and testing, in search of opportunities to develop the orchestral experience in ways that could be truly welcoming to wider audiences. And we're all packed into the Jennifer Blackwell Performance Space to find out, in real terms, what that means.

In Kazuki, they are part way there. He fizzes with energy, not only when in front of a 90-piece orchestra — at times leaving the floor with enthusiasm as he steered Birmingham's finest through Strauss's Don Quixote and Beethoven's Eroica — but even when sat on a bar-style stool being interviewed before the show. He's talking about the No-Applause Rule, a dated yet core tenet of modern classical-music etiquette, which holds that the audience must refrain from clapping until all movements of a work have sounded. It's a rule that put the fear of God into both JFK and Barack Obama, the latter reportedly waiting until Michelle clapped until he was confident enough to follow suit.

To classical newcomers, like myself, it runs counter to human instinct — like holding off on cheers until half time at a football match. It makes no sense.
Many music historians have pointed out that the convention of restricting applause until the end of a work is, historically, a relatively recent phenomenon, and that Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms would have expected, or at least hoped for, applause after movements. Music writers have often said that one reason for diminishing audiences for classical concerts is the sense among novices that they're not part of the elite who know "the rules".

It's stuffiness like this that Kazuki is dead against. At one point during his conducting, about an hour after appealing to those attending the pre-show interview to clap whenever they damn well feel like it, the audience did indeed break into spontaneous applause, midway through Don Quixote. Kazuki's response? He span around on his feet to face us, applauding us right back, winding his hands back and forth as if allowing the audience to make more noise, which we duly did. Kazuki was whipping the crowd up in fact, like a footballer might if his team needs that "twelfth man".

It may not sound like much but it was enough to make the hairs on my arms stand on end. It told the hundreds that had packed Symphony Hall that it was okay to show emotion in what the old guard might consider to be "the wrong places". The message from Kazuki was loud and clear — there are no wrong places.
And if the ethos is changing, well, so are the visuals. The biggest 'real terms' experiment, that night at least, was that Kazuki, and the entirety of the orchestra, were flanked by giant screens, with a third, even bigger screen, above them. As a classical music rookie I can't begin to tell you how helpful these visual guides were. Cameramen dotted about the room would zoom in on individual musicians to spotlight the importance of that person and that instrument, at that given time. It made it clear that one specific musician 'plays' the part of Don Quixote with another musician portraying Sancho Panza. This would have been completely lost on me had these giant screens not made it so obvious.

In addition, the stage was rigged up with lighting that altered at specific points in the concert. Warm lighting signifying safety (when Don Quixote makes it home, for example), cold lighting showing moments of our hero's solitude and red lights indicating moments of danger. All this combines to help tell a story. To bring the narrative to the fore. I'm sure many of us have sat through orchestras without the first clue what the bloody hell is going on — let's admit it — hoping the sheer majesty of the show will stave off boredom.
There was no boredom to be had here. Not a second of it. Visual stimulus, triumphant music, a conductor who bucks the trend and the reassuring knowledge that if emotion were to get the better of you and you were to break into applause, well, Kazuki has got your back.

As he shepherded musicians and audience alike to the climax of Eroica and the end of the night, Yamada was greeted not just with an ovation but with whooping and whistling and cheers of pure, heartfelt emotion which seemed to fuel the conductor, who dashed about the stage hugging his skilled team. This was unlike any orchestral gig I've ever been to. In it's unstuffiness, it epitomised Brum.

Will it be enough to get a new audience through the door? Will it chip away at that funfair crowd and offer Brummie youngsters a new kind of thrill to seek? Only time will tell. But, with Kazuki behind the wheel, the CBSO is changing and there's not a thing anyone can do to stop it.
cbso.co.uk

FUN FOR THE WHOLE FAMILY


This is one of those good news/bad news type situations. The bad news is that if you have plans for Saturday, February 3, you're going to need to cancel them immediately...

The good news is that you're now free to join thousands of two-wheeled dirt racing fans at Resorts World Arena, from 6.30pm, to watch reigning British Arenacross Champion, Tommy Searle, continue the defence of his title in the pro class. What's more, six-year-old Silhillian, Oliver Wilson, will also race that night in a junior contest, so we have a local boy to really get behind.

This will be round seven of the heart-pounding race series and it will be, no doubt, a debut attendance for many spectators given its super family friendly stadium setting and its rare appearance in these parts.

Expect lights, lasers and pyro, plus a high-octane mix of unparalleled indoor motocross racing, with some of the country's top indoor and outdoor riders. For example, Tommy Searle won the 2023 title following a season-long battle with Conrad Mewse, but endured a frustrating start to 2024 in Manchester, on January 6.

A collision with another rider left him crashing out of his final heat. He continued through to the Head to Heads before a mistake took him out in the semi-final. An injury to Tommy’s hand meant unfortunately he was unable to compete in the Last Chance Qualifier, ruling him out of the Traxxas Main Event. In his absence fan-favourite Jack Brunell scored his long-awaited first victory in the championship after 10 years of competing – dedicating the win to the memory of his father who passed away last year.

Birmingham will also welcome one of the fastest rising stars of the UK dirt racing scene, Olivia Reynolds. The teenager from Northampton has been riding motocross bikes since age of three, has been taken under the wing of the legendary US racer Travis Pastrana and holds the world record for the youngest female to ever land a backflip on an MX bike.

But, hopefully, the biggest roar of the night will go up for Oliver Wilson in front of his home crowd. Tear it up, little guy. Shred it to bits. Tickets

...THAT'S WHAT THIS IS


Always at the coalface of new musical theatre, the Hippodrome are inviting audiences to what they call 'workshop performances' of This Is A Love Story (February 1 and 2). A workshop performance is a first look at new theatre in the making, essentially a chance to discover raw talent and play your part in developing a show. It's hard to over-egg how important a project this is, both to the city as a whole and to aspiring actors, directors, writers and performers.

And what a show this one promises to be: Telling the tale of a love-hate relationship between planet Earth and the humanity that lives upon it, This Is A Love Story features a high-energy pop soundtrack and a razor-sharp script, bringing a new and unique perspective on our climate crisis. It was previously shown, rather fittingly, at COP 26.

The Hippodrome’s New Musical Theatre Department is the first of its kind in the UK, and is very much the sort of thing we need to get behind. Caps doffed to them for putting their money where their mouth is and devising these workshops in a city so synonymous with nurturing new talent, but at a post-COVID time when new talent isn't, perhaps, getting the spotlight it deserves.

The show will take place in the Hippodrome's Patrick Studio and tickets are on sale at just £10 a piece. Book

30% OFF AT TATTU


Having impure thoughts about my last visit to Tattu and now, throughout January, they've introduced a 30% discount on all a la carte bookings, giving me (and everyone) the perfect excuse to go back. If you're not drinking — and, frankly, even if you are — that makes for insane value for money.

The deal runs all day and night, Thursday to Sunday, and up until 4.45pm on Fridays, until January 31. All you need to do, when booking online, is add the code TATTU30 in the box marked 'additional reservation notes' and they'll do the rest.

At the risk of teaching you how to suck dragon eggs, that makes their high-end £94.50 Modern Sharing three-courser just £66.15, which gets you salt and pepper loin ribs (cohrrr), that Shanghai black cod (phwoarrr) and their, in all the best ways, ridiculous white chocolate dragon egg, if you so choose. There are, of course, more affordable menus than that, that also include the 30% deal, and options like tuna sashimi blossom, the mixed dim sum basket, pictured (how beautiful is that, by the way?), glazed beef bao, Szechuan rock shrimp and a host of vegetarian numbers.

The theme for the season is A Winter Romance, where Tattu invites guests to ignite new flames of passion — their trademark cherry blossom tree turning crimson red, for example.

Moving forward, the restaurant will light up in spectacular style for the Lunar New Year. From February 9 join Tattu to welcome the Year of the Dragon, with money bag dim sum bringing diners (hopefully) good luck and a unique dessert inspired by the fire-breathing beast.

This Chunjie will culminate with a Lantern Festival on February 24, when Chinese lion dancers close out more than two weeks of fun. Prior to that Tattu will, of course, host a Valentine’s day and night, February 14. Book

HMP CANNON HILL PARK


A new and free exhibition at MAC shares art created in the UK’s Victorian prisons featuring drawings, photography, sculptures, and writing by people serving time in coolers built nearly two centuries ago.

It includes work by prisoners serving in HMP Liverpool and HMP Lincoln, as well as archival documents and interviews, all of which will prompt conversations about living and working conditions in historical institutions today.

The exhibition forms part of a research project which considers how the fabric and function of these old school slammers have changed over time, and what it has felt like to live and work in them in years gone by. It also explores what the persistence of the Victorian estate means for the contemporary prison system.

From 1842 to 1877, a total of 90 prisons were built or significantly expanded, as part of a concerted building programme, making the era the most significant period of prison construction in UK history.

Amazingly, some 32 of these prisons are still in operation. Together, they hold about one in four currently serving prisoners. Since most are ‘local’ prisons, serving the courts and holding prisoners awaiting trial or sentencing, almost all male prisoners will have spent time in one at some point.

In addition, on February 1 (free, but booking is essential), MAC will host an artist talk with photographer Andy Aitchison, whose work features in the exhibition, and Dean Kelland, artist-in-residence at HMP Grendon, for a conversation reflecting on their creative work within prisons.

Incarcerated: Contemporary Arts from the Victorian Prison is open now until February 18.
The pop-up pair behind The Riverine Rabbit, 2023's runaway short-term restaurant success story, have opened permanent premises in Stirchley. A prix fixe of £30 for four courses represents the sort of value we could all do with, in Jan. Bookings 

Black Country Touring are organising the first ever Smethwick Puppetry Festival, coming to community venues across Smethwick and Bearwood this half term (Feb 11 to 18). All events are 'Pay What You Can'.

B:Music, the team behind events at Symphony Hall and Town Hall, has launched its new Spring programme for 2024. Cumbrian indie rock act Sea Power, Grammy Award-winning Lucinda Williams, The Pretenders, Rumours of Fleetwood Mac, Lemar, Stewart Lee, Ed Byrne, Daniel Sloss, Ross Noble and Professor Alice Roberts are just a tiny cross-section of what's heading our way. Full programme

The All England Badminton Championships returns to Utilita Arena for the 31st time, running from March 12 to 17.  

Global titan of children's entertainment and the show responsible for more parent tears than any other programme in the history of TV, comes to Hippodrome, February 1 to 4. That's right, Bluey's Big Play is on the way and the majority of available tickets are for the non-weekend dates at the start of the run.

Spectacular pan-Asian street food traders, Canoodle, have commenced a one-month residency at 1000 Trades, in the JQ. Their Korean fried chicken (£15) is almost as good as the sauce they make specifically for their Korean fried chicken. Menu

The team behind Lasan, Raja Monkey and Fiesta Del Asado will launch Naples-style cafe and pizzeria, Fatto A Napoli, in Solihull (most likely Shirley) soon. 

How about an after hours candlelit tour of the Coffin Works? Running January 18, February 22 and March 21, tickets are £18. Book 

Snowhill-based The Indian Brewery has launched Brum's newest beer, a 4% lager called Pekok. The branding alone is a masterpiece. Show me

On January 29, at the Birmingham & Midland Institute, learn about the pioneering policewomen of Birmingham over 100 years ago. This is a lunchtime talk priced at £5 
WORDS: Tom Cullen

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"I closed my eyes and readied myself for another bite. This time the heat took a step back and allowed everything else to come forward. The savoury richness of pork, a bite of ginger and scallions, the broth. Oh, man, the broth. I hadn't ever tasted anything quite like this before. I chewed the dumpling, which was starchy but also managed to melt away, letting its texture dominate. For a moment, I wanted to reach for something beyond the flavour, but failed. Would I recognise the taste of magic, if magic even had a taste?"




— Elsie Chapman, 'Hungry Hearts: 13 Tales of Food & Love'
 



 
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