The Barber Institute of Fine Arts, situated on the university campus, boasts one of the finest small art collections in the country, showcasing works by Renoir, Monet and Van Gogh to name a few. Yet, the venue is further renowned for its regular classical music concerts which take place in its stunning concert hall, attracting both students and outside music-lovers alike.
A long established tradition at the Barber is weekly Friday lunchtime concerts which are free admission and feature recitals and performances from the university’s thriving music scene. The latest of these concerts was a performance by the Birmingham University Singers, singing a mixture of English, Italian and German madrigals and part-songs. They were accompanied during their performance by Robert Tibay and Gerald Lim who provided a continuo. Their conductor was Professor Colin Timms, whose obvious passion and knowledge of the madrigal genre provided an insightful glimpse into a style of music that perhaps not all would have been previously accustomed with.
The Madrigal has its roots in 16th Century Italy and is traditionally polyphonic in texture, unaccompanied and can feature up to eight separate vocal parts at a time. This leaves a great deal of scope for musical interpretation and the conductor works hard to ensure all parts are each given their own precedence amongst the array of contrasting chords and lyrical lines. This Friday’s concert featured an array of works by Monteverdi, Weelkes and part-songs by Brahms amongst others.
As for the singer’s themselves, their performance was extraordinary and there were moments of incredible musical understanding and collective empathy with the choral works. Even at times when the ensemble were singing at full capacity, the sopranos’ vocals had an ability to cut through the mass of harmonies and soar to the back of the concert hall, which resulted in awed expressions and smiles on the faces of some attentive audience members.
The biggest giveaway as to the success of the event was the very, very small number of spare seats in the concert hall. It seems that these Friday lunchtime concerts attract a wide following and have established a reputation which ensures listeners return to the University again and again. Even for the student populace, a chance to relax away from the glare of laptop screens and rigorous studying, I can imagine, is a welcomed relief. Before, I wondered why these concerts were perhaps not advertised widely but seeing the unbelievable turn-out it seems the Barber have little need to.
What is also wonderful about these concerts is the evident number of individuals from outside the campus who come to enjoy the music the University displays. It shows that the University of Birmingham has a prominent placing in Birmingham’s classical music scene, already well established and linked with the prestigious Birmingham Conservatoire and the The CBSO Youth Orchestra. I strongly urge anyone, either with imminent deadlines or just an interest in classical music to go along to the next concert on Friday 10th February where the University Music Scholars will be performing.
Words by Alice Grimes