Last Saturday, on an icy Guild Elections night, many of us were elsewhere on campus. The Bramall Music Hall was filled for the semi-final Voice Festival UK event, and with standards exceptionally high this proved to be a thrilling watch. The good sportsmanship, humour and talent shown by our University’s a capella groups allowed for a light-hearted but mind-blowing evening. Four of the six groups were from the University of Birmingham so this was a real opportunity to see the hard work of our own ensembles and those from further afield.
The evening opened stylishly with the talented Uptone Girls taking the stage. Clad in disco pants, the girls delivered a beautiful cover of Wicked Games and showcased Lizzie Jones’s excellent beat boxing. Both The Uptone Girls and Voice Versa (also UoB) gave particularly fantastic solo performances, with Uptone’s Charlye Simpson receiving an award for hers. Elsewhere the Treblemakers shone with their innovative Video Game arrangement, one of the most original pieces of the night.
It wasn’t an easy road for UoB, however. Songsmiths from Leeds and the Augmentals from Birmingham Conservatoire offered excellent arrangements, with a particularly amusing performance from the Augmentals. Don’t Worry Be Happy won them the crowd, towards the end of an intense programme. There was no interval during the performances, which further emphasised how tight the competition was for awards, between many of the groups.
In my eyes, however, the night was stolen by one group. We can’t discuss the event without mentioning the absolute highlight, The Sons of Pitches. Their phenomenal mix of Cry Me A River with Lose Yourself demonstrated tight vocals, choreography and an exceptional arrangement. As a result, they sailed through to the final. The Sons are known for their strong following, who were certainly in attendance; the group got a huge reaction from the audience. All aspects of their performance were virtually seamless, leaving the audience stunned by their ability.
Saturday night’s contest had it all: outstanding vocal performances, the atmosphere of a top-draw contest and a version of Starry Eyed which beat the original. This was an extremely fun event to attend and we wish The Sons of Pitches the best of luck for the final!
Tickets for the Voice Festival final, taking place at City of London School for Girls on 15th March, are available here: http://thevoicefestival.co.uk/events/the-big-weekend-15-17-march/
By Eleanor Smallwood
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
Posted in Music, University of Birmingham
Tagged birmingham conservatoire, birmingham university singers, brahms, bus, cbso, classical music, colin timms, gerald lim, Italy, madrigals, monteverdi, robert tibay, the barber institude of fine arts, university campus, weelkes
Friday evenings in Birmingham always come with the promise of some spectacular entertainment in the form of Rush Hour Blues at Symphony Hall. Organised by Birmingham Jazz, this weekly session regularly features various jazz and blues artists from the city and further afield. The latest performance was from talented young bass player Nick Jurd, appearing in his quartet alongside other former Birmingham Conservatoire students.
The group displayed a captivating sense of unity in their set, performing a range of Jurd’s original compositions as well as inspired renditions of jazz standards. Mostly, their repertoire was ballad-like or medium swing paced, lulling the audience into a meditative state and providing a welcome contrast from the frenetic rush hour traffic seen through the foyer’s ceiling-high windows. Even some of the busier samba-feel numbers provided a laid-back sense of contemplation.
Despite the overall relaxed state of the music, many of the quartet’s pieces enclosed fascinatingly frenetic improvisation from each of the band. Nick Jurd in particular demonstrated skilful use of the higher register of his double bass, producing solos both melodically and rhythmically captivating. Alto saxophonist Rachel Cohen often chose a more sustained and emotive style her solos, whilst trumpeter Sam Wooster displayed both subtlety and ferocity in his playing, effectively combining with perfectly placed rhythmic interaction from Jim Bashford on drum kit.
Jurd’s softly spoken introduction to each tune and acknowledgement of his fellow musicians did much to maintain the mellow tone of the gig. One particular tune that will undoubtedly hit home with students of many different disciplines was Jurd’s own composition ‘Sorted’, a piece he recounts writing after graduating. This piece was, in line with the rest of the set, of a smooth, unrushed tempo, yet still expressed excitement: as he explained, it reflects a sense of accomplishment and an undeniable taste of freedom.
Interestingly for a band of this size, the quartet did not contain any chordal instruments such as a piano or guitar as would be expected to complete the texture of a traditional jazz combo. This lack of chords was slightly unusual to the ear at first, but as the set went on this supposed gap in the texture actually created a unique sense of space in the music: this allowed the subtleties of harmony from the bass and horn instruments to shine.
Nick Jurd and his quartet undeniably transfixed the large crowd that frequents the Rush Hour Blues sessions. With a captivating blend of precision playing and musical ingenuity, the group brought a tranquil end to the day in the otherwise bustling city centre. The next Rush Hour Blues instalment will feature the MHJQ Jazz Blues Trio on Friday 3rd February, 5.30-7pm. Admission is free, so there really isn’t a more ideal way to end your week.
Words by Anna Lumsden
Posted in Music
Tagged birmingham conservatoire, birmingham jazz, jazz, Jim Bashford, Nick Jurd, Rachel Cohen, rush hour blues, Sam Wooster, saxophone, symphony hall, thsh