The prevailing narrative is that 2016 has not been a good year. I don’t know that you often hear a BBC obituaries editor being interviewed about his busy workload, but he seemed to think a rest wasn’t forthcoming. Violence and humanitarian crises are rife, and politics has become so ridiculous that an episode of The Simpsons from 2000 was more accurate than the pollsters. Along with the sad news of passing notable figures, comes more woe for the arts sector in the form of funding cuts. Birmingham’s jewel of an orchestra, the CBSO, reliant upon the struggling Birmingham City Council, will lose 25% of its current council funding (£228,000) from April 2017. As a member of its chorus, while understanding the circumstances, it makes me sad.
It’s hard not to be depressed. And yet, music is something that so many people turn to, to make them happy, to be uplifted, to move them. I was told recently that SO Vocal, the CBSO’s local community choir not only has around 200 members, but a huge waiting list. We’re told that singing is good for you (I wholeheartedly agree), and this is encouraging people to sign up to sing all over the country, whether it’s rock, pop, classical or show tunes. I firmly believe that music making is one of the tools that will help us to combat often identified problems like loneliness, depression, lack of community. It’s also why people celebrate these great musicians and entertainers as they pass away – they have made an impact on individuals, on communities, on the world. We need to celebrate their achievements and be inspired by them. And yet I think we also must be pragmatic. The world we have built means that little comes for free.
2016 was also a great year for the CBSO. After a lengthy search, their crowning achievement was to appoint yet another highly antipated young conductor as its Music Director, this time the Lithuanian Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla. She is already receiving plaudits and selling out concert halls, and is undoubtedly the focal point for hope for the future for this particular institution. I’m excited to begin working with Mirga (which won’t happen until June and Mozart’s Idomeneo). Our new schedule for the next 18 months looks brilliant (can’t tell you, sorry, sworn to secrecy), and her rallying cry at the end of her Proms debut, “See you in Birmingham!” created a huge sense of energy and direction.
I suppose what I’d like to say is that I hope she feels that she is welcomed by a musical family that is passionate about what she can bring, and how we can support her to continue to both perform at internationally excellent levels and add value to our local community. Both the chorus and the orchestra recognise the uneasy financial situation and have been making some fundraising efforts of their own; the chorus taking up their instruments to perform a concert, and members of the orchestra and management doing a Grade one-a-thon on new instruments. I suspect these fundraising activities will become a more regular feature, but it’s one that I think we recognise as part of our commitment to the institution.
What I have taken from 2016 and its ups and downs, is what must not die is the music. Why not make one of your new year’s resolutions be to support the CBSO (or your local orchestra)? Come along to a concert – if you think symphonies aren’t your thing then there’s an array of film music, musical theatre or even comedy. 2017 is going to be an exciting year, and we want to share it with as many people as possible.
The CBSO are currently on tour in China, but will be back performing in Birmingham on Sunday 8 January in their Magic of Vienna concert. The CBSO Chorus will be seen next in Handel’s Semele along with the CBSO conducted by Richard Egarr on Wednesday 25 January.