National Children's Choir at Birmingham Town Hall by Christopher Morley

During the long summer holiday, Birmingham in the heart of England is the natural hub for young people gathered together to make great music, as our reviews attest. But what visitors make of the building-site shambles which is Birmingham City Centre, from Centenary Square, across Paradise Circus and into Victoria Square can only be guessed at. I know it makes me more than depressed.
Friday's visitors were the splendid youngsters of the National Children's Choir of Great Britain, expertly trained and unobtrusively disciplined as they celebrated the Choir's 20th anniversary.
With singing, and every other musical activity, disappearing from state schools (apparently teamwork, mutual responsibility, confidence-building, communal achievement are infinitely less important than SATS results) ventures such as this become increasingly vital, and this concert was triumphant proof what can be achieved.
After a variety of offerings from NCCGB's various well-structured ensembles, all engagingly delivered, we ended with the world premiere of Everyday Wonders -- the Girl from Aleppo, by Cecilia McDowall.
McDowall has long had a special gift for choral writing, and here she resourcefully combines upper voices with an SATB chorus (something which would sit well with CBSO forces) in settings of Kevin Crossley-Holland's text narrating the journey of two sisters (one pushing the other in a wheelchair) across the miles from Syria to asylum in Germany (I felt like cheering for Angela Merkel). The music bursts with compassion, almost a complement to the anger of Adrian Williams' Children of Baghdad, premiered in Presteigne at the height of the second Iraq war.
The NCCGB rose gratefully and triumphantly to the score's rewarding challenges under Dan Ludford-Thomas' assuring direction. Claire Dunham was the supportive pianist, and Harriet Mackenzie brought the Middle Eastern modality and inflection of the important solo violin part vividly to life.
Christopher Morley

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