By Christopher Morley



Take two years off for the pandemic lockdown and you reach the 80th anniversary of the Birmingham Philharmonic Orchestra, founded modestly in 1941 to accompany a wartime fund-raising performance of Handel’s Messiah.


The activities of the then South Birmingham Orchestra rapidly burgeoned, the ensemble soon adding the august term “Philharmonic” to its name, and eventually dropping the “South” when a Lord Mayor of Birmingham decreed the orchestra was of a standard which brought esteem to the entire city. Along the way it had already been broadcast live on the Midland Region of the BBC Home Service.


Since those heady days of the 1940s the BPO has grown exponentially, expanding its repertoire, widening its circle of performing venues as far afield as the prestigious St John’s in London’s Smith Square, and attracting soloists and conductors of the highest professional calibre.


BPO’s Principal Conductor for many decades has been Michael Lloyd, whose CV includes staff conducting at English National Opera and musically directing a lengthy run of The Sound of Music. He will conduct BPO’s belated 80th anniversary concert on October 22 at Birmingham Town Hall, featuring Elgar’s “Music Makers”, premiered there in 1912, and Beethoven’s “Choral” Symphony, premiered only ten years before the Town Hall’s 1834 opening.


Michael looks back appreciatively at the work of previous BPO conductors over the past 82 years.


“I am always conscious of the debt I owe my predecessors in building up this group to the level they have. Given that I have now had the immense luck to conduct all of Mahler’s symphonies (except 10) with the BPO, together with Das Lied, the Ruckert-Lieder,the Fahrenden Gesellen and Kindertotenlieder, I am always conscious of Kenneth Page’s courage in tackling Mahler when he did. I think he would be proud of the fact that we took up the Mahler baton from him and completed the cycle.”


Michael sums up what he sees as his achievement with Birmingham Philharmonic Orchestra.


“In essence all I do is try and make sure as many of them as possible enjoy the rehearsals, that they play together and listen to each other and follow the beat. As far as confidence and repertoire are concerned, they have definitely grown a lot, but mainly because they have always loved tackling big repertoire. They really do know now how to play Mahler, and on the back of that things like Shostakovich and Stravinsky (Rite of Spring and Petroushka, for instance) go really well


“I feel confident that what I bring to working with the BPO is something that works well for all of us. It is not possible, in my view, to expect non-professionals to play like professionals, but if you create the right atmosphere for them to enjoy the rehearsals and you are lucky, as I have been, with very talented players, it is possible to encourage them to play better than they thought they could. Perhaps the biggest thing I have brought to the orchestra is sheer idiocy in thinking I really want to conduct this piece so we might as well give it a go, rather than ‘Surely, this is impossible for them’!”.


*The Birmingham Philharmonic Orchestra performs Elgar’s Music Makers and Beethoven’s Choral Symphony (singers drawn from many local choral societies) at Birmingham Town Hall on October 22 (3pm).



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