Classical: Out with the old and in with the new

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The Independent Culture


THE PIONEERING American composer Charles Ives (born 1874) survived till 1954. On which basis, let's hope that the BCMG's new music director, Thomas Ades (born 1971) will be around for 50-plus years of the new millennium. And that he - unlike Ives, who, felled by heart-failure and stress, lapsed into a Sibelius-like silence during his final decades - will still be composing then, in 2051, with the present BCMG, albeit toothless and white- bearded, still around to perform his music. (I promise to review them.)

The new CBSO Centre has a humdinger of an acoustic, credited to Russell Johnston of Artec, the company that played a key role in planning Symphony Hall. The CBSO, plus its proliferating offspring - the Chorus and Youth Chorus, the Birmingham Ensemble, the BCMG and the promising new CBSO players' "Centrestage" series - can now boast a home of their own, with several rehearsal and performance halls and all the permanent back-up space that is needed to house the entire, throbbing CBSO nexus under one roof.

Shuffle past Ronnie Scott's; weave your way along the seething length of a reinvigorated Broad Street; skirt canal-side Brindley Place, with its plentiful array of heaving restaurants; and a stroll down Berkley Street will land you on the doorstep of this new CBSO power-house.

A corner building, it used to be a factory churning out lead piping. The hazardous lead and asbestos may be gone, but happily a fresh toxicity has set in. The BCMG manufactures an especially noisome poison: beguiling sounds; fabulous solo work and ensemble playing, and challenging contemporary music programmes that make serialism as alluring as a Cornetto ad. Just the sort of thing to infect the young of Handsworth or Harborne, and which should be banned under a new clause 29 government edict, or face instant closure by the (far-sighted) Birmingham city authorities. Oh yes, plus an "independent" inquiry.

Simon Rattle remains artistic adviser, but Ades is the new boss. His programming is already proving a joy. Ives, Conlon Nancarrow (the world premiere of his 2nd Movement for Chamber Orchestra), a piece (Partners in Psychology) by the comparably time-and-pattern-conscious 30-year-old pupil of Michael Finnissy and Jonathan Harvey, Sam Hayden; and to cap it all, Ades's own wonderful concoction, his Chamber Symphony, a work that reveals all his own extraordinary Ivesian or Schnittke-esque gifts for weaving parody and mimicry, subliminal echoes and ingenious borrowings, into a voice that is uniquely and fabulously his own. Ades's infinitely varied, moody and subtly shaded Chamber Symphony remains one of his best works, and is due to be recorded by him for EMI - with the BCMG's excellent string-woodwind soloists - at the end of this month.

The pianist Peter Donohoe, with Mark Elder and a handful of BCMG stalwarts, gave an "extra" Janacek concert in the CBSO Centre the next day; and there's still time to catch the last of Elder's fabulous Janacek-Rachmaninov series tomorrow.

Symphony Hall, Birmingham (0121-212 3333) and BBC Radio 3, tomorrow at 7.30pm