Preview: Britten Sinfonia Lunchtime Series, Town Hall, Birmingham

From Krakow to Birmingham con brio
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The Independent Culture

When the Britten Sinfonia give their lunchtime concert at Birmingham's Town Hall on Monday, they will be fresh off the plane from Krakow, where they will have just played the same programme, and on successive days next week, they will repeat it in three other British cities. Nice for them to get their hand in with their Mozart and Ravel; nice for the composer Richard Causton, whose Divertimento they will also play, to hear his new work five times in a row. "With a piece that takes risks like this," he says, "it will be good to hear it so much we'll get a more rounded picture."

It was originally called As Kingfishers Catch Fire, from the Gerard Manley Hopkins poem: "It's about the extravagance and ebullience and fertility and overblownness of nature," explains Causton. "The way there are always five more species of any animal than there should be need for. When a piece is gestating, I put the idea up on the wall, and this poem puts it perfectly. Like the animals in the poem, I want the instruments to be unashamedly themselves. That will mean a lot of open fifths in the strings."

But will audiences find it accessible? "Yes, though that's not my conscious aim. I just want my music to serve its idea as clearly as is possible. I've given people a road-map of the piece in the programme."

At 36, Causton is one of our more successful young composers, in that his work gets regularly performed, but that's only relative: if a piece gets performed once a year, as his tend to, that's pretty good for this cash-starved field. Is the climate for composers getting worse? Are commissions and performances harder to obtain? "Yes on both counts. The Britten Sinfonia are unusual in that they can still offer them, and can still sell out their hall each time. They've created an audience that trusts them."

Town Hall, Birmingham (0121-780 3333), 17 December; West Road Concert Hall, Cambridge (01223 335184), 18 December; Wigmore Hall, London W1 (020-7935 2141), 19 December; Assembly House, Norwich (01603 626402), 20 December

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