Birmingham’s Essential Entertainment Guide
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The past 14 months has seen one of the UK’s premier performance venues undergo a massive £13.2million transformation of its public spaces, thanks to funds raised prior to the pandemic.
Since its opening in 1991, Symphony Hall’s 2,262-seater auditorium has hosted some of the UK’s - and indeed the world’s - top musicians, comedians, dancers, wordsmiths and actors, its eclectic line-up drawing audiences from across the Midlands region and beyond.
The charity responsible for Symphony Hall - and also for Birmingham Town Hall - has been renamed. Previously called Performances Birmingham Ltd, it has now rebranded to B:Music, a name which it believes better reflects its mission to ‘inspire a love of music through performance, participation and learning’.
Away from the main stage, the Symphony Hall foyer has provided a platform for many local artists to showcase their talent across the years - and it’s this area which has benefitted from the recent transformation.
Entrances to the building are now sited on either corner of the venue - in addition to access via the International Convention Centre (ICC).
New seating areas and upgrades to bars and cafe spaces give the foyer a sparkling new look. But it’s the new Jennifer Blackwell performance space that will make the biggest impression going forward, as the music industry begins to recover from the devastating impact of the pandemic.
Nick Reed, Chief Executive of B:Music, said: “Music will play a powerful role in reuniting communities after the isolation and hardship of the past year. We hope that Symphony Hall will be a beacon for that reconnection.”
The Jennifer Blackwell space will offer local artists more opportunities to perform as part of a daily programme of free and affordable events and activities. The space is this month being showcased during a free open weekend (16 & 17 July). Performers will include: BBC Young Jazz Musician 2018, Xhosa Cole; Europe’s finest female a cappella quintet, Black Voices; and queer pop sensation Tom Aspaul.
Aiming to turn up the volume on Black Birmingham artists during its opening weekend, B:Music has invited musical responses on the theme of individual and systemic racism. These will be presented under This Is Not The Time For Silence banner. Birmingham-based singer-songwriter Relley C (main image) is one of the artists contributing to the project: “I can’t wait to share my original material with a live audience again. Just to be in the same space, share the same vibe and actually feel the music together at the same time is an experience that no virtual set-up could ever buy. I’m keen to get back on stage and present my earlier, recent and most exclusive songs with those lovely faces on 17 July. It’s going to be an amazing night!”
On Monday 2 August, Symphony Hall’s first non-socially distanced performance of 2021 will take place in the auditorium, when music icon Robert Plant takes to the stage with his band, Saving Grace.
“These two majestic venues (Town Hall as well as Symphony Hall) are such an inspiration,” says Robert, “not only to play in, but to enjoy the amazing mix of artists passing through. From the mid-1960s and the American folk blues packages with Sonny Boy, Son House and Bukka White, right through to John Prine and Lucinda Williams, an evening at these venues is a remarkable adventure for artists and audiences alike.”
Other new and notable events coming up at Symphony Hall include the first-ever B:Jazz Festival, presented in partnership with Jazz FM. Taking place from 23 to 28 August, the festival features Birmingham-born pianist and singer Reuben James. Regarded as one of the most exciting and creatively assured artists to have emerged in recent years, Reuben (pictured) is delighted to be returning to his home town to perform: "I'm very excited to be coming back to perform at B:Jazz Fest in front of my family, friends and a real audience. After the last year, I'm sure it's going to feel totally surreal. I have such a beautiful relationship with B:Music's Jazzlines programme - I was one of the educators at the very first Jazzlines Summer School back in 2012, so I very much feel like I've come full circle to now be performing on the Symphony Hall stage at their first B:Jazz Fest.”
The Jazzlines Summer School, as mentioned by Reuben, also takes place in August. This non-residential free-to-attend event is open to young musicians (aged 11 to 19) from Birmingham and the surrounding areas who want to develop key skills in aural training, ensemble musicianship, jazz repertoire and harmony. Application forms are available by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
Later-year highlights at Symphony Hall include piano maestro Jools Holland teaming up with R&B favourite Ruby Turner and pop legend Lulu for two pre-Christmas concerts on 20 & 21 December. Birmingham-born Ruby is excited at the prospect of once again performing at the venue: “It’s going to be a wonderful year ahead with the return of live music to Symphony Hall. I’m really looking forward to getting back to performing live music - and I know my fellow musicians are, too. I can’t wait to see the beautiful Symphony Hall auditorium full of people enjoying themselves once again.”
We’ve here covered just a small sample of what B:Music is offering in the coming months. For full listings on all future events, visit: bmusic.co.uk
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