The Birmingham Contemporary Music Group returns to live indoor performances next month to showcase new music inspired by poets Paul Celan and Rabindranath Tagore, including creative responses to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The classical music collective, known as BCMG, have announced two dates at the CBSO centre in Birmingham. They are scheduled to perform on 22 November and 13 December.

The musicians will offer five world premiere performances in what will mark the new music ensemble’s first live indoor concerts in front of an audience for over eight months.

BCMG String Quartet in rehearsal at the CBSO CentreJames Oprey
BCMG String Quartet in rehearsal at the CBSO Centre

One of the world’s foremost new music ensembles with Sir Simon Rattle as Founding Patron, the Arts Council supported group has continued in its commitment to support and showcase the best in new music during the pandemic through its ‘BCMG at Home’ series of digital commissions, online videos, blogs and resources.

Next month sees the group return to delivering indoor venue performances to live audiences with material celebrating the works of Romanian-born poet Paul Celan and Nobel Prize for Literature winner Rabindranath Tagore from Bangladesh.

The first concert, titled ‘Words from Abroad’, will see BCMG celebrating the 100th anniversary of the birth of poet Paul Celan (1920-1970) with three world premiere performances during a concert at the CBSO centre on 22 November.

Celan experienced tragedy when he lost both of his parents in the Holocaust and he suffered intense loneliness and isolation, yet despite the ravages and horrors he endured he used his poetry to overcome the despair.

The late Paul Celan (pictured alongside his grave) lost his parents in the Holocaust and used poetry to find healingPublic Domain / Martim Ottmann
The late Paul Celan (pictured alongside his grave) lost his parents in the Holocaust and used poetry to find healing

Celan was passionate about poetry and language and remarked, “There is nothing in the world for which a poet will give up writing, not even when he is a Jew and the language of his poems is German.”

Stephan Meier, artistic director at Birmingham Contemporary Music Group, spoke about the importance of music to inspire the people during a traumatic time in human history as families and communities face an uncertain future under the constant threat of COVID-19.

“Throughout these difficult months BCMG has strived to continue pursuing our main objective which is to bring composers, musicians, and audiences together in a meaningful way.

“Our upcoming concerts – our first at our home venue since March – present some of the results of that work. Using these unprecedented times as a stimulus for creativity, we reflect on the impact of the pandemic with some of today’s most interesting musical minds and we see our celebration of Paul Celan’s centenary launched earlier this year take on a new and profound relevance, serving as a reminder to us that in times of isolation words are able to provide a refuge in their own right.”

The concert programme will also include musical renditions written by Param Vir and Christopher Fox of poems by James Fenton and Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941), as well as the world premiere live performance of ‘Couplet’ by Donghoon Shin, commissioned by BCMG.

Rabindranath Tagore (centre) was a Bengali poet, composer, philosopher and painter.Library of Congress
Rabindranath Tagore (centre) was a Bengali poet, composer, philosopher and painter

Tagore, often referred to as ‘the Bard of Bengal’, used his poetry to highlight the plight of the common people and to stand firm against tyranny. He challenged the injustices of the British Raj and advocated for independence from Great Britain.

In 1919, Tagore returned his Knighthood after the massacre of innocent Indian civilians by the British at Amritsar which left 379 dead and over 1,200 injured.

The Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918, which lasted for two years and killed millions around the globe, has chilling parallels with the current coronavirus pandemic raging across the world today.

Tagore never shied away from the trials and tribulations of life and wrote about some of the issues plaguing the contemporary world to inspire people towards hope and resilience. He wrote:

“Let me not pray to be sheltered from dangers
but to be fearless in facing them.

Let me not beg for the stilling of my pain
but for the heart to conquer it.”

Some of Tagore’s poetry was used by composer Param Vir and set to music which BCMG will perform during the premiere of ‘Words from Abroad’ on 22 November.

On 13 December, the BCMG String Quartet will give the live world premiere of ‘A Dust in Time’ (Passacaglia for Strings) by New York-based Chinese composer Huang Ruo. The work is inspired by the symbolism of the Tibetan sand mandala intertwined with the European tradition of the passacaglia.

According to a spokesperson for the Birmingham music group, “The work is a musical reflection on the lived experience of the COVID-19 pandemic exploring how no matter who we are or where we are, for many over the past few months our lives and memories seem to have slowly frozen in space and time.”

Huang Ruo joins rehearsals for 'A Dust in Time' at the CBSO Centre via video linkJames Oprey
Huang Ruo joins rehearsals for ‘A Dust in Time’ at the CBSO Centre via video link

Both concerts on 22 November and 13 December will invite a limited and socially-distanced audience to the CBSO Centre under current government COVID-19 guidelines with a number of new safety measures put in place to ensure audiences have a safe and enjoyable experience when visiting the venue.

BCMG will offer the audience two ticket options to access the live concerts.  For those interested in attending the live indoor performances they can purchase tickets to see the concerts at the CBSO Centre. The second option is to purchase digital access and watch selected performances online.

For further details about the concerts, including how to book tickets, visit the BCMG website here.

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