Sunday 9 December 2018

  • Day of events celebrates world-renowned, Coventry-born composer
  • BCMG musicians joined by the Arditti Quartet and Howard Skempton
  • First concert by inaugural cohort of NEXT early career musicians
  • Concert includes works by composers with Midlands links: Jonathan Harvey, Charlotte Bray and Michael Wolters

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Birmingham Contemporary Music Group (BCMG) and the Arditti Quartet will join forces at Royal Birmingham Conservatoire to celebrate the 75th birthday of one of today’s most influential and internationally-renowned composers, Brian Ferneyhough. 

A day of events centred around the Coventry-born composer’s music takes place on Sunday 9 December at Royal Birmingham Conservatoire, part of Birmingham City University.  BCMG musicians will be joined by long-time collaborators and champions of Ferneyhough’s music, the Arditti Quartet, and the inaugural cohort of NEXT early-career musicians.  The day begins with a meeting of minds with Brian Ferneyhough In Conversation with fellow composer Howard Skempton.

Born in Coventry in 1943, Brian Ferneyhough studied at the Birmingham School of Music (now Royal Birmingham Conservatoire) before moving to Europe and later to California.  He is recognised as one of the most important, influential and creative of contemporary composers.  His works are renowned for their dazzling intricacy with technical demands that push the boundaries of compositional thinking.  

In the second of two afternoon concerts, ‘Ideal & Flying Height’ (4pm), which takes the theme of Icarus as its starting point, the Arditti Quartet and clarinettist Oliver Janes perform Ferneyhough’s La Chute d’Icare (the clarinet representing Icarus) and the concert also includes Funérailles I & II (for seven strings and harp, dating to 1969 and 1980 respectively) which allude to Liszt’s work of the same name.

Earlier in the day, the inaugural group of NEXT musicians give their first public performance with BCMG in Ferneyhough’s 2007 work for string quartet Dum Transisset I-V – a tribute to 16th-century composer and organist Christopher Tye – plus music by other composers.  The musicians will work alongside the composer and the Arditti Quartet, who premiered the work.  Launched earlier this year by BCMG and the Conservatoire, NEXT is a unique one-year programme offering post-graduates and early career musicians unprecedented training, coaching and performance opportunities to become specialist contemporary classical musicians. Brian Ferneyhough will be awarded an Honorary Doctorate by Birmingham City University as part of this event.

‘Ideal & Flying Height’ also features works by leading contemporary composers with Midlands links: Sutton Coldfield-born Jonathan Harvey’s Scena, Trauerkonzert (Funeral Concerto) by Michael Wolters, the Conservatoire’s Deputy Head of Composition, and Conservatoire alumna Charlotte Bray’s Beneath the Dawn Horizon in its first complete public performance.

BCMG’s Artistic Director, Stephan Meier says,Brian Ferneyhough's music overflows with shape, but in its core, it is melodic. It addresses narratives we all share: the dream of learning to fly; the experience of the failure doing so, and the still surviving hope that may one day be possible. Ferneyhough’s music is known for its complexity but we shouldn’t forget its humanity and diversity: the pieces we perform in our Ferneyhough Day include a conjuring of Icarus’s stunning achievement of flight. As Icarus sought to soar ever higher, we push the boundaries of what’s possible – involving the next generation of musicians in partnership with the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire in a tribute to this extraordinary figure in contemporary music.”

Brian Ferneyhough day is at Royal Birmingham Conservatoire on Sunday 9 December. For tickets and details visit or phone 0121 616 2616.