Monday 31 August 2020

CBSO celebrates 100 years

CBSO celebrates 100 years!
The City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

I was born in Longbridge Lane, Birmingham in 1933, in the shadow of the Austin car factory where my father worked. That year Hitler came to power and seven years later he was sending his bombers to hit Birmingham’s industrial centres. Fortunately by then our family had moved to the safety of rural Worcestershire (where the sauce comes from).

After the war, in 1949 I returned to Birmingham at the age of sixteen to study painting at the College of Art and to marvel at the grotesque bombed ruins - fascinating sketchbook subjects. By the fifties, with no money for lunch, I would be popping over to the free lunchtime concerts at the Town Hall by the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, where the charismatic Viennese Rudolf Schwarz (who had miraculously survived two Nazi concentration camps) was about to become chief conductor. Thanks to this Maestro and the CBSO I got a significant introduction to classical music – a new world of inspiration was opening up to me that would characterise my life’s work. I began to wonder whether I shouldn’t have studied music. But my instrument was already the paintbrush.

Decades later, the old war-scarred industrial city of Birmingham was changing into a dynamic cultural centre, with a splendid new Symphony Hall for the CBSO. My association with some of those changes and the story of my life painting music was recorded (in 1993) in a fifty-minute documentary for BBC Television: Concerto for Paintbrush and Orchestra. It linked my paintings of great musicians to the sound of the music that inspired them (so that you heard the painting, as it were), then continued with a live performance of my kinetic painting with the CBSO, conducted by Simon Rattle. 

A clip from the 1993 BBC documentary "Concerto for Paintbrush and Orchestra"
And now, on September 5th 2020, to celebrate the Centennial of this world-famous orchestra, Sir Simon is conducting a concert in, of all places, a warehouse in my birthplace in Longbridge! The concert will be live-streamed for all.

After the 1993 televised highlight twenty-five years went by, before my meeting with the new Music Director Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla led to another CBSO collaboration. She agreed with me that The Sea by the legendary Lithuanian artist/composer Čiurlionis (1875-1911) would be the perfect work to combine with my fluid lyrical painting, as a total work of art. After forty-five years of live performances worldwide, this concert on February 16th. 2019, appropriately in Birmingham Symphony Hallwas to be my swan song.

CBSO playing the 2019 UK premier of The Sea by Čiurlionis, with my simultaneous live paintings on screen.

I feel so grateful that I can, with considerable nostalgia, scroll through a lifetime of associations with the CBSO and that I found the opportunities to make portraits of four of their Music Directors in full swing, Simon Rattle, Sakari Oramo, Andris Nelsons and Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla. 

 Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla conducting Mahler 1 with the CBSO in 2017. 
Watercolour 1491 x 1428 cm.
N.B. The CBSO has been nominated for the 
Gramophone Orchestra of the Year Award. Vote here for your support before Sept. 7th!

Saturday 22 August 2020

Frans Brüggen


My Frans Brüggen (1934-2014)
 has found a good home

It gives me great pleasure that my watercolour of the legendary virtuoso recorder player Frans Brüggen has found a good home in the hands of an excellent recorder player who was one of his many fans. As a young man, he was the idol of would-be recorder players worldwide, myself included!

Painted in 1983, shortly after Frans co-founded the wonderful Orchestra of the Eighteenth Century, of which he became such a dedicated conductor. I seized the opportunity to make sketches during rehearsals when my late wife the cellist Vivian King played briefly in the orchestra. Soon after this Frans gave up the recorder to devote all of his energies to his orchestra.
Frans Brüggen, watercolour  61 x 48 cm, 1983

In those years, I was searching for a free way to go with flow, to suggest the movement in a less is more style. The following year I was in Japan, soaking up the freedom of their brushwork. Here's the Link to my blog on that line of thought around 1984.

Frans Brüggen conducting 62 x 57 cm, chalk, 1983

pencil sketch of Frans conducting, approx. 40 x 30 cm. 
(The drawings are still for sale, by the way).