Birmingham's Jewellery Quarter is set to host a 'huge cultural olympiad event'. Christopher Morley gets ready to roll.
Somehow the arts (always just about on the periphery of those who know the price of everything and the value of nothing) have become important this year, what with the Diamond Jubilee (no problem with that) and the treasury-emptying Olympics (which our political masters successfully courted just before the hugest financial crisis in our history).
So, as a result, of munificently doshed-out funding which has somehow been found, events are proliferating country-wide in celebration of this London-centric extragavanza, and this Bank Holiday sees a huge cultural olympiad event taking over Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter (some possible compensation for its traders not receiving any medal-making orders) on Sunday.
“Ping It, Ring It, Roll It, Write It” is the title for this day of musical fun and games, part of the PRS For Music Foundation’s New Music 20x12 programme, and David Saint, acting principal of Birmingham Conservatoire, is delighted at the success that Conservatoire composition staff have achieved in securing four of these 20 commissions, which were “hotly contested. This event will be a great adventure for the whole family and will prove that contemporary music can be enjoyed by anyone”.
And this promises much to enthral people of all ages, its multiple, repeated performances filling the day with quirky offerings alongside workshops, talks, face-painting, Wii games and video screenings, and, importantly, an onsite café.
“Ping” is a collaboration between Birmingham Conservatoire head of composition Joe Cutler, the Coull String Quartet and Fusion Table Tennis Club, plus film by the international visual artist Tom Dale.
“My family was table tennis mad,” says Joe, “and my brother Tom became a professional player. He and I had discussed the idea of making a piece that used the sounds of table tennis in some way, and I saw this as the perfect opportunity.
“My wife plays viola in the Coull String Quartet, and string quartet seemed an excellent medium to combine with table tennis as they both share things in common, like the way the bow bounces on the string, or percussive effects like left-hand pizzicati, which are not so dissimilar from the sounds made during a table tennis match.
“We chose to work with four table tennis players to mirror the four players of the quartet, providing a sense of two distinct ‘teams’. In most of the piece, the table tennis players are like dancers, responding to the music by building a complex choreography around the music. At the centre of the piece, there is an actual match where the musicians underscore what is happening in table tennis.’’
Joe himself used to play at county level, “but I lacked the talent of my brother! This project has been a good opportunity to revisit an obsession of my youth, and we recently bought a table tennis table for the garden. Growing up, one of our biggest heroes was Desmond Douglas. He was one of the best table tennis players in the world for around twenty years, and comes, of course, from Birmingham. Rumour has it, that he might be making an appearance on May 6th!”
‘Five Rings Triples’ is a typically thoughtful response by Howard Skempton to an invitation to write a piece for church bells.
“I was attracted to the project because it was clear at the outset that it would be a unique challenge; that I would have almost no room for manœuvre,” he explains. “The rules of method ringing are determined by physical constraints and the need for methods to be memorised. I was determined to create something both distinctive and musical, but I was dealing entirely with numbers.”