NEWS: First look inside the new Birmingham Conservatoire building

In one fell swoop, Birmingham has five new venues. Editor-at-Large Peter Bacon took a long around.

On Thursday the new Birmingham Conservatoire building opened its doors to reveal to VIPs and the media five fine new performance venues including the first integrated jazz club in any music college in the land.

“The conservatoire of the future” is the slogan being pedalled by the Birmingham City University marketing department, and giving the first of the opening speeches Dean of Faculty Prof. David Roberts used it to stress not only the facilities within the new building but also its situation, at the heart of  the digital and television creative hub of Birmingham City University’s burgeoning campus to the east of the city centre and very close to where the high-speed trains of the future will link in to Birmingham at Curzon Street.

The Concert Hall
The competitive spirit of the national underdog has been in place as long as Birmingham’s “second city” status, and it’s still alive and kicking; not even Birmingham Conservatoire Principal, Prof. Julian Lloyd Webber is prepared to rise above it. The £57 million investment in the new facilities had been wholly borne by the university, he stated proudly, in contrast to certain London colleges, and it had delivered “the finest facility of any music college in the UK”. And to cap it all, it had its own bespoke beer!

(For information, there is Conservatoire Ale available on draught from the Boult Bar, and a bottled Principal’s Ale, complete with the Julian Lloyd Webber signature on the label. Both are brewed by Wye Valley Brewery.)

On a more serious note, Prof. Lloyd Webber said: “The new Birmingham Conservatoire emerges at a difficult time for arts funding and music education, meaning our role in training the world’s next great musicians and actors is even more vital than ever…

“Of course, a building is only as effective as the people inside it, and my team and I will continue our work to ensure the future arts industry is not dominated by the wealthy elite. Our impressive programme of learning and widening music participation benefits thousands of children, young people and their families from diverse communities across England, and our new home will become the central hub of these crucial activities.”

The five public venues are a 500-seat concert hall; 148-seat recital hall, a 100-seat black box lab space, a 100-seat organ studio, and, most important to readers of LondonJazz, an 80-seat jazz club.

Eastside Jazz Club
The official launch of the different spaces will be with a festival in the spring of 2018, but Eastside Jazz Club will be up and running from next month with an ambitious programme of events featuring the conservatoire’s own students four nights a week, with the venue up for hire on other days. Already the classy U.S. duo of saxophonist Dave Liebman and pianist Richie Beirach are booked to appear at Eastside on 5 October, and the premier Birmingham jazz promoter Jazzlines will be presenting the Gilad Hekselman Trio with Mark Turner as their first event in the club on 16 November.

The club still had its sound desk and PA to be installed when I was shown around on Thursday but already it felt like a good place to listen to music. The band sounded pretty well balanced playing acoustically. Pianist Elliot Sansom declared the Yamaha grand in situ “fabulous”. All that was missing was a good audience, and that is going to be vital with the full programme being planned.

One of the things I have most admired about Birmingham Conservatoire has been the ethos that Head of Jazz, Jeremy Price, has been dedicated to championing: that the department’s students should not just be learning their art in the classrooms and practice spaces, but playing out here in the real world. It is why so many jazz students start their own pub nights around the city, and why BC graduates have, often single-handedly, grown the city’s public jazz activity for all of us.

So it’s thoroughly appropriate that this outward facing musical activity which until now has had to happen outside the conservatoire due to restricted facilities, can at last occur within the walls of learning.

Young people coming to Birmingham Conservatoire to study jazz could be forgiven for thinking they have arrived in heaven.

Here is a virtual tour of the new Birmingham Conservatoire:

LINKS: Birmingham Conservatoire

Categories: miscellaneous

Leave a Reply