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The City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

The City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra (CBSO) is one of the UK’s leading symphony orchestras. Based at Birmingham’s Symphony Hall, it performs over 100 concerts each year in Birmingham, around the UK and overseas, as well as managing three symphonic choruses, a community choir, a youth orchestra, and a Learning and Participation programme that touches tens of thousands of lives every year. As it approaches its 100th anniversary in 2020, the CBSO is proud to have won a global reputation while remaining firmly rooted in the UK’s second-largest city.

Founded by Birmingham’s civic leaders as a way of restoring the city’s confidence immediately after the First World War, the CBSO gave its first symphonic concert in November 1920 – conducted by Sir Edward Elgar. Under principal conductors such as Adrian Boult, Rudolf Schwarz, Andrzej Panufnik and Louis Frémaux, the CBSO continued to serve the city through war, recession and social change, winning an artistic reputation that spread far beyond Birmingham itself. Guest conductors in the early years of the Orchestra included Gustav Holst, Jean Sibelius, Pierre Monteux and Bruno Walter.

But the Orchestra really came into the international spotlight when, in 1962, it gave the world premiere of Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem in the newly-rebuilt Coventry Cathedral. 18 years later in 1980, the CBSO appointed the 25-year old Simon Rattle as its principal conductor. Between 1980 and 1998 Rattle and the CBSO became globally famous, both for the energy and optimism of their music-making, and the way they worked together to build Birmingham’s prestige as a cultural centre.

Under Rattle’s direction, the CBSO became one of the world’s leading advocates of contemporary music, commissioning and premiering major works by John Adams, Hans Werner Henze, Sofia Gubaidulina, Magnus Lindberg, Tristan Murail, Toru Takemitsu, Berthold Goldschmidt and Thomas Adès, amongst many others. Mark-Anthony Turnage became the CBSO’s Composer in Association in 1989, and in 1991 the orchestra moved into the purpose-built Symphony Hall, widely recognised as the finest new hall in Europe.

Rattle’s successors Sakari Oramo (1998-2008) and Andris Nelsons (2008-2015) helped cement that worldwide reputation, as well as building on Rattle’s pioneering community work. The CBSO has appeared at all major European venues and festivals, including the Lucerne Festival, Salzburger Festspiele and BBC Proms, as well as New York’s Mostly Mozart. Critics of Ongaku No Tomo voted a CBSO concert in Tokyo as Japan’s best orchestral performance in 2013. And the CBSO continues to add to its extensive, award-winning discography. In 2008, the CBSO’s recording of Saint-Saëns’ complete piano concertos was named the best classical recording of the last 30 years by Gramophone.

The CBSO Chorus, meanwhile, is celebrated in its own right. Directed by Simon Halsey CBE, this symphonic choir made up of “amateur professionals” performs regularly with the CBSO, as well as being in demand internationally. It has appeared with the Vienna Philharmonic, Berlin Philharmonic, Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra and Singapore Symphony Orchestra, and sang at the opening of the Olympic Games in Sydney in 2000. The CBSO Children’s Chorus and Youth Chorus showcase singers as young as eight, while the CBSO Youth Orchestra gives that same opportunity to young instrumentalists aged 14-21.

Now, under the leadership of music director Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla, associate conductor Michael Seal and assistant conductor Jonathan Bloxham, the CBSO continues to build on its strengths as an international orchestra based in a diverse and energetic 21st century city. We hope you enjoy the CBSO’s performances in China and extend the warmest possible invitation to come and hear us in our home: Birmingham, the “Heart of England”.

Our story

Read about the history of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra since it began in 1921.

Video: The CBSO in China

Stephen Maddock, Chief Executive of the CBSO, introduces the orchestra and its upcoming debut tour to China.

The CBSO tour to China


Friday 30 December 2016, 8.00pm

Guangzhou Opera House



Sunday 1 January 2017, 8.00pm

Changsha Concert Hall



Tuesday 3 January 2017, 7.30pm

Shanghai Grand Theatre



Thursday 5 January 2017, 7.30pm

NCPA, Beijing