Annabel Knight

Annabel Knight

Annabel Knight, Recorder Tutor at Birmingham Conservatoire, discusses a surge of interest in the recorder and an upcoming festival.

Once upon a time, as a fresh college graduate, when people asked me what I did for a living, I was likely to tell a white lie. ‘I play the flute!’ I would say, with a smile which hid the slightly improbable and wider truth. It was easier than explaining that my work involved a lot of quite geeky research into music from unfashionably old and dusty historical eras played on an instrument that most people think of as some kind of musical torture tool.

Nowadays, I am more likely to confess straight away to being a professional recorder player – if nothing else, to enjoy the responses I get (I always have the ‘Harry Potter soundtrack’ card up my sleeve should things get tricky at social dos), even though at times I wish ‘instrumental discrimination’ was as much frowned upon as some other things in our society. The recorder is pretty much the ultimate punchbag when it comes to discussions about the hierarchy of instruments, and yet it has the longest and richest history of any of them (if you care to notice).

If you have your ear to the ground at all in the field of classical music, though, you may have noticed a recent surge in interest in the humble recorder, and a plethora of young talented individuals making the instrument their own. Take young recorder players Charlotte Barbour-Condini and Sophie Westbrooke, each reaching the concerto finals in the BBC Young Musician Competition in 2012 and 2014 respectively, with original and captivating performances of old, new and re-imagined repertoire. The Royal Overseas League awarded their Ensembles prize to a recorder quartet, Block4, performing contemporary music at the absolute highest level, earlier this year. And there is actually a real sense of ‘buzz’ in the air for a whole new generation of young recorder players (and composers) sensing they have something for themselves which is more than a little bit different.

In the Birmingham Conservatoire Recorder Department we take the recorder seriously and have a small, but keen and dedicated bunch of students and tutors. We are proud to be hosting a great new event at the Conservatoire next week – The Birmingham International Recorder and Early Music Festival is a unique celebration of recorder in all its guises.

The Young Solo Artists competition (sponsored by the Early Music Shop, Tim Cranmore and Recorder MusicMail for artists up to 18) will showcase an array of bright new talent from all over the UK and overseas, whilst internationally renowned professional players are presenting concerts with music from every era from the renaissance to music for amplified ‘square’ recorders and with live electronics. With everything else in between (trade stands with music and instruments, ensemble performances, professional masterclasses, workshops and demonstrations) this is one weekend not to miss!

Find out more about the festival at www.bcu.ac.uk/recorderfest and @BrumRecFest.

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