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Universe of Sound: The Planets at Birmingham Municipal Bank

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by Andy Coleman (subscribe)
I'm a freelance writer living in Birmingham. I like Classic Rock, 70s pop music, football and interviewing celebrities. Follow me on Twitter: @andycoleman9
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Find yourself at the centre of a symphony orchestra
Have you ever wanted to play percussion with a top class orchestra or know what it feels like to be sitting alongside a musician who is performing Gustav Holst's The Planets on stage? Or would you prefer to conduct an orchestra as it progresses through a major work? Maybe you simply want to be in the centre of the action as the performers bring a piece of music to a crescendo?

All these things are possible at a free interactive experience taking place in Birmingham city centre from May 25 – June 16.

Universe of Sound: The Planets
Banging the drum: Interactive fun at Universe of Sound: The Planets (Pic: Andrew Corrigan)

The former Municipal Bank on Broad Street has been transformed into a digital musical installation, Universe of Sound: The Planets, with the Philharmonia Orchestra performing The Planets on big screens throughout the exhibition.Tiny cameras fitted to instruments filmed the orchestra in concert which helps create the impression that the viewer is among the 132 musicians.

At the centre of the installation is a planetarium-style dome with a 360 degree projection giving an all round view of the orchestra conducted by Esa-Pekka Salonen.

Universe of Sound: The Planets
At the centre: Tiny cameras capture the musical action (Pic: B. Ealovega)

A series of side rooms highlight different orchestra sections such as brass, strings, woodwind and percussion. There is sheet music in each area and visitors are invited to bring their own instruments to play along. Those without instruments are not excluded as the percussion section has tubular bells, drums, triangle and glockenspiel, complete with on-screen tuition and Guitar Hero- style graphics, to play along.

In another room there is instruction on conducting the orchestra – not as easy as it seems!

Along the way knowledgeable guides and orchestra members are on hand to answer questions.

For classical music enthusiasts there is the added attraction of a newly commissioned work, Worlds, Stars, Systems, Infinity, by Joby Talbot which aims to continue Holst's masterpiece.
Esa-Pekka Salonen says: ''This project offers everyone, from the very young to the very old, from the absolute novice to the experienced musician, the chance to step right into the heart of one of the world's finest symphony orchestras.''

Universe of Sound: The Planets
Not easy: Conducting an orchestra at Universe of Sound (Pic: Andrew Corrigan)

A weekend of family fun at Symphony Hall from June 14 – 16 complements the exhibition.

On June 14 Stanley Kubrick's classic Sci-Fi movie 2001: A Space Odyssey will be screened to a live soundtrack by the Philharmonia and Birmingham's Ex Cathedra choir.
On Saturday, June 15, the Universe of Sound Family Day takes place at Symphony Hall Cafe Bar. Workshops and demonstrations will combine explorations of music, space and the solar system. Families can also enjoy The Orchestra Dream, a treasure hunt around Symphony Hall that involves finding graphics of orchestral instruments. It runs from May 25 – June 16.
A live performance of The Planets by the Philharmonia Orchestra and the City of Birmingham Choir is at Symphony Hall on the evening of June 15.

Richard Hawley, Symphony Hall's Director of Artistic Programming and Projects, says: ''Working alongside the Philharmonia is a thrilling opportunity. We invite music and science fans, families and the downright curious to visit the installation, take part in hands-on activities at our family day and enjoy the rare performance of 2001: A Space Odyssey.''
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Why? Interactive digital installation that puts the visitor at the centre of an orchestra
When: May 25 - June 16
Phone: 0121 780 3333
Where: Municipal Bank, Broad Street, Birmingham B1 2DR
Cost: Free entry to installation; various prices for Symphony Hall concerts
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