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A sumptuous publication that rides the wave of pride surely engendered by the institution’s new designation of Royal Birmingham Conservatoire. Journalist and former Conservatoire teacher Christopher Morley’s survey functions both as fascinating history and beguiling showcase for what the RBC offers students today. Word has it that the Conservatoire is more than confident it’s well-placed to ride any Brexit buffeting, not least in terms of attracting overseas students, and this volume is the very embodiment of that optimism.

Morley’s story starts with belly laughing at the tale of how, when the Birmingham School of Music became the Birmingham Conservatoire in 1989, the institution’s switchboard was plagued with people demanding to speak either to an expert in building extensions or someone from the Tory party. Soon, Morley takes us back deep into the 19th century to recreate the Conservatoire’s origins in the singing classes started within the Birmingham and Midland Institute by one Richard Rickard – one of a string of shadowy figures who find new life on these pages, not least the ground-breaking first honorary principal of the Birmingham School of Music, William Stockley. Morley plots an engaging guided tour through the long string of Stockley’s successors down to current principal Julian Lloyd Webber, without ignoring downs as well as ups over the years.

Historical detail is enhanced by many captivating illustrations and the production as a whole is a photographic spectacular – maybe even overdone in its visual representation of today’s RBC, alongside examinations of each of the Conservatoire’s departments in turn. Not the least of Morley’s achievements is his inclusion of illuminating personal testimony from both staff and students, across many decades.

The book is blessed with an engaged and insightful foreword from RBC patron, Prince Edward. As for Julian Lloyd Webber, anyone who’s spent time in Birmingham witnessing the bold restructuring of its thriving centre will echo his words quoted here: ‘There is a special feeling about the city – perhaps that it’s on the verge of something very big.’

ANDREW GREEN Read the full review on Agora Classica

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