Christopher Morley writing in the Birmingham Post - March 16 2006:
On Saturday Halesowen's Cornbow Hall is the venue for the latest in Halesowen Orchestra's enterprising series of events under the awesomely hard-working Martin Leigh. Brahms' stirring First Symphony is the main work in the concert ..., and which also includes Dvorak's Gothic-horror tone-poem The Golden Spinning Wheel, with narration by the Birmingham Post's classical music correspondent.
Richard Bratby writing in Metro - July 27 2005:
Opera - Eugene Onegin
It's an ambitious first concert for the rebranded Birmingham Chamber Orchestra. But young conductor Martin Leigh … has a good track record with big projects, and the young cast look right for the job. When the ingredients of an opera production are this carefully prepared, who needs scenery?
Christopher Morley writing in the Birmingham Post - November 30 2004:
Ambitious, possibly foolhardy, Sunday afternoon's programme from the Birmingham University Musical Society Symphony's Orchestra turned into something of a triumph for the industrious players and their equally hardworking conductor Martin Leigh.
Leigh does certainly believe in putting himself through it. Only a few hours previously, Saturday evening had seen him directing the Knowle Sinfonia in two demanding symphonies (Sibelius 3 and Tchaikovsky 2), and now here he was proposing to take the University Orchestra through several major scores of the early 20th century.
The most revolutionary of the works on offer here was the set of Five Orchestral Pieces by Webern, where a comparative handful of notes distils a vast soundworld into a few short moments. With every event demanding crystalline clarity and pinpoint accuracy, this was undoubtedly the most searching item on the programme, and some of the performers seemed to deliver their parts with little understanding or conviction.
An equally small orchestra accompanies Ravel's Trois poemes de Stephane Mallarme, lovely wistful settings involving a substantial part for piano despatched here by the attentive Jeanette Wong. Mezzo-soprano [sic] Elisabeth Toye floated some beautiful tones.
The piece opens with a small-scale version of Daybreak from Ravel's Daphnis and Chloe, whose Suite no.2 found a huge BUSO meticulously prepared, brave in attack, but ultimately lacking in the music's paramount quality: emotion.
Finally, Stravinsky's landmark Rite of Spring found Leigh and his orchestra capable and willing, despite some false entries and occasional loss of nerve. Tempi were sometimes over-deliberate, but the endeavour was exhilarating and rewarding.
Christopher Morley writing in the Birmingham Post - July 30 2004:
Martin Leigh summoned playing of commendable concentration. [in Cosi fan tutte]
Leigh's orchestra [Halesowen Chamber Orchestra] played with enthusiasm and much style, and the woodwind produced some sweet serenade-like sounds.
Maggie Cotton writing in the Birmingham Post - March 9 2004:
Conductor Martin Leigh handled the transparent score [Ravel Piano Concerto in G] with sensitivity allowing the telling solos to shine through from the orchestra, accompanying with care.
Liz Hazelton writing in the Halesowen News - February 5 2004:
A crescendo of ambition for the town's orchestra.
The new mood can be traced back to the appearance of frighteningly-talented conductor Martin Leigh in 1999...
Christopher Morley writing in the Birmingham Post - November 24 2003:
Halesowen Orchestra, Cornbow Hall
These 60-odd musicians perform with immense talent, dedication, enthusiasm, and marked professionalism...
...highly-musical and personable conductor, Martin Leigh...
...overwhelming evidence of thorough and purposeful preparation. Dvorak's In Nature's Realm was an attractive opener, its dance-like second subject enchantingly given, and a persuasive example of how much these players enjoy their music-making.
Christopher Morley writing in the Birmingham Post - November 21 2003:
Amateur players set new standard
Founded in 1986, the Halesowen Orchestra tackles probably its major work to date on Saturday when it performs Tchaikovsky's Pathetique Symphony in the town's Cornbow Hall.
Demanding both technically and emotionally, the work puts huge pressures on its performers, not least the strings (the concert also includes the same composer's Serenade for Strings), and the fact that the orchestra feels confident enough to programme the piece is a tribute not only to the standard these amateurs have reached, but also to the coaching of their conductor, Martin Leigh.
Boasting a regular membership of around 60 musicians, with ages ranging from 16 to 80, the Halesowen Orchestra also offers a thriving social scene, with outings, visits to concerts and regular meals together as part of its fabric.
But it is the music-making which is its chief mission, and conductor Martin Leigh sees the orchestra as a way for perhaps timid individuals to develop their confidence.
'We've some very decent players here,' he says, 'but some of them are terrified of playing. Then when they realise they actually can deliver an important solo within an orchestral piece, the result is amazing!'
The orchestra has come a long way since its inception, when the early years saw a constant struggle to maintain a complement sufficient to perform even lightly-scored 18th-century works; I know, for I succeeded its founder as conductor until certain reviewing commitments took me elsewhere.
It now has its own interactive website, and boasts an impressive array of performances, not only in its home town of Halesowen, but also further afield. Last summer, its offshoot Chamber Orchestra gave two concerts at the Crescent Theatre in the heart of Birmingham, where it hopes to return with Mozart's Così fan tutte next year, and the parent orchestra has dates in its diary for Dudley Town Hall and the CBSO Centre, as well as Halesowen, next year, too.
This CBSO Centre programme will see the HO playing another demanding late 19th-century symphony, Brahms' Fourth. 'I like to stretch them,' smiles Leigh.
Leigh sees the orchestra's structure as an 'Athenian democracy. We have no committee, but everybody has the chance to have their say.' He also regards it as 'just fabulous training' for himself, and has an attractive response to my question about the orchestra's growing membership.
'They do the attracting, I have to do the keeping!'
Peter Krarup writing in the Birmingham Post - July 28 2003:
No small feat for amateur ensemble
Halesowen Chamber Orchestra, Crescent Theatre
... Leigh's dynamic leadership inspired the orchestra to moments of passion ...
In the piano concerto, Leigh both played the solo part and conducted the orchestra whenever his hands were free, just as Mozart would have done. Leigh displayed great sensitivity...
Praiseworthy were also Leigh's efforts to enhance the audience's appreciation of the music intellectually, laying out a 'roadmap' of the Mozart 40 in the programme notes.
Elsie Weatherburn writing in the Solihull News - June 2003:
The Knowle Sinfonia, leader Vivienne Brown, gave its Summer Concert in the Church of Our Lady of the Wayside, Shirley.
The venue of the concert away from the base of Arden School proved to be successful audience-wise and particularly musical. The concert was well prepared and delivered with a certain élan.
Verdi's Overture 'The Force of Destiny' gave the evening a good start. Then, Kevin Boyd, principal horn, was soloist in Mozart's Concerto no.4. He demonstrated a high degree of technical and musical skill giving much pleasure to the listeners.
The evening ended with Tchaikovsky's Symphony no.4 - a challenge remarkably well met. Conductor Martin Leigh controlled, cajoled and commanded possibly some of the most exciting playing the orchestra has achieved. He made abundantly clear the superb orchestration that is Tchaikovsky's. All sections performed to their maximum levels providing not only quite thrilling sounds but also tranquil interweaving passages in the slow movement.
I look forward to their next concert.
Clare Mackney writing in the Birmingham Post - June 28 2000:
It's rare and stunning so catch it if you can
Giulio Cesare, Birmingham Conservatoire
Conveying the splendour of Handel's Egyptian opera, Giulio Cesare, with its mighty themes of statesmanship, love and revenge, in the usually rather dreary environs of the Conservatiore's Recital Hall, is not for the feint-hearted.
In the face of this challenge, the Conservatoire School of Vocal and Operatic Studies, with directors Martin Leigh and Kate Brown, have pulled off a three and a half hour production (in Italian, and only modestly cut) of quite stunning professionalism and imagination.
The venue was transformed with a long central platform, reminiscent of the deep staging of Handel's time, simply but dramatically lit. Modest props were highly effective and engagingly eccentric costumes were pitched somewhere between the contemporary and the symbolic.
But fundamentally, it was the performances that made this such a gripping experience. Among Thursday's soloists ... the three breeches roles were particularly impressive (a velvet-voiced Giulio Cesare ...), while the parts of the tragic widow Cornelia and the scheming Achillas were brilliantly sung.
Characterisation, especially of the growth of Cleopatra from coquette to woman of passion, and the pantomime villain depiction of Ptolomaus, was inspired, as was the sizzling stagecraft, where the eight-strong chorus made an essential contribution. Easily overlooked amid all this spectacle was the support of the excellent period instrument band, led by Leigh.
Altogether, a rare and remarkable achievement. Catch it if you can.
Peter Palmer writing in the Nottingham Evening Post June 1997:
'Martin Leigh gave a spellbinding performance'
[Brahms chamber music with the Allegri String Quartet]
Peter Palmer writing in the Nottingham Evening Post April 1996:
'Martin Leigh's magisterial performance'
[Mozart's KV595 with the Nottingham University Sinfonia]