York Late Music opens 2023-24 season with Friday and Saturday day and night concerts at St Saviourgate Unitarian Chapel

Delta Saxophone Quartet: Martland, Soft Machine and new works on Saturday

WHO better than the Delta Saxophone Quartet to give York Late Music’s 2023-2024 concert season early momentum on Saturday?

A double celebration this weekend will mark not only 40 years of Late Music, but also the ruby anniversary of the Delta musicians, regular participants in the York series.

Saturday’s 7.30pm programme at the Unitarian Chapel, St Saviourgate, York, will be “typically Delta-eclectic”, featuring the music of Steve Martland, The Soft Machine and some new works.

Stuart O’Hara: Season-opening concert of English songs

The new series will begin on Friday at 1.30pm when bass singer Stuart O’Hara and pianist Marianna Cortesi take a tour through some of the finest English songs from the past decade: works by La Monte Young, Richard Rodney Bennett and Jonathan Harvey, complemented by world premieres of York composers’ settings of words by local poets.

On Friday evening, Late Music will pose the intriguing question: would you attend a concert where all the music was played twice? Would it help you appreciate the music more? Late Music wants to discover the answers in Ruth Lee’s innovative concert of music for harp and electronics. This one is a free/pay-what-you-like event. You could even choose to pay twice!

If your knowledge of accordion is limited to scene-setting via Hollywood movie conceptions of Paris – as sent up by American filmmaker Woody Allen in Everyone Says I Love You – Saturday’s lunchtime concert will put you right.

Franko Bozac: Never underestimate the accordion

Virtuoso Franko Bozac will showcase the reasons why this instrument should not be underestimated in his 1pm programme, featuring a collaboration between composer James Williamson and visual artist Romey T Brough, presented in tandem with Blossom Street Gallery, York.

November 4’s lunchtime concert will be a tribute to Dylan Thomas to mark the 70th anniversary of his death. Tenor Christopher Gorman and pianist David Pipe will present new settings of the Welshman’s poetry by composers Philip Grange, Sadie Harrison, Hayley Jenkins, David Lancaster and Rhian Samuel at 1pm.

In the evening, Beethoven will feature via Franz Liszt piano transcriptions, played by another Late Music favourite, Ian Pace. His 7.30pm programme will include Michael Finnissy’s Gershwin song transcriptions and Late Music concert administrator Steve Crowther’s Piano Sonata No. 4. Box office: latemusic.org.

Ruth Lee: Innovative concert of music for harp and electronics

REVIEW: Martin Dreyer’s verdict on York Musical Society & Philharmonischer Chor Münster, York Minster, June 10. PREVIEW: Academy of St Olave’s Summer Concert, June 17

Soprano soloist Elinor Rolfe Johnson

THREE early works by Vaughan Williams made an invigorating evening, when the choir of York’s twin

city, Münster, joined forces with York Musical Society’s choir and orchestra, all conducted by David Pipe.

The programme was dedicated to Philip Moore, organist emeritus of York Minster, who celebrates his 80th birthday in September. It also marked 25 years since Martin Henning – present here as a tenor – became conductor of the Münster choir.

Vaughan Williams’s first essay into symphonic realms, A Sea Symphony, was premiered at the Leeds Festival of October 1910, with the composer conducting and Edward Bairstow as organist. But he revised it extensively over the years until 1923.

He emphasised that the words are used symphonically, as a vehicle for the choir, which must therefore be considered an extension of the orchestral textures. Walt Whitman’s poetry is not unimportant, but the overall theme of human endeavour and the brotherhood of man is what really matters.

This message was at the heart of its success here. The symphony is a rambling affair, well over an hour, and not easy to distil. But Pipe kept his eye on the ball and his singers’ eyes on him, nursing them deftly through the work’s many minefields.

We must not, however, forget the sterling contribution made by the orchestra led by Nicola Rainger. The strings worked with ferocious devotion, while the brass – who have a much easier time of it – made hay, never looking back after blasting out the crucial opening fanfare triumphantly.

Solo soprano Elinor Rolfe Johnson was straight into her stride in Flaunt Out, O Sea, doubtless inspired by several thunderous moments in the first movement. She generated considerable resonance throughout the work with a cutting edge that was ideal in this company. The choral sopranos took courage from her and sustained their high tessitura superbly.

Julian Tovey’s pleasing baritone was at his best in the slow movement On The Beach At Night, Alone, evoking a “vast similitude” under a starry sky against a gentle orchestral swell. The movement ended marvellously quiet.

In the scherzo The Waves, string tremolos offered exciting underpinning to the gurgling ocean, where the choir really laid into their lines with relish. Its finish was thrilling.

The finale is long and floundering, not easy to sustain. But the choirs’ reserves of stamina carried the day. Pipe’s broad tempos were excellently judged for this vast acoustic; he wisely concentrated on the wood, not the trees, and took us from climax to climax with increasing fervour. The offstage semi-chorus provided by the Ebor Singers was eerily effective.

In their duet, the baritone did not quite balance the soprano, needing more operatic heft; he compensated on his own later. What mattered, though, was the exhilarating timelessness of Whitman’s vision, crystallised here in the ultra-soft ending.

The evening had begun with the composer’s first work to capture the attention of critics and public alike, Toward The Unknown Region (1907), a setting of Whitman’s Whispers Of Heavenly Death. Its opening was amorphous, even nervy, where the choral basses needed to deliver more. But it came to a fighting finish, spearheaded by the excellent sopranos.

Earlier still was the composer’s first orchestral work, Serenade in A minor (1898) for small orchestra, which followed. The orchestra enjoyed – and deserved – the spotlight it offered. The cellos framed a tidy Prelude and the galloping Scherzo was redolent of rural pursuits.

The Intermezzo found Vaughan Williams experimenting with different groupings, but the rhapsodic Romance had a pleasing clarinet solo and an unforgettable passage of very high coloratura for the first violins, which was despatched with panache. The Finale had a martial flow, ending with a fanfare flourish. It was well worth exhuming.

Review by Martin Dreyer

PREVIEW: Academy of St Olave’s Summer Concert, St OLave’s Church, Marygate, York, June 17, 8pm

The poster for the Academy of St Olave’s summer concert

THE Academy of St Olave chamber orchestra rounds off its 2022-23 season with a summer concert centred on England’s musical legacy, from symphonies written for
London audiences by the great Austrian composers Mozart and Haydn, to works by
English composers Frederick Delius, Ralph Vaughan Williams and Paul Patterson.

The concert is book-ended by Mozart’s first symphony and Haydn’s 100th, known as “The
Military”. Mozart composed his work in London during his family’s Grand Tour of
Europe in 1764, when the boy wonder was eight.

Likewise, Haydn’s composition was one of his 12 “London symphonies”, to be performed during his second visit to England in 1794-95. The prominent fanfares and percussion effects employed in the second and fourth movements prompted its “Military” moniker.

Delius’s Summer Night On The River and Vaughan Williams’s rarely heard Harnham Down are short impressionistic tone poems, with each composer taking inspiration from continental counterparts: in Delius’ case, Debussy, whereas the young Vaughan Williams was clearly still working under the influence of Wagner.

The programme is completed by Paul Patterson’s Westerly Winds, a four-movement suite for wind quintet commissioned in 1999 by the Galliard Ensemble. The composer describes it as “essentially a sequence of four short fantasias based on West Country folk tunes”, including Farmer Giles and Linden Lea.

Musical director Alan George says: “While our summer concert has a nominally
English theme, the programme also serves to demonstrate the rich cultural exchanges with
European neighbours that have helped form today’s musical landscape, with pieces originating from more than two centuries apart.

“I’m sure our audience will be delighted by the range of music on offer, including some relative rarities, all performed by the highly skilled musicians of the academy.”

The concert is in aid of St Leonard’s Hospice, the independent York charity that provides specialist palliative care and support for those with life-limiting illnesses. 

Tickets cost £15 or £5 for accompanied children (18 and under) at academyofstolaves.org.uk or on the door, if any are unsold.

REVIEW: Martin Dreyer’s verdict on York Musical Society, Requiem Aeternam, York Minster, March 11

Brittany King: Soprano soloist

TWO Requiems, one familiar, one rarely heard, were combined for this Lenten concert which, despite the biting cold both inside and out, attracted a considerable audience.

This was the ninth time that York Musical Society had given Fauré’s Requiem, dating back to its York premiere in 1949. By contrast, Michael Haydn’s Requiem in C minor had never been heard here before.

Haydn was a prolific composer, but never quite emerged from the shadow of Joseph, his elder brother by five years. His style was more conservative and thus also more predictable, rarely straying far from convention.

He was a good craftsman, however, and everything in his Requiem, written in December 1771 after the death of Archbishop Sigismund Schrattenbach – and in the wake of his infant daughter’s death – is neatly tailored and politely ordered. Just what the doctor ordered, in fact, for a decent funeral.

It found the choir in good voice, if at first more cautious than inspired. The Introit eerily heralded what Mozart was to produce fully two decades later. Haydn’s Dies Irae, although not as terrifying as Mozart’s, was strong, with the four soloists well led by Brittany King’s vibrant soprano; she was ably partnered by the contralto-toned mezzo of Marie Elliott.

Robert Anthony Gardiner’s tenor lacked heft in the latter stages of the Dies Irae, but he negotiated the opening of the Offertorium smoothly. Felix Kemp’s baritone offered a firm underpinning to the solo quartet, which was at its best in the Benedictus.

The choir really warmed to their task in the fugal passages at the end of the Offertorium, and although the Agnus Dei moves at a stately plod, it had a certain majesty here. The orchestra, with four seemingly omnipresent trumpets in fine voice, responded keenly to David Pipe’s authoritative beat, despite a bass line that barely pauses for breath.

Fauré’s justifiably well-loved Requiem was on a different plane. Faces were out of copies and engagement throughout the choir ranks was total. As a result, we had a lively Sanctus, much enhanced by the harp of Georgina Wells. We needed a touch more bite from the tenor line in the Agnus Dei, but there was plenty of fire in all voices for the ‘Dies illa, dies irae’ section of the Libera Me. The sopranos were truly angelic for the In Paradisum.

The two soloists were first-class. Felix Kemp found excellent legato for the ‘Hostias’ section of the Offertory and forthright resonance for the start of the Libera Me. Brittany King adopted a much straighter tone for the Pie Jesu and sustained it beautifully, making it sound much easier than it really is.

The violas, mellow and dusky, really came into their own in the orchestra – which only lacked flutes – and Pipe’s baton cajoled the choir as needed. Alhough he is now based in Leeds, we must hope that he maintains this valuable connection with York.

Review by Martin Dreyer

York Musical Society to perform Sir Karl Jenkins’s The Armed Man: A Mass For Peace at York Minster on November 19

Mezzo-soprano soloist Chloe Latchmore

YORK Musical Society will give a dramatic performance of Sir Karl Jenkins’s powerful work The Armed Man: A Mass For Peace at York Minster on November 19 with full orchestra and soloists.

YMS last performed this contemporary composition to a capacity audience in 2015, and its sentiment of “Better is peace than always war” is resonant anew in 2022.

To mark the transition to the new millennium in 2000, the Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds commissioned Jenkins to compose a work that looks forward with hope to a peaceful future after “the most war-torn and destructive century in human history”. However, the world is once again witness to much conflict, none more so than the present war in Ukraine.

Jenkins worked closely with Guy Wilson, Master of the Armouries at the time, to select the texts to be set to music in The Armed Man. Extracts of sacred texts from different world religions, including The Bible, the Mahabharata and the Islamic call to prayer, were combined with four parts of the Christian Latin Mass: Kyrie, Sanctus, Agnus Dei and Benedictus.

Words are also drawn from several secular sources, such as texts by Dryden, Tennyson, Rudyard Kipling and Japanese poet Toge Sankichi. Jenkins also combines a variety of musical styles to create what was to become a hugely successful and widely performed work.

To complement Jenkins’s Mass For Peace, YMS will perform Joseph Haydn’s Mass In Time Of War – Missa In Tempore Belli, also known as Paukenmesse (Kettle Drum Mass in German), due to its kettle drum solo.

Baritone soloist Thomas Humphreys

Haydn composed this work in 1796 during turbulent times, when his homeland of Austria was threatened with invasion by Napoleon Bonaparte. Nevertheless, this Mass, commissioned for Princess Maria Josepha of the Estaházy family, is often joyful and lyrical in tone.

The soloists will be soprano Ella Taylor, mezzo-soprano Chloe Latchmore, tenor Greg Tassell and baritone Thomas Humphreys. Ella is a former BBC Chorister of the Year with a passion for performing contemporary music; Yorkshire-born Chloe sang as a soloist with YMS for Bach’s St John Passion at York Minster in 2019; Greg sang the role of the roasting swan in Orff’s Carmina Burana for YMS at York Barbican in 2011; Thomas sings regularly with premier British choirs and orchestras and widely in opera too.

The Muezzin, who proclaims the Islamic call to prayer, will be Ustadh Mohamad Douba, an active member of York Mosque and Islamic Centre. He has been involved in York Welcomes Refugees, the association that gives sanctuary to those fleeing war and conflict.

York Musical Society’s musical director, David Pipe, says: “We’ve enjoyed exploring these contrasting works over the last two months. Karl Jenkins’s The Armed Man has become a modern classic, marrying a huge range of texts with an equally extensive range of musical styles.

“Haydn’s Missa In Tempore Belli, despite its military overtones, has an undeniable sense of optimism, sending the listener out on a wave of jubilant trumpet and drum fanfares.”

Tickets for this 7.30pm concert are on sale at the York Theatre Royal box office, on 01904 623568, at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk and will be available on the door too. Prices: £25, £20, £12; students/under 18s,£6; children under 13, accompanied by a paying adult, free admission.

REVIEW: Martin Dreyer’s verdict on York Musical Society’s Mozart Requiem

Bass-baritone soloist Alex Ashworth. Picture: Debbie Scanlan

Mozart Requiem, York Musical Society, at York Minster, June 18

THERE was plenty of early evidence that the York Musical Society chorus was in excellent health despite the pandemic, in an evening mainly involving two works Mozart wrote in his last two months. Evidence, too, that its conductor David Pipe has acquired a more confident stance.

In the Requiem, heads were well out of copies for the Kyrie’s double fugue, which held no terrors for the choir, so that the succeeding Dies Irae, where the strings also had to be on their mettle, was stirringly crisp.

The soprano soloist Anita Watson had interjected her ‘Te Decet Hymnus’ very smoothly at the start and it was no surprise that she remained the most relaxed member of the solo quartet.

The bass-baritone Alex Ashworth opened the Tuba Mirum forthrightly enough but lacked real heft at the bottom of his range. Nevertheless, the quartet made a well-blended entity, all four minimising their vibrato: the Recordare was persuasively prayerful; the Benedictus almost as satisfying if more operatic.

The quartet’s inner voices were Kate Symonds-Joy and Peter Davoren. The choir meanwhile was going from strength to strength, with the sopranos benefiting from a white-hot engine-room of keen voices at its core. This paid special dividends whenever they had high entries, notably in the Domine Jesu.

There had been a notably transparent texture when sopranos and altos were duetting in the Confutatis; tenors and basses were marginally less effective, though as ‘lost souls’ they had some excuse. That, and the following Lacrimosa, which had an intoxicating lilt, proved to be the heart of the work, which ended serenely.

The orchestra had its moments too. Throughout the work, the bass line – cellos and double basses – gave the firmest possible foundation, always a bonus for a choir. The trombones had a field day, at once funereal and majestic. The violins, so often hard-worked but under-recognised in Viennese masses, were splendidly attentive, led by Nicola Rainger.

The evening had opened with Haydn’s motet Insanae et Vanae Curae, his late adaptation of a storm chorus from an oratorio on Tobias. It was good to hear its orchestral version, when so often in cathedrals it is organ-accompanied. In truth it got off to a bumpy start but was much more incisive on its repeat, with its gentler F major section bringing tears to the eyes, as it promised balm after woe.

In between the choral works, Jonathan Sage was the highly effective soloist in Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto. His runs were steady, his trills tight, and he offered plenty of light and shade. Playing a basset clarinet – an A clarinet with extension that enlarges the lowest, chalumeau register – he managed a movingly intimate ending to the slow movement. He also injected little touches of ornamentation into repeats during the closing rondo, which positively danced.

David Pipe’s orchestra was with him every step of the way. Indeed, Pipe remained cool and controlled all evening.

Review by Martin Dreyer

York Musical Society to perform at York Minster after two-year hiatus on June 18

Bass-baritone soloist Alex Ashworth: Picture: Debbie Scanlan

YORK Musical Society (YMS) will return to York Minster for the first time in two years in its summer concert on June 18.

The 150-strong choir will be joined by York Musical Society Orchestra and four soloists, together with York clarinettist Jonathan Sage, to perform a 7.30pm programme of Mozart and Haydn works.

Musical director David Pipe says: “It’s a long-awaited thrill for York Musical Society to return to York Minster – our first concert there since November 2019 – performing one of the choir’s favourite works, Mozart’s Requiem.

“It will be preceded by Joseph Haydn’s stormy Insanae Et Vanae Curae and Mozart’s much-loved Clarinet Concerto. We hope audiences will enjoy listening to this fantastic music in such an awe-inspiring setting.”

YMS’s returning soloists will be soprano Anita Watson, mezzo-soprano Kate Symonds-Joy, tenor Peter Davoren and bass-baritone Alex Ashworth, as well as Sage.

Haydn’s Insanae Et Vanae Curae is thought to be a reworking of the chorus Svanisce In Un Momento from his oratorio Il Ritorno Di Tobia, first published in 1809.

Sage’s performance of the Clarinet Concerto will be given on a basset clarinet: an extra third lower than the standard instrument and the clarinet envisaged by Mozart for this concerto.

The climax will be Mozart’s Requiem, the work he was composing at the time of his death in 1791 at the age of 35 and long regarded a masterpiece of Western classical music.

Tickets cost £25, £20, £12 or £6 (student/under-18s) on 01904 623568, at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk or on the door. Admission is free for children aged under 13 if accompanied by an adult.

York Musical Society embraces remote rehearsal revolution for singing therapy

Zoom with a view: York Musical Society members face up for Monday’s online rehearsal

YORK Musical Society’s online rehearsals are on song and on trend, as the Monday sessions on Zoom go from strength to strength.

Session host Lesley Peatfield says: “We’ve been running them from the start of the lockdown, and I’m especially proud as a lot of our older members have successfully navigated the software to be able to manage this.

“Some have even got their first computers for lockdown to be able to appear at our regular Monday night events.” 

As many as 80 singers join in, their ages ranging from an 18-year-old bass to 90. “We meet at 7pm for the sopranos and altos and 8pm for the tenors and basses, an hour each every Monday evening, when either David Pipe, our musical director, or John Bradbury, our accompanist, each take a session, leading from the piano, and swap over each week,” says Lesley.

“As well as hosting, I keep each session running technically and answer questions in the chat box.”

In the week the nation went into Covid-19 lockdown, York Musical Society was to have performed at York Minster. “That should have been a night of Faure’s Requiem, alongside a less well-known Michael Haydn requiem, which is so beautiful,” says Lesley.

“Thank you for sending the scores out – much easier to follow,” said one York Musical Society member in the online chat room after a Monday rehearsal

“We had to cancel, of course, but we do hope to offer that programme sometime next year.”

Coming next, on Saturday, June 13 at York Minster, would have been YMS’s summer concert, Splendours Of The Baroque, a joyful programme of Vivaldi’s Gloria, Marcello’s Trumpet Concerto in D minor, Handel’s Arrival Of The Queen Of Sheba and Handel’s Coronation Anthems.

“We’ve had to cancel that concert too,” says Lesley. “The Corona-tion anthems – Zadok The Priest, Let Thy Hand Be Strengthened, The King Shall Rejoice and My Heart Is Inditing – and have never been more appropriate,” says Lesley, poignantly.

After one Zoom rehearsal, Lesley wrote on social media: “Over 80 members joined us for a bit of note bashing for Vivaldi and Handel. Even though we may never perform this, the feeling of the community coming together is priceless.”

Members’ post-session comments to Lesley on the chat line testify to the “virtual” rehearsals being such a breath of fresh singing air amid the pandemic. “Thank you – this is the highlight of my week in lockdown,” said one.

“A very big ‘thank you’ for the Monday evening rehearsals, which I am very much enjoying, and for sending the scores out – much easier to follow,” wrote another. “Thank you to David [Pipe] and to John [Bradbury] for their patience and efforts and to Lesley for her expertise in enabling the sessions.”

Zoom for improvement: York Musical Society members gather for a “virtual” singing session

A third commented: “I’d just like to express my thanks to you all for organising these online rehearsals. I think David is too modest about how valuable they are musically. We can learn a lot at this stage.

“There is no doubt they are a huge boost to the morale of all the individual members, restoring our sense of community and connection to those we cannot meet in person.”  

A fourth enthused: “It is amazing how some proper singing, even over only half an hour, leaves one with such a good feeling inside.  Can’t wait for the next session.”

The Zoom uplift each Monday is best summed up by one member, who confessed to “enjoying it far more than I thought I would”, concluding that “Singing is pure therapy”.

Such a sentiment no doubt will be shared by so many other singing groups in York and beyond, now in the grip of the “remote rehearsal revolution”, be it Ewa Salecka’s “Prima Virtual Ensemble” or Jessa Liversidge’s myriad groups.

Looking ahead, Lesley says: “ We’re rehearsing with a view to an informal performance for friends and family at St Olave’s School, where we normally rehearse in the Shepherd Hall, whenever we manage to get back to face-to-face rehearsals.” Roll on that day.