York Early Music Christmas Festival boosted by City of York Council grant

NCEM director Delma Tomlin: “Delighted to receive grant”

THE National Centre for Early Music, York, is to receive a generous grant from City of York Council’s Additional Restrictions Grant fund.

This financial support will help with the cost of staging this year’s York Early Music Christmas Festival from December 3 to 11.

The city council’s discretionary scheme has supported York businesses affected by the lockdowns but not eligible for the Lockdown Restrictions Grant or Local Restrictions Support Grant (Closed Businesses) payments.

In doing so, it has helped businesses that, although not legally required to close, were still severely impacted by Covid-19 restrictions.

Like fellow arts organisations, the NCEM was forced to close its doors for several months, but it continued to stage concerts and festivals digitally, sharing specially commissioned concerts all over the world, reaching audiences from as far away as Australia, Japan and the United States.

The return of the week-long York Early Music Christmas Festival is one of the NCEM’S most important events, attracting not only York residents but also audiences from all over Britain and beyond.

The festival presents a variety of concerts, many by candlelight, in its celebration of Christmas through the ages. This year’s programme features artists from the UK and Europe, including the return of The Gesualdo Six, who took York Early Music Festival by storm last year; Yorkshire Bach Choir performing JS Bach’s Mass in B minor, plus 17th century Christmas, Mexican style, from Siglo de Oro.

The NCEM is fully open once more, staging its year-round programme of concerts, spanning early music, jazz, folk, and global sounds in the medieval St Margaret’s Church, in Walmgate.

NCEM director Delma Tomlin said: “We are delighted to receive this generous grant from the City of York Council. Financial help from the ARG Fund ensures that we can stage the annual York Early Music Christmas Festival, a week of music celebration featuring a line-up of world-class performers.

“The festival is hugely popular with residents and attracts visitors from all over the UK, who make it part of their Christmas calendar. It’s wonderful to see the city coming back to life and we’re very proud to be able to be part of its fabulous programme of events celebrating the festive season. We can’t wait to welcome audiences back to our beautiful home of St Margaret’s Church.”

Councillor Darryl Smalley, executive member for culture, leisure and communities, said: “York’s live music scene is a crucial and vibrant part of the city’s cultural offer. We recognise the ongoing challenges venues are facing as we ease out of the national restrictions and people get used to a new ‘normal’.

“We are committed to working with the sector to provide all possible support, including promoting the great experiences on our doorstep thanks to the many brilliant live music venues across our city.”

Tickets for the 2021 York Early Music Christmas Festival go on sale from tomorrow at ncem.co.uk or on 01904 658338.

National Centre for Early Music reaps autumn harvest of jazz, world and folk concerts… and a classic icy silent film

Arm in arm: Wife-and-husband duo Kathryn Roberts & Sean Lakeman celebrate 25+ years together in On Reflection at the National Centre for Early Music, York, on October 20

THE autumn and Christmas season of jazz, world, folk, film and classical music at the still socially distanced National Centre for Early Music, York, is under way

Saxophonist Jean Toussaint, who came to prominence with Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, returned to St Margaret’s Church, Walmgate, last Friday to launch the NCEM programme in the company of pianist Andrew McCormack and bass player Orlando le Fleming.

Tonight, the Black Swan Folk Club presents Devonian folk singer-songwriter John Smith, supported by Hannah Reed at 7.30pm.

Known for his intimate song-writing, honey-on-gravel voice and pioneering guitar playing, Smith has toured internationally for 15 years, and his session-musician guitar skills have been in demand from Joan Baez and Tom Jones.

Saxophone returns tomorrow at 7.30pm when Tim Garland (saxophone, bass clarinet), Malcolm Creese (double bass) and Gwilym Simcock (piano) celebrate 20 years together as the highly adventurous, ground-breaking British jazz ensemble Acoustic Triangle.

Olcay Bayir: Turkish singer makes her NCEM debut on October 10

Noted for their site-specific work, particularly in sacred buildings, such as St Margaret’s Church, they draw on wide-ranging influences, from ancient themes and folk styles, through impressionism and the jazz era, to the avant-garde, in Garland and Simcock’s compositions, complemented by works by Henry Purcell, John Taylor, Olivier Messiaen, Cole Porter and Maurice Ravel.

A third jazz highlight will be Byron Wallen’s Four Corners showcasing London trumpet player Wallen’s new album, Portrait, on November 10, with guitarist Rob Luft, bass player Paul Michael and drummer Rod Youngs.

Conceived when sitting in the central square in Woolwich, the album’s nucleus is Anthem For Woolwich, composed in response to Wallen being struck by the community around him with its mixture of ages and nationalities.

Taking inspiration from “the timeless sound of the human soul from all corners of the Earth”, Wallen explores and reinvents blues, mode and groove landmarks, while also drawing on early Renaissance music, Central and East African rhythms and polyphony and the works of Miles Davis, Wayne Shorter and Thelonious Monk.

“I’m hoping that York Music Forum’s Ian Chalk will be able to organise for young York jazz players to play with Byron and take part in the concert,” says Delma.

Out of the woods: Fiddle player Sam Sweeney re-emerges with his Unearth Repeat album and concert on November 19. Picture: Elly Lucas

The autumn season presents three world-class guitarists, demonstrating their contrasting styles: Brit Martin Taylor, Spaniard Juan Martin and Italian Antonio Forcione.

First up, on October 15, Grammy-nominated Harlow jazz guitarist Martin Taylor shows why he is widely regarded as the world’s foremost exponent of solo jazz and finger-style playing.

Next, in his solo concert Melodic Beauty And Rhythmic Passion on October 29, Andalusian flamenco master Juan Martin performs pieces from his latest album Guitar Maestro.

Intense, artistic, passionate, unpredictable and formidably inventive jazz guitarist Antonio Forcione, from Molise, Italy, returns to the NCEM on November 26, blessed with “the hands of a tarantula and the heart of a lion”, as one reviewer put it.

Twenty albums to his name, Forcione has toured extensively, to Australia, Hong Kong, Russia and the Caribbean, as well as Europe.

Martin Taylor: Finger-style guitar playing on October 15

“The wonderful acoustics of the NCEM’s beautiful home of St Margaret’s Church provide the perfect setting for the acoustic guitar, adding a special touch of magic to the experience,” says director and programmer Delma Tomlin.

World music is represented by not only Juan Martin but also Olcay Bayir, from Gaziantep, Turkey, and the welcome return of Making Tracks.

Making her NCEM debut on October 10 – and appearing on the cover of the NCEM’s September to December brochure to boot – Olcay Bayir focuses on ancient poems and original songs in Turkish, Kurdish and Armenian in Dream For Anatolia: an evening of music and words that reflect her Anatolian heritage. Note the earlier starting time of 6.30pm.

Set up in 2010 and relaunched with an ambitious new model in 2019, followed by a digital edition in 2020, Making Tracks brings together young artists from the UK and around the world to showcase unique musical traditions, initiate collaborations and contribute towards a global community of environmentally engaged musicians.

Full details of November 1’s NCEM concert are yet to be confirmed but the eight diverse musicians from Britain and Europe have been chosen.

Antonio Forcione: Returning to the NCEM on November 26

Scottish folk multi-instrumentalist, producer and composer John McCusker has cancelled his John McCusker Band 30th Anniversary Tour date on October 3, although The Wishing Tree Tour gig by John Doyle, John McCusker & Michael McGoldrick is still in the diary for The Cresent, York, on November 3.

The enduring folk partnership of wife and husband Kathryn Roberts & Seth Lakeman marks 25+ years of making music with On Reflection at a rearranged NCEM concert on October 20.

Co-promoted by the Black Swan Folk Club, this celebratory night takes a whistle-stop tour through their artistic journey from the early days of folk supergroup Equation to latest album Personae, via a nod or two to their extracurricular musical adventures.

After his Unfinished Violin Project, former Bellowhead fiddle player Sam Sweeney returns the NCEM on November 19 to promote his latest album, Unearth Repeat, wherein he embraces the groove and swagger of traditional English folk and the huge sound, flair, energy and festival spirit of bands from the Celtic and Scandinavian music scenes.

Sweeney first played the NCEM when director of the National Youth Folk Ensemble. This time he will be joined by Jack Rutter on acoustic guitar, Louis Campbell on electric guitar and Ben Nicholls on double bass.

Nanook Of The North: Robert J Flaherty’s 1922 film will be accompanied by an improvised live score by Frame Ensemble at a Yorkshire Silent Film Festival screening on October 14

The Yorkshire Silent Film Festival plays host to Nanook Of The North (certificate U, 79 minutes) on October 14, when the pioneering 1922 documentary film will be accompanied by a live score by Frame Ensemble, a quartet of improvising musicians that specialises in creating spontaneous soundtracks for silent film.

“Pianist Jonny Best, who runs the film festival [as well as being a musician, researcher, producer, educator and writer], will be doing the accompaniment with his ensemble,” says Delma. “I find it so enthralling that they create such musical magic out of nowhere.”

Filmed by director Robert J Flaherty in the vast Canadian Arctic, where Nanook and his family live under an endless sky and in conditions of unimaginable cold, Nanook Of The North is a mix of recorded reality and staged drama, depicting the everyday struggle of the Innuit (Eskimo) people to stay alive.

From the bitter chill of the northern reaches of Arctic Quebec to Christmas at the NCEM in the form of the York Early Music Christmas Festival 2021, running from December 3 to 11.

Guest musicians include The Gesualdo Six; Joglaresa; Pocket Sinfonia; Prisma; tenor James Gilchrist and lutenist Matthew Wadsworth, plus the Yorkshire Baroque Soloists, presenting JS Bach’s B Minor Mass, with more details to follow in a separate preview shortly. 

Green Matthews: Midwinter Revels in the mood for Christmas on December 16

.Christmas revelry continues with modern-day folk balladeers Green Matthews on December 16. That night, Chris Green and Sophie Matthews perform Midwinter Revels: A Celebration Of Christmas Past, a seasonal selection of stories, carols, winter folk songs and tunes played on a plethora of weird and wonderful instruments.

Delma says: “We’re so pleased to be able to bring you this wonderful season of music for all tastes and to welcome friends old and new back to our home in York. We decided: let’s get dates in the diary and enjoy music-making again and try to get back to a sense of normality.

“We’ve put together a programme of world-class musicians, and we’re also looking forward to the return of our community singing group, Cuppa And A Chorus, as well as the latest in our not-to-be-missed series of silent films with live music. We hope to see you at the NCEM very soon.”

Nevertheless, in light of these pandemic times, a reduced capacity will be in operation. “The NCEM realises that audiences are returning to live events with caution, and for added safety and comfort, we are reducing our capacity so that social distancing is possible,” explains Delma.

“We’ve put together a programme of world-class musicians,” says NCEM director Delma Tomlin

“We are continuing to operate with many safety precautions in place and recommend mask wearing and hand sanitising.”

Tickets for the autumn season are on sale on 01904 658338 and at ncem.co.uk, joined by the York Early Music Christmas Festival from October 4. “Tickets for all concerts are selling quickly, so early booking is advisable,” recommends Delma.

“So far, there’s definitely a substantial core audience who do want to return, and we’re so fortunate that there’s no fixed seating, so we can give people more space, and hopefully they will feel more comfortable with that and will gain confidence as we come into the winter.

“That’s why we’re retaining social distancing while ensuring there’s still a three-pronged energy between the venue, the artist and the audience.”

Performances start at 7.30pm unless stated otherwise.

Ensemble Molière are first New Generation Baroque Ensemble with NCEM, Royal College of Music and BBC Radio 3 support

Ensemble Molière: First New Generation Baroque Ensemble

ENSEMBLE Molière will be the first New Generation Baroque Ensemble from October, backed by the National Centre for Early Music, York, BBC Radio 3 and the Royal College of Music.

The new scheme will showcase and nurture exceptional British-based ensembles in the early years of their professional careers in the baroque sphere, supporting them to new heights of professionalism and artistry over two years, using the range of expertise, performance and recording opportunities available through each partner organisation.

A new group will join the programme in 2023 to begin a new two-year programme, helping to encourage UK Baroque ensembles of the future, supporting artists at a crucial stage in their careers. 

Comprising five musicians playing on historic instruments, Ensemble Molière combine flute, violin, bassoon, viola da gamba/cello and harpsichord in creative programmes from the 17th and 18th century repertoire, performed at many of the leading Baroque and Early Music festivals.

Chosen through a non-competitive process to become the first New Generation Baroque Ensemble, ensemble musicians Flavia Harte, Alice Earll, Catriona McDermid, Kate Conway and Satoko Doi-Luck can build on their early success through residencies at the NCEM and Royal College of Music (RCM) and a regular presence on BBC Radio 3, enabling them to further develop their professional skills, reputation, profile and artistry.

BBC Radio 3’s Early Music Show will feature Ensemble Molière on Sunday, September 19 at 2pm in the first of a series of regular updates, performances and features about the group.

Ensemble Molière say: “We are thrilled and honoured to be appointed the first ever BBC New Generation Baroque Ensemble and to become part of the New Generation family. We are looking forward to collaborating with the wonderful team from three organisations – BBC, RCM and NCEM – as well as to the opportunities and experiences we will enjoy on the scheme, including live performances and broadcasts.

“It will be a fantastic springboard for Ensemble Molière and will help us reach the next step as a group. We are very grateful to the New Generation Baroque Ensemble team for their support.”

“Ensemble Molière have an amazing future ahead of them,” says NCEM director Delma Tomlin

NCEM director Delma Tomlin says: “We are thrilled to be part of this UK-based venture that takes place over the next two years and we look forward to welcoming Ensemble Molière, who will be performing in our festivals in Beverley and York.  

“It’s wonderful to be working with the Royal College of Music and BBC Radio 3 once again and this is a fabulous opportunity for Ensemble Molière, who have an amazing future ahead of them.”

BBC Radio 3 controller Alan Davey says: “For some time, we have been keen to see if we can offer help and support to UK-based period-instrument ensembles in the early stages of their careers to allow them to develop and thrive with the same kind of spirit of innovation and adventure we see in the best ensembles across the world.  

“With this new scheme – as with our hugely successful New Generation Artists and New Generation Thinkers programmes – we want to support the best new talent and by working in partnership with the chosen Baroque ensembles and with the NCEM and RCM, we hope to build an even richer world of  ambitious, innovative  and thrillingly excellent music-making for the future.

“We are delighted to welcome Ensemble Molière and look forward to working with them over the coming years to bring their extraordinary music to wider audiences.”

Professor Ashley Solomon, head of historical performance at the Royal College of Music, says: “I am absolutely delighted that together with our colleagues at the NCEM and BBC Radio 3 we have appointed Ensemble Moliere as the first ensemble in the New Generation Baroque Ensemble scheme that we are now launching.

“Nurturing and inspiring the new generation of historical performers is part of our ethos at the Royal College of Music and I look forward to working with and mentoring the players in this exceptional ensemble. We hope that this unique opportunity will help support and enable them to thrive.”

Ensemble Molière’s musicians are:  Flavia Hirte, flute; Alice Earll, violin; Catriona McDermid, bassoon; Kate Conway, viola da gamba/cello, and Satoko Doi-Luck, harpsichord.



When “pingdemic” rules out Rachel Podger, up steps Bojan Cicic at three hours’ notice… to perform exactly the same repertoire!

Rachel Podger: Had to self-isolate after being pinged

QUICK thinking by York Early Music Festival director Delma Tomlin saved the day when violinist Rachel Podger fell victim to the dreaded “pingdemic”.

Rachel had to self-isolate at the last minute, foregoing her 9.15pm live performance of The Violinist Speaks at St Lawrence’s Church, Hull Road, on July 13.

In a flash, Delma asked Croatian-born Baroque violinist Bojan Cicic to step into the breach, as he had arrived in York already to perform with Florilegium at the National Centre for Early Music the following night.

Bojan Cicic: Took over solo concert programme at three hours’ notice

Not only did he say ‘Yes’ at only three hours’ notice, but also he played the very same repertoire that Rachel had selected: JS Bach’s Cello Suite No. 1 in G major; Giuseppe Tartini’s Sonata in B minor; Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber’s Passacaglia in G minor, for solo violin, and Bach’s Partita No. 2 in D minor, for solo violin.

Nothing was announced on social media beforehand by the festival organisers; only the audience was alerted of the late change by email, whereupon Bojan duly “wowed” his socially distanced crowd.

Rachel subsequently recorded The Violinist Speaks without an audience at the NCEM for a digital livestream premiere at 7.30pm last Saturday. Her online concert is now available on demand until August 13; on sale until August 9 at:  ncem.co.uk/events/rachel-podger-online/ncem.co.uk

Quick thinking: York Early Music Festival director Delma Tomlin

Briefer Encounters for 2021 York Early Music Festival but it will still be jam packed

And now there are seven: The Gesualdo Six ,with director Owain Park, centre, back row, as they step into the 2021 York Early Music in a late call-up for an Early engagement

ENCOUNTERS, the 2021 York Early Music Festival, will be briefer than first trailered.

Already cut from its usual ten days under Covid constraints, the live festival will now run from July 12 to 15, rather than until July 16 after the Government’s Step 4 lockdown easement was delayed from June 21 to July 19.

This has ruled out the participation of Spanish Baroque ensemble L’Apothéose, winners of the 2019 York Early Music International Young Artists Competition, along with Ensemble Clément Janequin, from France, and the Italian-Spanish trio sonata ensemble La Vaghezza. In their stead come two late additions: British vocal ensemble The Gesualdo Six and Florilegium.

“The festival may have shrunk from ten days to four, but it’s still jam-packed with concerts, which will be one hour in length, with no interval and no reserved seating, audience members being seated on arrival within social bubbles” says festival director Delma Tomlin.

“Because any musicians who lived outside of the UK had to consider the need to quarantine or the consequences of a positive Covid test once here, it just wasn’t worth the complications for them or us.

“The good news is that L’Apothéose will now play their Young Artists’ Showcase and record here next March; we hope to carry EEEmerging artists La Vaghezza over into the 2022 festival, though that will not be possible for Ensemble Clément Janequin, and the York Early Music International Young Artists Competition will definitely return at next summer’s festival, after the competition couldn’t happen this year.”

Rachel Podger: Performing works by JS Bach, Tartini and Biber in The Violinist Speaks at St Lawrence’s Church, Hull Road, York, on July 13 at 9.15pm

Delma expects that plenty of international musicians who had to forego performing in the 2020 festival, after being booked for the aborted original programme, will now play at the 2022 event. “The festival is filling up already, but not yet with a theme in place!” she says.

In another sign of Covid-times, the 2021 festival is a non-brochure event. “We had boxes and boxes of brochures that we then had to recycle, once everything changed, and since then we’ve doing everything online,” says Delma.

“So we’ve been reliant on people looking online constantly for updates and programme details for our 2020 Christmas festival, the Awaken concert series, the Beverley and East Riding Early Music Festival, and now this summer’s festival, but I can confirm we’ll produce print in the autumn for the 2021 York Early Music Christmas Festival.”

Roll on Monday’s opening concert “At last, we’re able to welcome audiences back to York in person,” says Delma. “The theme of Encounters, most vitally between audience and artists, seems particularly pertinent at this time when we can celebrate the joy of music making and being back together again to appreciate these glorious sounds together.

“For over a year, our home of St Margaret’s Church has been missing the energy and excitement that live audiences bring to us and we can’t wait to throw our doors wide open again.”

Delma Tomlin: Director of York Early Music Festival and the National Centre for Early Music, Yorkl

Both the opening and closing concerts will be performed twice at the National Centre for Early Music, Walmgate: Monteverdi String Band, led by Oliver Webb, on July 12 at 6.30pm and 8.45pm and The Gesualdo Six on July 15 at the same times.

“We’ll clean everything down and put the same concert on 90 minutes later,” explains Delma. “The 6.30pm concerts are sold out but we still have tickets available for the later performances.

“Oddly enough, The Gesualdo Six were meant to be playing at a festival in France at this time but couldn’t go, so we’ve been able to accommodate them, and Ensemble Clément Janequin, who can’t come here, will now be playing in France!”

Florilegium step into the festival breach to perform a Celebrating Bach programme at the NCEM on Wednesday at 7.30pm, joining a line-up of guest artists such as harpsichordist Steven Devine with Robin Bigwood (St Lawrence’s Church, Hull Road, Tuesday, 1pm) and violinist Rachel Podger (St Lawrence’s Church, Tuesday, 9.15pm).

The Society of Strange & Ancient Instruments present their weird and wonderful Trumpet Marine Project (The Citadel, Gillygate, Wednesday, 1pm, sold out); lutenist  Jacob Heringman celebrates Josquin des Prez in Master of the notes II: Inviolata (Merchant Adventurers’ Hall, Fossgate, Wednesday, 9.30pm, sold out) and bass Matthew Brook, in tandem with York classical leading light Peter Seymour, performs Amore Traditore – Cantatas for bass and harpsichord (St Lawrence’s Church, Thursday, 1pm).

Delma is particularly delighted to announce that the festival will be working in partnership with the Alamire Foundation, in Flanders, to present a long-awaited concert at York Minster by renaissance vocal ensemble Stile Antico in Tuesday’s 7.30pm programme of Josquin des Prez – Master of the notes I: Missa Sine Nominee on the 500th anniversary of the Franco-Flemish genius’s death.

The Society Of Strange & Ancient Instruments: 2021 York Early Music Festival concert will be recorded for BBC Radio 3

The live festival may be shorter, but the event will still run to Sunday in an online festival, YEMF ’21 Online, available from Thursday to the weekend, after the success of last summer’s first online package.

“This will include concerts recorded during the festival alongside specially commissioned highlights by the Rose Consort of Viols and the University Baroque Ensemble,” says Delma.

“The Gesualdo Six will open this four-day online festival with a live streamed concert from the NCEM on Thursday at 6.30pm.

“The online festival provides us with the opportunity to share some of the festival highlights with the widest possible audience, presenting concerts filmed by digital producer Ben Pugh and sound engineer Tim Archer in some of the city’s stunning venues: Merchant Adventurers’ Hall, St Lawrence’s Church and St Margaret’s Church,” says Delma.

“Going online extends the festival’s reach internationally, giving us the chance to boost our ticket income possibilities, so while we use small venues, such as lutenist Jacob Heringman playing to 60 people in candlelight at the Merchant Adventurers’ Hall, the decision to embrace online opportunities means others can enjoy it too. This provides a new stream of income at this time, turning around our business strategy on a pin.”

All next week’s concerts will be streamed, except for Stile Antico, whose Josquin des Prez programme instead will be available online at Laus Polyphoniae 2021, part of the Flanders Festival that runs in Antwerp from August 20 to 29.

Stile Antico: Renaissance vocal ensemble to perform long-awaited concert at York Minster, presented by York Early Music Festival in partnership with the Alamire Foundation, Flanders. Picture: Marco Borggreve

The NCEM and York Early Music Festival have embraced the need to explore digital opportunities since the pandemic took hold. “The acquisition of Tim Archer, who I’ve known through our relationship with BBC Radio 3, has been key to this. When Tim left Radio 3, I asked him to work with us as our sound engineer, and he’s since worked alongside Ben Pugh on our festivals and the Awaken spring event,” says Delma.

“On top of that, we’ve been very grateful to have been granted Culture Recovery Fund funds to support our sustainable strategy,” says Delma.

“We’ve received two funding boosts, the first for the acquisition of digital equipment, the second to help to cover the loss of income after we lost £100,000 from our usual revenue streams because of the pandemic lockdowns.”

Reflecting on the changes brought on by the need to react to Covid times, Delma says: “It has pushed us very specifically into a whole new world of digital sharing and income generation, running parallel with that, and all our staff have been willing to adapt and embrace the changes. We’ve also been determined to make the online service as simple to use as possible, requiring only your email address.

“The other very positive thing has been our blossoming relationship with The Crescent [community venue] and The Fulford Arms, especially with Harkirit Boparai and Chris Sherrington, and the Independent Music network, putting on the Songs Under Skies concerts in the NCEM garden last summer and this summer.”

Post-festival, the YEMF ’21 Online concerts will be available to view on demand until August 13 2021 and tickets will be on sale until August 6 at ncem.co.uk. Live festival tickets are selling fast, with social distancing measures still in place to limit numbers, so hurry, hurry to book at ncem.co.uk before you are too late to be Early next week.

Did you know?

THE 2021 York Early Music Festival concerts by Rachel Podger, The Society Of Strange & Ancient Instruments and The Gesualdo Six will be recorded for broadcast on BBC Radio 3’s Early Music Show in late-July.

Copyright of The Press, York

Look who will be playing at York Early Music Festival in July…

Stile Antico: Long-awaited concert at York Early Music Festival 2021. Picture: Marco Borggreve

YORK Early Music Festival 2021 will have the theme of Encounters for its five-day run from July 12 to 16.

Presented by the National Centre of Early Music (NCEM), the annual festival of classical concerts will include a celebration of the 500th anniversary of the Franco-Flemish genius Josquin des Prez. 

“This year’s festival theme is one of encounters, most vitally between audience and artists, which seems particularly pertinent at a time when the festival can welcome audiences back to an array of York’s wonderful historic venues,” says director Delma Tomlin.

“We’re particularly delighted to announce that we’ll be working in partnership with the Flanders-based Alamire Foundation to present one of the highlights of the festival, a long-awaited concert by vocal ensemble Stile Antico.”

Renowned for their vibrant and expressive performances of music from the Renaissance, Stile Antico will perform in the resplendent surroundings of York Minster on July 13.

Rachel Podger: The Violinist Speaks…and plays at St Lawrence Parish Church, York, on July 13. Picture: Theresa Pewal

Among the guest artists for the 2021 event will be: violinist Rachel Podger; lutenist Jacob Heringman; bass Matthew Brook, working with Peter Seymour; the Monteverdi String Band, led by Oliver Webber; a York favourite, harpsichordist Steven Devine, with Robin Bigwood; The Society Of Strange & Ancient Instruments with their “weird and wonderful” Trumpet Marine Project; EEEmerging artists La Vaghezza, specialising in music from the  17th and 18th centuries, and the ever entertaining Ensemble Clement Janequin.

“The NCEM is also delighted to welcome Spanish Baroque ensemble L’Apothéose back to York as part of the Young Artists Showcase,” says Delma. “L’Apothéose last appeared in the city in 2019 when they won the York Early Music International Young Artists Competition and The Friends of York Early Music Festival prize. This year they will be recording a CD with Linn Records, which was part of their prize.”

Established in 1977, York Early Music Festival celebrates York’s myriad medieval churches, guildhalls and historic houses through “historically informed music-making of the highest international standard”. The festival is considered the jewel in the crown of the NCEM’s annual programme, drawing visitors from across the world.

“At last, we are able to welcome audiences back to York in person and we can’t wait!” says Delma. “ This year’s theme of Encounters celebrates the joy of music-making and being back together again to appreciate these glorious sounds together. 

“We can’t wait to throw our doors wide open again,” says York Early Music Festival and NCEM director Delma Tomlin

“For over a year, our home of St Margaret’s Church, in Walmgate, has been missing the energy and excitement that live audiences bring to us and we can’t wait to throw our doors wide open again. We hope you will join us for this five-day celebration of music and friendship in our beautiful city, bringing you world-class music from stunning surroundings.”

The festival concerts will take place in a Covid-secure, comfortable environment.  “All tickets are unreserved and audience members will be seated on arrival within social bubbles,” says Delma. “Each concert will last about an hour without an interval. Covid advice will be updated according to government guidelines.”

York Early Music Festival also will be available online from July 15 to 18. YEMF ’21 Online will include concerts recorded during the festival alongside commissioned highlights, with guests including The Gesualdo Six and The Rose Consort Of Viols.  Full details and tickets will be released on Wednesday, June 16. 

Tickets for the live festival are on sale at ncem.co.uk

Monteverdi String Quartet: Opening concert of the 2021 festival on July 12

YORK EARLY MUSIC FESTIVAL 2021 LISTINGS

Monday, July 12, 1pm, NCEM, St Margaret’s Church, York: Illustrated talk: Oliver Webber, “Un non so che di frizzante: the madrigal as a cauldron of creativity”.

Monday, July 12, 6.30pm and 8.45pm, NCEM: Monteverdi String Band, with soprano Hannah Ely, The Madrigal Re-imagined.

Tuesday, July 13, 1pm, St Lawrence Parish Church, York: Steven Devine & Robin Bigwood, The Bach Circle.

Tuesday, July 13, 7.30pm, York Minster: Stile Antico, Sine Nomine: Josquin des Prez.

The Society Of Strange & Ancient Instruments: Playing NCEM on July 14

Tuesday, July 13, 9.15pm, St Lawrence Parish Church: Rachel Podger violin, The Violinist Speaks.

Wednesday, July 14, 1pm, NCEM: The Society Of Strange & Ancient Instruments, The Trumpet Marine Project.

Wednesday, July 14, 7.30pm, NCEM: La Vaghezza, Sculpting The Fabric.

Wednesday, July 14, 9.30pm, Merchant Adventurers’ Hall, York: Jacob Heringman, lute, Inviolata: Josquin des Prez.  

Jacob Heringham: Playing Merchant Adventurers Hall on July 14. Picture: Guy Carpenter

Thursday, July 15, 11am, NCEM: Illustrated talk: John Bryan, Josquin des Prez: the first of the “great composers”?

Thursday, July 15, 1pm, Matthew Brook & Peter Seymour, Amore Traditore – Cantatas for bass and harpsichord.

Thursday, July 15, NCEM, 6.30pm and 8.45pm: Ensemble Clement Janequin,  Mille Regretz: Josquin des Prez.

Friday July 16, 1pm, NCEM: L’Apothéose, The Family Stamitz.

L’Apothéose: Closing concert of York Early Music Festival 2021

NCEM gardens to stage second set of Songs Under Skies acoustic double bills with The Crescent and Fulford Arms

Joshua Burnell: Sharing a Song Under Skies double bill with Katie Spencer on June 14. Picture: Elly Lucas

SONGS Under Skies will return to the glorious gardens of the National Centre for Early Music, at St Margaret’s Church, Walmgate, York, in June.

Five outdoor acoustic double bills will comprise Wounded Bear and Rachel Croft on June 1; Kell Chambers and Nadedja, June 2; Katie Spencer and Joshua Burnell, June 14; Zak Ford and Alice Simmons, June 15, and Epilogues and Sunflower Thieves, June 16.

Wounded Bear and Rachel Croft: First Songs Under Skies double bill on June 1

As with last September’s debut series, season two of the open-air, Covid-safe Songs Under Skies will be presented by the National Centre for Early Music (NCEM), working in association with The Crescent community venue, The Fulford Arms and the Music Venues Alliance.

Gates will open at 6.30pm for the acoustic double bills from 7pm to 8.30pm with a 30-minute interval between sets. Each concert costs £8 and tickets must be bought in advance, either in “pods” for family groups or as individuals at tickets.ncem.co.uk.  

Kell Chambers and Nadedja: Double bill in the NCEM churchyard gardens on June 2

Social distancing will be strictly observed and masks must be worn inside the NCEM but will not be required in the gardens.

NCEM director Delma Tomlin says: “We’re very excited to be bringing you the second Songs Under Skies: a feast of acoustic music taking place in our beautiful gardens, the perfect spot for a June evening in the sunshine.

Katie Spencer: Yorkshire singer-songwriter to play NCEM gardens on June 14, as well as a second Yorkshire open-air gig at Primrose Wood Acoustics, Pocklington, supporting Martin Simpson on July 1 at 7pm

“We’re also glad to be working once again with our partners The Fulford Arms, The Crescent and York Music Venues Network to begin the long-awaited revival of live music in our city. Last year Songs Under Skies was a complete sell-out and we’re looking forward to welcoming back audiences for these summer nights of music by these talented musicians.”

Harkirit Boparai, from The Crescent and the York Music Venues Network and North East regional coordinator for the Music Venues Alliance, says: “We’re delighted to be collaborating with the NCEM for another short run of outdoor concerts to take place in their beautiful gardens, with a stellar line-up of musicians from York and beyond heralding the return of live gigs to York.

Zak Ford and Alice Simmons: Playing acoustic sets at Songs Under Skies on June 15

“One of the silver linings of the pandemic has been that cultural organisations in the city have been able to collaborate in ways that they didn’t before, and after the success of our last series in the autumn, it’s been great to work with the NCEM team once again.”

Among the first arts organisations to stream online concerts, the NCEM has been keeping music alive since the beginning of lockdown, attracting a worldwide audience of more than 70,000. 

Epilogues and Sunflower Thieves: Songs Under Skies’ closing concert coupling on June 16

Over the past year, the NCEM staged socially distant events when possible and streamed concerts and festivals from St Margaret’s Church.

In June, this will continue with the streaming of the very first Beverley & East Riding Early Music Festival Online with concerts, walks and talks from the Yorkshire market town where the first festival was staged 35 years ago. This summer’s York Early Music Festival will run from July 12 to 16; a full line-up announcement is expected today (17/5/2021).

Kitty VR: Playing her first gig for seven months at the NCEM churchyard at last September’s first Songs Under Skies concert series. Picture: Neil Chapman/Unholy Racket

Last year’s inaugural Songs Under Skies presented Amy May Ellis and Luke Saxton on September 2; Dan Webster and Bella Gaffney, September 3; Kitty VR and Boss Caine, September 9; Wolf Solent and Rosalind, September 10; Polly Bolton and Henry Parker, September 16, and Elkyn and Fawn, September 17.

Full details of this summer’s Songs Under Skies can be found at: ncem.co.uk/songs-under-skies/.

Beverley Early Music festivities will be live in May and online too for the first time in June

Kati Debretzeni: Taking a tour of Europe through the “lens” of a violin on May 30 at Toll Gavel United Church in Beverley

BEVERLEY Early Music festivities for 2021 will have a new look in May and June.

As the Government’s phases of easing lockdown unfold, the National Centre for Early Music (NCEM), York, and the Beverley & East Riding Early Music Festival will present, not one, but two musical celebrations from the East Yorkshire town.

Beverley & East Riding Early Music Festival ’21 Live will run from May 28 to 30, followed by Beverley ’21 Online: Concerts, Talks and Hidden Gems on June 5 and 6.

Social-distancing restrictions and the festival’s commitment to accommodating all those who booked for last year’s postponed festival mean that only a limited number of tickets are on sale for the “in person” concerts at the end of May.

All the concerts, however, will be available to enjoy in the specially created digital festival, Beverley ’21 Online, on the first weekend in June.

Festival director Dr Delma Tomlin says: “We are delighted to be returning to Beverley and we’ve been working hard to ensure that our 2021 festival is available for everyone to enjoy. “As well as producing a live festival, for the first time we are delighted to invite you to join our festival online, which showcases of the majesty of the glorious county town of Beverley.”  

Delma continues: “Beverley ’21 Online is a specially commissioned digital version of the festival filmed around the town and audiences will be able to enjoy all the concerts from the weekend, plus talks and exclusive footage of some of Beverley’s magnificent historic buildings.

Alva and Vivien Ellis: Teaming up for Angels In The Architecture at St Mary’s Church, Beverley, on May 29

“We hope you’ll join us for this joyous celebration of wonderful music set against the backdrop of this beautiful Yorkshire town.”

Beverley & East Riding Early Music Festival ’21 Live, Friday, May 28 to Sunday, May 30

May 28, Beverley Minster, 7.30pm to 8.40pm:  Stile Antico, Toward The Dawn, sold out

This programme charts a course from twilight to sunrise, seductive and unsettling in equal measure. Thrill to the spine-tingling sounds of Allegri’s beloved Miserere and enter into the glorious sound world of Nico Muhly’s Gentle Sleep, a haunting setting of words by Shakespeare, written especially for the 12 voices of Stile Antico.

Singers: sopranos Helen Ashby, Kate Ashby, Rebecca Hickey; altos Emma Ashby, Cara Curran, Hannah Cooke; tenors Andrew Griffiths, Jonathan Hanley, Benedict Hymas; basses James Arthur, Will Dawes, Nathan Harrison.

May 29, St Mary’s Church, 12.30pm to 1.30pm: Alva, Angels In The Architecture

Vivien Ellis, voice, Giles Lewin, fiddles and bagpipes, and Leah Stuttard, mediaeval harps, perform songs and melodies spanning 1,000 years, revealing stories hidden in the stones of the beautiful St Mary’s Church.

Stile Antico: Twelve steps Toward The Dawn at Beverley Minster on May 28

May 29, Toll Gavel United Church, 7.30pm to 8.30pm: La Serenissima with Tabea Debus, recorder,The Italian Gang”, sold out

Life-affirming music of 18th-century Venice, featuring Sammartini and Vivaldi, directed by Adam Chandler.

May 30, Toll Gavel United Church, 3pm to 4pm: Kati Debretzeni, violin, Through The Eye Of A Lens  

A virtual tour of Europe through the “lens” of a violin, performed by one of the world’s leading exponents.

May 30, St John’s RC Church, Beverley, 6.30pm to 7.30pm: Ex Corde, Heaven On Earth: Thomas More’s Utopian Dream

Reflections based on Thomas More’s Utopia with vocal music by Robert Fayrfax and Josquin des Prez, plus the premiere of a commission by Christopher Fox, inspired by More’s vision, directed by Paul Gameson.

Ex Corde: Finding Heaven On Earth at ST John’s RC Church, Beverley, on May 30

May 29 and 30, Beverley Ballad Walks; Saturday, In And Around Beverley Minster, 4pm; Sunday, It All Happened In Beverley!, 10am, and In And Around Beverley Minster, 1pm

Taking place over the live festival weekend will be the hugely popular Ballad Walks, led by singer Vivien Ellis, brimming with songs and stories from the streets. The tales span 800 years of history and reveal Beverley’s sometimes murky past, as well as the fascinating tales of inhabitants.

Beverley ’21 Online, Saturday, June 5 and Sunday, June 6

TO ensure the festival can be enjoyed by the widest possible audience, all five concerts will be filmed and available online, with an added bonus of many exclusive treats. 

Historian David Neave will talk about the Pilgrims of the East Riding, who left these shores in 1638 to set out for a new, and better, world in North America; Stile Antico share the music of the period through a specially commissioned film available to all ticket holders; and John Bryan, Emeritus Professor of Music at the University of Huddersfield, introduces the festival from the Rococo splendour of Beverley Guildhall.

There also will be opportunities to visit some of Beverley’s hidden gems in the company of guest curators Fiona Jenkinson and Dr Jennie England.

Further details of Beverley ’21 Online will be available from May 6.

For full Beverley Early Music festivities details, times and ticket prices, go to: ncem.co.uk.

Tickets are on sale now online at ncem.co.uk/whats-on-bemf/, by email to boxoffice@ncem.co.uk or on 01904 658338, but due to limited capacity, some events may be sold out already, and the organisers will be operating a waiting list via email sent to boxoffice@ncem.co.uk. 

York Early Music Foundation receives £25,000 from Culture Recovery Fund to benefit NCEM and Beverley music festival

“This support ensures that we can continue promoting our year-round programme of events and to re-open our doors into the summer,” says Delma Tomlin, director of the York Early Music Foundation and the NCEM

THE York Early Music Foundation, the charitable body that administers the National Centre for Early Music, will receive £25,000 from the Government’s £1.57 billion Culture Recovery Fund.

The foundation is one of more than 2,700 recipients to benefit from the second round of awards.

The grant will aid the foundation to recover from loss of income over the past year, and the CRF2 monies also will help to ensure that the Beverley & East Riding Early Music Festival can take place again in May 2021.

This will enable the foundation to welcome both a small, socially distanced, audience and a new online public to the Beverley event, as well as supporting East Yorkshire school-aged children to enjoy their music-making.

The Beverley festival, postponed in 2020, is supported by the East Riding of Yorkshire Council and is acknowledged as one of the region’s cultural highlights.

Delma Tomlin, director of the York Early Music Foundation and the NCEM, said today: “We would like to say a huge thank you to Arts Council England for awarding us this much-needed grant. This support provides an important lifeline to help the organisation recover from lost revenue, ensuring that we can continue promoting our year-round programme of events and to re-open our doors into the summer.”

The York Early Music Foundation is among thousands of cultural organisations across the country to benefit from awards of more than £300 million from the Culture Recovery Fund announced by Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden today.

More than £800 million in grants and loans has been awarded already to support almost 3,800 cinemas, performance venues, museums, heritage sites and other cultural organisations dealing with the immediate challenges of the Coronavirus pandemic.

The second round of awards made today will help organisations to look ahead to the spring and summer and plan for reopening and recovery. After months of closures and cancellations to contain the virus and save lives, this funding will be a much-needed helping hand for organisations “transitioning back to normal” in the months ahead. 

Mr Dowden said: “Our record-breaking Culture Recovery Fund has already helped thousands of culture and heritage organisations across the country survive the biggest crisis they’ve ever faced.

“Now we’re staying by their side as they prepare to welcome the public back through their doors, helping our cultural gems plan for reopening and thrive in the better times ahead.”

Sir Nicholas Serota, chair of Arts Council England, said: “Investing in a thriving cultural sector at the heart of communities is a vital part of helping the whole country to recover from the pandemic. These grants will help to re-open theatres, concert halls and museums and will give artists and companies the opportunity to begin making new work. 

“We are grateful to the Government for this support and for recognising the paramount importance of culture to our sense of belonging and identity as individuals and as a society.”

The funding awarded today comes from a £400 million pot that was held back last year to ensure the Culture Recovery Fund could continue to help organisations in need as the public health picture changed. The funding has been awarded by Arts Council England, together with Historic England and the National Lottery Heritage Fund and the British Film Institute.

Olwen Foulkes and Ensemble Augelletti awaken online audience to spring music in lockdown as part of NCEM’s weekend

Olwen Foulkes at Ensemble Augelletti’s recording of A Spring In Lockdown for the National Centre of Early Music’s Awaken online weekend. Picture: Ben Pugh

ENSEMBLE Augelletti will make their York debut on Saturday at the National Centre for Music’s online weekend celebration of the rise of spring, Awaken.

Founded and directed by recorder specialist Olwen Foulkes, the young, up-and-coming ensemble will perform A Spring In Lockdown, an intriguing tale of 18th century music-making from an English debtors’ prison.

Premiered at 3pm on Saturday (27/3/2021), on sale until April 23 and available to watch on demand until April 30, the concert will feature Olwen, recorders; Ellen Bundy and Alice Earll, violins; Elitsa Bogdanova, viola; Carina Drury, cello; Harry Buckoke, double bass; Toby Carr, theorbo, and Benedict Williams, chamber organ.

Winner of the FBAS Young Artists Competition in Italy in 2019, the ensemble explores the chamber music and concertos performed on the London theatre stages in the first decades of the 18th century.

Ensemble Augelletti members, led by recorder player Olwen Foulkes, front, centre

Hence Olwen’s focus on trumpeter John Grano in A Spring In Lockdown: “In the spring of 1729, Grano, dubbed ‘Handel’s trumpeter’, was serving the end of a sentence, incarcerated in the infamous Marshalsea debtors’ prison,” she says.

“The prisoner kept a diary detailing his musical exploits as he composed, taught, organised concerts, and tried to maintain a performance schedule from the ‘home’ of his cell.

“Our concert will explore some of his fascinating diary entries from a very different kind of lockdown and will include music that he was performing, writing, and listening to, by Francesco Geminiani, Grano, William Corbett, John Baston and of course Mr Handel.”

Ensemble Augelletti recorded the concert at the NCEM’s home of St Margaret’s Church, Walmgate, on March 15. “I’d been there in the past, performing Shepherds Of Bethlehem with Fieri Consort at the York Early Music Christmas Festival in December 2019,” says Olwen.

“The one thing we found strange was taking a bow to an empty room, which made us realise how much we miss playing to an audience,” says Olwen Foulkes of Ensemble Augelletti’s performance for Awaken

“But this is the first time the ensemble has played there. Since lockdown started last March, it was one of the few times we could play together because the NCEM is such a big space.”

How did Olwen settle on A Spring In Lockdown for Saturday’s concert? “Delma [NCEM director Delma Tomlin] offered us some proposals, giving me the chance to propose this programme, which is completely bespoke for the Awaken festival,” she says.

“I’d been reading the diary of John Grano, a trumpeter, flautist and recorder player, written in 1728, when, in some ways, London was very similar to now. So much of the musician’s experience resonated with us today, reading of when he was working in West End theatres, at the Haymarket and the Theatre Royal in Drury Lane.

“Grano was the principal trumpeter in Handel’s orchestra for 15 years and is likely to have played in the premiere of Handel’s Water Music.

A socially distanced line-up of Ensemble Augelletti in pandemic times

“For our concert, one of the pieces we’ll play will be the only surviving publication of Grano’s music.”

Ensemble Augelletti made the recording with Ben Pugh, omnipresent at the NCEM’s online recordings for the 2020 York Early Music Festival and Early Music Christmas Festival.

“The one thing we found strange was taking a bow to an empty room, which made us realise how much we miss playing to an audience,” says Olwen.

“I last played to a full audience a year ago, on March 15, with Dramma Per Musica at the Barnes Festival, and the last performance by Ensemble Augelletti was to a very, very small audience in the London Sound Galler, for an online festival with The Gesualdo Six in September.”

Olwen Foulkes and Ensemble Augelletti released their debut album, Indoor Fireworks, in November 2019, taking the name Augelletti [little birds] from the aria Augelletti Che Cantate from the first act of Handel’s opera Rinaldo.

The artwork for Indoor Fireworks, the album by Olwen Foulkes and Ensemble Augelletti released on Barn Cottage Records in 2019

“We’d been playing together for a while, and when I did that CD, I was thinking about where I wanted the group to progress, and I thought it would be lovely to have a new identity for the group, so I said, ‘Can we call ourselves an ‘ensemble’?’ and that’s when we became Ensemble Augelletti,” says Olwen.

Her ensemble has plans to make a new recording this year, but Olwen will remain quiet on its exact nature, subject to the outcome of a “big funding application”. “But I can say it’s really exciting and will be another project celebrating musicians that we don’t necessarily know of as a composer,” she says.

Unlike so many of us whose first encounter with playing music is a forlorn blow on a recorder, Olwen’s journey was different. “I actually started playing the recorder second! I started with the violin when I was five,” she recalls. “I didn’t start the recorder till I was 11 and that was to keep my sister Ethnie – now an acoustic and electronic composer – company in a recorder group.

“I just fell in love with the recorder at the point, but I’d found that love in the opposite way to the usual graduation to another instrument!”

Olwen Foulkes played violin first before discovering the recorder at the age of 11

Olwen went on to study at the Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance in London from the age of 13 to 18, and later as the Christopher Hogwood Scholar at the Royal Academy of Music, and a career specialising in recorders has ensued.

Once the easing of pandemic strictures allows, she would love to perform to an audience in York, taking a bow in more familiar fashion. “It is such a lovely place to play,” she says.

The Awaken weekend will run online on Saturday and Sunday, March 27 and 28. The full programme and ticket details can be found at ncem.co.uk.

How to view
The Awaken weekend of concerts will be shown on ncem.co.uk. On the day before the festival starts, all bookers will be emailed the viewing links and clear navigation to the concerts from the home page will be added.

The NCEM advises: “Please ensure that you have a strong broadband connection, and you may want to use external speakers or headphones to maximise your experience. If you experience any difficulties with the concerts, please contact us and we will do our best to help you via ncem.co.uk.”