More Things To Do in York and beyond as temperatures drop and festive fervour rises. Hutch’s List No.49, from The Press, York

The Gesualdo Six, with director Owain Park, centre, back row: Two concerts in one evening at NCEM

CHRISTMAS music, Scrooge the farmer, artist fairs and pantomime frolics set up Charles Hutchinson for the festive season ahead.

Festival of the week: York Early Music Christmas Festival, today until December 9

YORK Early Music Christmas Festival 2023 takes the theme of Music, Minstrels and Mystery, with today’s concerts by Flutes & Frets (Bedern Hall) and The Gesualdo Six & Fretwork Viol Consort (NCEM) having sold out already.

So has December 9’s finale, the Yorkshire Bach Choir’s Bach Christmas Oratorio (Sir Jack Lyons Concert Hall), but tickets are still available for The Harmonious Society of Tickle-Fiddle Gentlemen, Fiddlesticks, The Marian Consort, Ceruleo and Baroque In The North. For concert details and tickets, visit ncem.co.uk. Box office: 01904 658338.

James Lewis-Knight and Emily Chattle in a scene from Badapple Theatre Company’s Farmer Scrooge’s Christmas Carol. Picture: Karl Andre

Tour opening of the week: Badapple Theatre Company in Farmer Scrooge’s Christmas Carol, until December 30

A GRUMPY farmer? From Yorkshire? Surely not! Welcome to Kate Bramley’s rural revision of Dickens’s festive favourite, A Christmas Carol, now set on Farmer Scrooge’s farm and in his bed in 1959 in Green Hammerton company Badapple Theatre’s tour of Yorkshire and beyond.

York actors James Lewis-Knight and Emily Chattle play multiple roles in a tale replete with local stories and carols, puppets and mayhem, original songs by Jez Lowe and a whacking great dose of seasonal bonhomie. For tour dates and ticket details, visit: badappletheatre.co.uk or call 01423 331304.

South Bank Studios artist Carolyn Coles: Taking part in this weekend’s Christmas Artists Trail

Artists with Christmas in mind: South Bank Studios Christmas Artists Trail, hosted by South Bank Studios, Bishopthorpe Road, York, today and tomorrow, 10am to 4pm

JOIN artists, illustrators and makers in the South Bank area of York for a weekend of festive cheer and a chance to visit artists’ houses and studios. For sale will be paintings, illustrations, ceramics, textiles, cards and gifts.

Taking part: Jill Tattersall, at 11 Mount Parade, today and tomorrow; Marie Murphy, 38, Scarcroft Road, today; Donna Maria Taylor, Carolyn Coles, Karen Winship, Rebeca Mason (11am to 4pm, in the loft), Katie Hill (outside) and Rachel Jones (outside) at South Bank Studio, today only.

Other art events happening in York over the weekend will be PICA Studios’ open studio, in Grape Lane, today and tomorrow, 10am to 5pm, and Rogues Atelier’s open studio, in Fossgate, today and tomorrow, 10am to 5pm.

Damion Larkin: Hosting Laugh Out Loud Comedy Club at The Basement

Comedy gig of the week: Laugh Out Loud Comedy Club, The Basement, City Screen Picturehouse, York, today, 5pm and 8pm

ESSEX comedian Markus Birdman headlines Laugh Out Loud Comedy Club’s brace of Basement gigs today. Joining him will be Tal Davies, Hasan Al-Habib and promoter/master of ceremonies Damion Larkin.

In 2022, Birdman suffered a stroke and ended up with a platinum heart, the subject of his Platinum Tour show. This year he was a semi-finalist on Britain’s Got Talent. Box office: lolcomedyclubs.co.uk.

Nina Cumin, left, Jonathan Sage and Kate Ledger: York Late Music concert of Anthony Gilbert works tonight

York Late Music: Micklegate Singers, After Byrd, today, 1pm; Nina Kumin, Jonathan Sage and Kate Ledger, 7.30pm, both at Unitarian Chapel, St Saviourgate, York

MICKLEGATE Singers bring together three anniversaries, Byrd, Rachmaninov and Thomas Weelkes, in a lunchtime musical sandwich of more than 500 years of a cappella choral music.

In the evening, Nina Kumin, violin, Jonathan Sage, clarinet, and Kate Ledger, piano, mark July’s death of Anthony Gilbert by performing four of the British composer’s works, plus music by Nicola LeFanu and David Lumsdaine, who both knew him well. Box office: latemusic.org or on the door.

Kirk Brandon: Fronting Spear Of Destiny at The Crescent

40th anniversary gig of the week: Spear Of Destiny, The Crescent, York, Wednesday, 7.30pm

FORTY years on from Epic Records’ release of Spear Of Destiny’s debut album, The Grapes Of Wrath, Kirk Brandon leads his punk-influenced power rock band on a 17-date November and December tour.

On the back of American travels, Brandon will be performing with his longest-serving line-up:  Adrian Portas (New Model Army/Sex Gang Children), Craig Adams (Sisters Of Mercy/The Cult/The Mission) and Phil Martini (Jim Jones And The Righteous Mind), bolstered by Clive Osborne on saxophone and Steve Allen-Jones on keys. Support comes from former Simple Minds bassist Derek Forbes & The Dark. Box office: thecrescentyork.com.

Kate Rusby: Showcasing her new Christmas album, Light Years, at York Barbican on Thursday

Festive folk gig of the week: Kate Rusby, Established 1973 Christmas Tour, York Barbican, Thursday, 7.30pm

BARNSLEY folk nightingale Kate Rusby marks turning 50 on Monday with the release of her seventh Christmas album, Light Years, and an accompanying tour that opens in York.

In the company of her regular band, coupled with the added warmth of the Brass Boys, Kate combines carols still sung in South Yorkshire pubs with her winter songs and favourite Christmas chestnuts. Look out for the fancy dress finale. Box office: yorkbarbican.co.uk.

Rowntree Players having a ball in rehearsal for Cinderella

Pantomime opening of the week: Rowntree Players in Cinderella, Joseph Rowntree Theatre, December 9 to 16, except December 11

HOWARD Ella directs Rowntree Players in a rollicking romp of a pantomime, wherein Cinderella and Buttons are fighting to save the Windy End Hotel when the Queen announces a ball to celebrate Prince Charming’s birthday.

Trouble is brewing with the arrival of a “truly horrific trio”, determined to find themselves a prince. Expect song, dance, all the traditional silliness…and a mad rush for the last few tickets for all performances. Box office: 01904 501935 or josephrowntreetheatre.co.uk.

Billie Marten: Dropping into The Crescent with her Drop Cherries album. Picture: Katie Silvester

Recommended but sold out already

RIPON singer-songwriter Billie Marten, now based in London, returns home to Yorkshire to showcase her fourth album, Drop Cherries, on which she explores the struggle with modernity versus tradition, nature, mental health, relationships and “a general voyeurism on the world as she sees it”. Clara Mann supports.

REVIEW: Martin Dreyer’s verdict on Micklegate Singers, Unitarian Chapel, York

Nicholas Carter: Musical director of the Micklegate Singers

Late Music presents Micklegate Singers, Unitarian Chapel, St Saviouragte, York, December 3

LATE Music’s latest double-header – two concerts in one day on the first Saturday of autumn and winter months – welcomed the Micklegate Singers under Nicholas Carter at mid-day.

They belong under the Late Music umbrella: they established a reputation early on, under their founder-director Dennis Freeborn, for tackling new and often challenging repertoire.

This one was seasonal, entitled And There Were Shepherds…, but wisely included several Renaissance pieces alongside some 20th century favourites and others on which the ink was barely dry, the most recent being a new commission from James Else enjoying its premiere.

The Road Of Evening is a setting of Walter de la Mare’s Nod, which speaks of an old shepherd and his dog, Slumber-soon, and by inference of God tending his flock through the ages. Its Christmas message is negligible, but Else’s modal evocation of serene solitude is effective, if without focusing on any one aspect of the poetry.

Another premiere came with Absence, a setting by Joe Bates of various texts taken from William Penn’s More Fruits Of Solitude. This was the second of three pieces commissioned by the Micklegates from student composers at the University of York.

Bates’s penchant for parallel fifths is reminiscent of Vaughan Williams, although his use of two texts in conjunction, one in female voices, one in male, is certainly unusual – but it works. Humming later contributes to a sense of resolution from the conflicts of life; again, not specifically seasonal, but offering imaginative food for thought.

There were four other 21st century pieces. Bob Chilcott’s moving setting of Clive Sansom’s The Shepherd’s Carol (2000) was smoothly atmospheric, while the angular lines and bouncy rhythms of Cecilia McDowall’s Now May We Singen (2008) were the best projected of the evening.

The climax of U A Fanthorpe’s stunning poem BC – AD was not quite captured by David Bednall’s chordal setting of 2013. More effectively meditative was Alexander L’Estrange’s Epiphany Carol of the same year.

A Jonathan Dove lullaby joined other established favourites by Holst, Leighton, Poulenc and Richard Rodney Bennett, whose sensitivity to words was especially notable. The three Renaissance pieces, healthy reminders of a 500-year tradition of Christmas music, were by Palestrina, Lassus and Dering, all keenly negotiated.

The Micklegates tended to go easy on their diction in slower numbers, but in general we should rejoice that they are back from lockdown in fine fettle.

Review by Martin Dreyer

York Late Music season opens on Friday with Delta Saxophone Quartet’s Martland, McCartney and Joy Division programme

Delta Saxophone Quartet: Opening York Late Music’s 2022-2023 season on Friday

YORK Late Music’s 2022/2023 season opens on Friday with the Delta Saxophone Quartet’s evening concert, The Steve Martland Story, at St Saviourgate Unitarian Chapel, York.

The 7.30pm programme takes in Purcell/Martland’s Fantasia 6; Martland’s Remix and Principia; Joe Duddell’s Compacted Grounds and world premieres of Damon Rees’s A Hocket A Day and Stine Solbakken’s Karl Johan’s Gate.  

Further works will be Louis Andriessen’s Slow Birthday; Tom Armstrong’s Damascene Redux; Michael Nyman’s 24 Hours; Mark Anthony-Turnage’s Run Riot (1st Movement) and Paul McCartney’s Golden Slumbers/Carry The Weight, from The Beatles’ album Abbey Road.

The finale comprises David Lancaster’s arrangement of Joy Division’s Love Will Tear Us Apart, followed by Joe Duddell & Nick Williams’s Joy Division/Factory Records-inspired arrangements.

Looking ahead to the season as a whole, administrator Steve Crowther says: “Whether you are a devotee of new music or simply a lover of music itself, our 2022-2023 season promises to be a truly rewarding experience. We have more than 40 world premières, expressing freshness and innovation.

Jakob Fichert: Piano recital on Saturday

“The season embraces a full range of musical styles and genres. The stark immediacy of Xenakis. The hypnotic minimalism of John Adams. Authentic musical arrangements of Joy Division and David Bowie. We also include pieces by composers who deserve to be better known, for example Reginald Smith Brindle.”

This season also marks the 75th birthday of York Late Music patron and composer Nicola LeFanu, the 150th birthday of Ralph Vaughan Williams and the death in April this year of contemporary classical music and opera composer Sir Harrison Birtwistle.

Concerts largely take place at St Saviourgate Unitarian Chapel on the first Saturday of each month from September to December 2022, then February to June 2023. The season’s opening concert, however, falls this Friday, to be followed by lunchtime and evening concerts the next day.

Each evening concert has an informal pre-concert talk at 6.45pm, accompanied by a free glass of wine or juice, usually featuring an interview with one of the evening’s composers and an open discussion. First up, on Friday, will be saxophonist Chris Caldwell: Remembering Steve Martland.

“All of our concerts are informal and family-friendly, offering a chance to talk to composers and performers, which we strongly encourage. They don’t bite!” says Steve. “Students and young musicians are especially welcome.”

Bingham String Quartet: Playing works by Beethoven, Schnittke, LeFanu and Tippett

In Saturday’s lunchtime recital at 1pm, pianist Jakob Fichert focuses on the music of Massachusetts composer John Adams, who turned 75 on February 14 this year. His works China Gates and American Berserk will be complemented by Adolf Busch’s Variations On An Original Theme; Schönberg’s 6 Little Pieces Op. 19; Deborah Pritchard’s The Sun 
and the world premiere of Steve Crowther’s Piano Sonata No.4.

Saturday evening’s 7.30pm programme by the Bingham String Quartet comprises Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 6 in Bb Major (Op.18); Schnittke’s String Quartet No.3
LeFanu’s String Quartet No.2 and Tippett’s String Quartet No.2.

Further concerts will be given this year by pianist Duncan Honeybourne, November 5, 1pm; James Turnbull, oboe, and Libby Burgess, piano, November 5, 7.30pm; Micklegate Singers, And There Were Shepherds, December 3, 1pm, and Gemini, Nicola LeFanu At 75, A Portrait and Celebration, December 3, 7.30pm.

Next year’s programme opens with Music On The Edge: The Lapins, featuring Susie Holder-Williams, flute, Chris Caldwell, saxophone, and James Boyd, guitar, on February 4 at 1pm, followed by the Fitzwilliam String Quartet at 7.30pm.

Ruth Lee presents a harp recital on March 4 at 1pm; the Elysian Singers perform at 7.30pm that night.

Ruth Lee: Harp recital on March 4

On April 1, cellist Ivana Peranic and pianist Rachel Fryer unite for the lunchtime recital; York Late Music regular Ian Pace returns to the piano for the Xenakis Centenary Concert: Composers With A Side Hustle at 7.30pm.

On April 29, Tim Brooks and the York Hub steer the children and young students’ recital in a day-long project from 8am to 5pm.

Guitarist Federico Pendenza presents Reginald Smith Brindle: A Tribute on May 6 at 1pm. The tributes continue that evening when The New Matrix focus on the music of Sir Harrison Birtwistle at 7.30pm.

The Composers Competition Workshop takes place at the Unitarian Chapel from 8am to 5pm on June 2.

Baritone Stuart O’Hara sings to piano accompaniment on June 3; Nick Williams conducts the Late Music Ensemble at 7.30pm.

“We hope this whets your appetite and we look forward to seeing you soon,” says Steve. Full programme and ticket details can be found at latemusic.org. Tickets are available on the door too.