NCEM director Delma Tomlin nominated for Freeman of City of York status…following in the footsteps of Dame Judi Dench

Delma Tomlin: National Centre for Early Music director

DR DELMA Tomlin MBE, founder and director of the National Centre for Early Music, has been nominated to receive the status of Honorary Freeman of the City of York. 

The decision will be made next Thursday (17/12/2020) at a special full council meeting of City of York Council, which “may lawfully appoint a person or persons who have, in its opinion, rendered eminent services to the city as outlined in Section 249 of the Local Government Act 1972”.

The meeting will consider nominations for awarding the title to both Delma, as busy as ever this week hosting the York Early Music Christmas Festival at the NCEM, and York historian Alison Sinclair. 

The last time this status was awarded was in 2014 to Lord Crathorne and, if the status is awarded next week, Delma and Alison will be following in the footsteps of the only women honoured since 2002: actor and national treasure Dame Judi Dench and Quaker, peace campaigner and long-serving head teacher of The Mount School, Joyce Pickard, who died in September 2017.

Delma’s nomination comes in recognition of her commitment to arts and culture in York over the past 40 years. She helped to secure significant funding to establish the National Centre for Early Music to deliver early music, world music, folk and jazz in the converted St Margaret’s Church building in Walmgate.

The NCEM stages the summer York Early Music Festival and its winter marrow, the York Early Music Christmas Festival, this year running a series of socially distanced concerts from December 4 to 12, complemented by the inaugural York Christmas At Home festival, streamed online from December 11 to 13. In addition, beyond York, she programmes the annual Beverley & East Riding Early Music Festival.

The NCEM is recognised internationally for its promotion of Early music, also hosting the NCEM Young Composers Award and running a vibrant education and outreach programme, working with the communities of York throughout the year.   

“I have had so much fun with all the projects I’ve been involved in and, in this rather miserable year, it’s wonderful to be offered something so joyful,” says Honorary Freeman of the City of York nominee Delma Tomlin

In 2000, Delma was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of York in recognition of her work in the City of York. In 2008, she was appointed an MBE for services to the arts in Yorkshire in The Queen’s New Year’s Honours List.

In 2018, she was made Cultural Ambassador for the City of York and was named Cultural Champion at that year’s York Culture Awards. In 2022, she will become the first female Governor of the Company of Merchant Adventurers.

Reacting to today’s nomination, Delma said: “As someone who has lived in York for 40 years, I couldn’t be more pleased or imagine more of an honour. The city has given me such opportunities, and the people have always been extraordinarily welcoming.

“I have had so much fun with all the projects I’ve been involved in and, in this rather miserable year, it’s wonderful to be offered something so joyful.” 

Councillor Keith Aspden, leader of City of York Council, said: “Given their eminent services to our city, I am delighted to support the award of Honorary Freedom of the City of York to both Delma Tomlin and Alison Sinclair.

“York has a rich history of freemen, with records dating back to 1272, making it an honour of great historical importance rarely awarded. It has been fascinating to read the nominations for Delma and Alison and learn more about the outstanding work they have done for both the city and its residents, in particular in the fields of heritage, culture and music.

“If the nominations are approved at the council meeting, a subsequent Civic occasion would then take place later next year to recognise and formally celebrate the honour.” 

Who won the National Centre for Early Music Young Composers Award last night?

On screen: National Centre for Early Music Young Composers Award winners Eilidh Owen and Finton O’Hare, with their fellow competitors on Zoom , at last night’s live-streamed final

FINTON O’Hare and Eilidh Owen have won the National Centre for Early Music Young Composers Award prizes in York.

O’Hare emerged as the victor in the 19 to 25 age group, Owen likewise in the 18 and under category, at last night’s final live-streamed from the NCEM, St Margaret’s Church, Walmgate.

Presented in association with BBC Radio 3, the 13th iteration of the NCEM award invited young composers living in the UK to create a new polyphonic work for unaccompanied choir, setting either the Our Father (Pater Noster) prayer from St Matthew’s Gospel or the first and last verses of George Herbert’s poem The Flower.  

The eight finalists’ compositions were performed by York musicians Ex Corde Vocal Ensemble, the consort of the Ebor Singers.

Seeking the prize in the 18 to 25 final were Fintan O’Hare’s composition Come Passing Rain, Noah Bray’s Our Father, Sam Gooderham’s Late-Past, Caitlin Harrison’s The Flower and James Mitchell’s The Lord’s Prayer.

Competing for the 18 years and under award were Eilidh Owen’s As If There Were No Such Cold Thing, Ethan Lieber’s The Flower and Emily Pedersen’s Pater Noster.

The evening also featured performances of works by Owain Park and Alexander Campkin, winners in 2010 when Owain took home the 18 and under prize. Both have  become well established composers, providing good examples and inspiration for the 2020 entrants. Music by Alec Roth and Ben Parry was performed too.

“This year has been very different, moving the final and the workshop online, but we’re sure that the composers enjoyed this exciting experience,” said NCEM director Dr Delma Tomlin

Last night’s final followed a day-long online workshop from the NCEM, where composer Christopher Fox, professor of music at Brunel University, and Ex Corde Vocal Ensemble were joined virtually by the young composers. 

The 2020 panel of judges were BBC Radio 3 producer Les Pratt, The Tallis Scholars’ director, Peter Phillips, and NCEM director Dr Delma Tomlin.

Reflecting on the 2020 competition, played out against the backdrop of the Covid-19 pandemic, Delma said: “The NCEM Young Composers Award continues to attract composers of the highest calibre from all over the UK.

“This year has been very different, moving the final and the workshop online, but we’re sure that the composers enjoyed this exciting experience. We’re looking forward to the concert at the Cadogan Hall next year with the wonderful Tallis Scholars performing the winning pieces.”

Next March’s London premiere of O’Hare and Owen’s compositions will be recorded for broadcast on BBC Radio 3’s Early Music Show.

Delma concluded: “Congratulations to our talented young composers and a special thank-you to the Ex Corde Vocal Ensemble, who helped make the award possible. I’d also like to say a big thank-you to my fellow judges and, last but not least, BBC Radio 3 for their invaluable support

“We look forward to meeting in person for the 2021 award. Details will be announced on BBC Radio 3’s Early Music Show on November 29.”

Last night’s live-streamed performance can be viewed at ncem.co.uk/composersaward.

REVIEW: Royal Philharmonic Orchestra Brass in Leeds…but brassed off in York

Conductor Simon Wright

REVIEW: Royal Philharmonic Orchestra Brass (and other thoughts), Leeds Town Hall, October 24

TWELVE heroes from the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra – ten brass players and two percussionists – travelled to Leeds on Saturday to play before an audience of around five dozen.

Simon Wright conducted them in a stimulating mixed bag of music from the last 130 years, plus an early interjection from Giovanni Gabrieli.

Harmless though this may sound, the event was hugely significant. Locally based groups, notably from Opera North, have been appearing at the Town Hall since late August. But this was the first time that a professional ensemble from further afield had appeared there since lockdown.

Later this week, there will be two lunchtime events and three evening lieder recitals, all given by musicians of international standing. And that’s just on the classical side. So, it can be done, all within the regulations: distanced seating, masks worn by the audience, no interval or refreshments. But these are small privations compared to the thrill of live music returning. Leeds Playhouse has been equally adventurous.

In other cities, the silence continues to be deafening. Take York, for example, normally a bastion of classical performance. The Minster, the Barbican, University of York’s Central Hall, all are large venues well suited to music and easily adaptable to the new conditions.

Smaller but equally adaptable is the National Centre for Early Music and the university’s Lyons Concert Hall. All remain resolutely shut. Why? Hasn’t government (our) money been made available to keep such venues open?

Back to the brass. They opened with an ingenious arrangement of Elgar’s Cockaigne (In London Town) by one of their own, trombonist Matthew Knight. Given its complexity, it was a surprising choice as opener and took a while to settle.

But the main theme emerged triumphant on the trombones just in time for the accelerando towards the close. With the Town Hall so empty, and therefore even more resonant than usual, Gabrieli’s Canzon on the seventh tone had a regal clarity, comparable surely to St Mark’s Venice itself, as the two quartets bounced off another; it might have made a better curtain-raiser.

Imogen Holst’s Leiston Suite (1967) delivered five neatly concentrated miniatures, including a sparkling fanfare, a balletic jig and several flashes of her father’s spare harmony, all tastefully interwoven.

Eric Crees’ skilful arrangements of three Spanish dances by Granados were enchantingly idiomatic, rays of mediterranean sunshine. The colours in Duke Ellington’s bluesy Chelsea Bridge were more muted.

Hartlepool-born Jim Parker’s name may not be on everyone’s lips, but most of us have heard his music through his soundtracks for Midsomer Murders, Foyle’s War, Moll Flanders and any number of films. Why he has four BAFTAS to his name became clear in A Londoner In New York (1987), five attractive cameos of the city’s buzz, including steam engines at Grand Central, a romantic walk in Central Park, and the can-can chorus line at Radio City.

London came to Leeds here and we may all be grateful for the glimpse of normality.

Review by Martin Dreyer

Black Swan Folk Club presents Chris While & Julie Matthews online and Kathryn Roberts & Sean Lakeman at NCEM

Kathryn Roberts and Sean Lakeman: Celebrating 25 years together…with an arm wrestle

THE Black Swan Folk Club is still closed under Covid restrictions, but the York club is mounting two concert evenings this autumn, one online, the other at the NCEM.

“We are starting to put a few things together that are the start of our journey back to regular live music,” says club organiser Chris Euesden after booking Chris While and Julie Matthews for October 15 and Kathryn Roberts and Sean Lakeman for two hour-long shows on November 17.

While and Matthews will be playing their 7.30pm online concert exclusively for the club and will conclude the night with a live question-and-answer session.

Tickets are on sale at: whileandmatthews.com/virtual-tour. “Once you’ve purchased a ticket, you’ll be able to watch the streamed performance whenever you want,” says Euesden. “Chris and Julie have been guests at the club and played for us in concert at the NCEM many times over the years and it’s always been a great evening.”

While and Matthews have been performing together for more than 25 years, clocking up 2,600 gigs, appearing on 100-plus albums and writing hundreds of original songs. Last year, they released their 11th studio album, Revolution Calls.

Sponsored by the Black Swan Folk Club, Roberts and Lakeman’s concerts at the National Centre for Early Music, St Margaret’s Church, Walmgate, will start at 6pm and 8.30pm, each featuring the same setlist.

“2020 marks 25 years of making music together for this wife and husband duo,” says Euesden. “Kathryn Roberts and Sean Lakeman have long established themselves as one of the UK folk scene’s most rewardingly enduring partnerships.

“To celebrate and acknowledge this milestone, the couple will revisit and reinterpret songs that span their career. From the early days of folk supergroup Equation through to 2020’s On Reflection, with a nod or two along the way to their extracurricular musical adventures, the evening promises a whistle-stop tour through their artistic journey to date.”

Limited seating will be available for the November 17 shows. Each household/support bubble will be seated around small tables positioned at a two-metre social distance from others. Tables can accommodate up to four people in the same group. Check out the guidelines for these concerts via: ncem.co.uk/events/kathryn-roberts-sean-lakeman/ 

Tickets for Roberts and Lakeman will be on sale at blackswanfolkclub@yahoo.co.uk from October 9. If you bought a ticket for the duo’s postponed April 22 gig, the NCEM team will be in touch soon to discuss your options.

REVIEW: Songs Under Skies, Kitty VR and Boss Caine, NCEM, York, 9/9/2021

Kitty VR: Playing her first gig for seven months at the NCEM churchyard. Picture: Neil Chapman/Unholy Racket

REVIEW: Songs Under Skies, Kitty VR and Boss Caine, National Centre for Early Music churchyard, St Margaret’s Church, Walmgate, York

THE inaugural Songs Under Skies season of open-air acoustic concerts in the NCEM churchyard resumes with Polly Bolton and Henry Parker tomorrow, concluding with Elkyn and Fawn on Thursday (both nights sold out).

Alas the skies were so sodden for the opening night that Amy May Ellis and Luke Saxton had to scurry indoors for their show, but the great British weather was on best behaviour for double bill number three, Kitty VR and Boss Caine last Wednesday, co-hosted by the NCEM, The Crescent and the Fulford Arms under the campaigning umbrella of the Music Venues Alliance.

At least a couple of sets of gravestones were not obeying social distancing, but this was a Covid-secure event in every way, from the requirement to sanitise hands on arrival to the one-way system in operation for entering and leaving the NCEM church building (wearing masks when inside too).

Audience members were seated in pods – or perhaps “God pods”, because we were in a churchyard – as a full garden gathered, full of the joy of being able to watch Kitty VR live, rather than in VR in that virtual reality hinterland of Zoom that has substituted stoically in lockdown and beyond.

Gravestones at the NCEM: Standing out from the social-distancing measures at the Songs Under Skies concerts

Kitty nearly came a cropper before the start, falling in an unseen hole as she carried her box of CDs, but thankfully not disappearing like Alice into Wonderland.

Once on stage, Kitty cut a composed, quietly spoken, contemplative figure in familiar  singer-songwriter mode, a la Laura Marling, so much so that her spectral electric guitar would never have said Boo to any passing acoustic music wardens or below-ground churchyard inhabitants for that matter.

In her first concert since lockdown, Kitty introduced new song Wisteria, rhyming that butterfly of short-lived flowers with hysteria, rather than listeria in these pandemic times, unless the Hutch hearing was failing, and revealed a predilection for single-word titles – Dimensions, Whirlpool, Slumber – and single-speed compositions in life’s slow lane.

Closing with an acoustic rendition of Release on a stool, her sunsetting set was the balm before the country, blues and even rockabilly storm of Boss Caine, aka Daniel Lucas, the stalwart sentinel of the York gig scene for so long in his rapscallion role as the city’s grizzled answer to Tom Waits.

Boss Caine and stand-up bassist Paddy Berry playing Songs Under Skies after rehearsing remotely. Picture: Neil Chapman/Unholy Racket

He has been creative in lockdown, writing sleepless nocturnal songs for Bandcamp  premieres and EPs and now airing them live, as darkness descended and lighting picked out the churchyard trees’ frameworks as subtly as watercolours.

“We’re going to be brave and play a completely new set,” said Lucas, who had rehearsed remotely with stand-up bass player Paddy Berry and would now be playing together for the first time. All the more reason to love to this troubadour tornado.

“If I’m gonna die, I’m gonna die high,” he sang defiantly…“I could use a little chemical sedation”… “I’ll even put your secret into one of my songs”… “Take me out like a Kennedy”…the memorable lyrics kept a’coming.

“No-one will be offended if I use a Conference League swear word, will they?”, he said, more as a statement, rather than seeking permission. Lucas has always been a master of the banter too.

Kitty VR closes her set by playing an acoustic version of Release, taking to the stool after her guitar strap broke the day before. Picture: Neil Chapman/Unholy Racket

“You keep going for the song,” he reasoned for not caving in to the stultifying impact of Covid-19, before a self-deprecating finale flourish. “This is a song about people having complaints after Boss Caine gigs,” he announced.

Too much that, not enough this, they say. Wrong, wrong, wrong, on all counts. Instead, in his concluding words, Boss Caine will always “Burn on bright, burn on bright again”: York’s torch-bearer for why live music at its best will always be a thrill, a rush, like no other.

Kitty VR, by the way, has contributed a haunted solo rendition of Colour Me In, Phil Grainger and lyricist Alexander Flanagan Wright’s finest composition, to The Mythstape, the North Yorkshire duo’s gradually emerging mixtape of recordings by their favourite artists of songs from their two-hander shows Orpheus, Eurydice and Gods Gods Gods.

The Howl And The Hum’s Sam Griffiths has applied his golden brush to Tumble Down, from Eurydice, now floating high on angel’s wings. Watch this space for news of more Myth making…

…Oh, and Phil, could you please deliver on your sort-of promise to record your own versions too. Make that particular myth come true!

Phil Grainger, left, and Alexander Flanagan Wright: Inviting Kitty PR, Sam Griffiths and fellow favourite singers to record their songs from Orpheus, Eurydice and Gods Gods Gods for The Mythstape. Picture: Charlotte Graham

More Things To Do in and around York and at home, as opposed to a “social gathering” for the joy of six. List No 14, from The Press

Helen Wilson in a damned spot of Scottish bother in York Shakespeare Project’s Sit-down Sonnets at Holy Trinity churchyard, Goodramgate, York. Picture: John Saunders

MUSICAL theatre in a park, drag cabaret at a sports club, Shakespeare sonnets and songs in churchyards, high-speed film action at an airfield and chamber music online catch Charles Hutchinson’s eye

Graveyard smash of the week: York Shakespeare Project’s Sit-down Sonnets, Holy Trinity churchyard, Goodramgate, York, until Saturday

WHEN York Shakespeare Project’s Macbeth bit the dust in March, put on hold by the Covid lockdown, York’s purveyors of Shakespeare’s Sonnet Walks decided to stage a sit-down, but not as an act of protest.

Director Mick Taylor and producer Maurice Crichton hatched a plan to present assorted familiar Shakespeare characters, brought into the modern world, to reflect on the pandemic with an accompanying sonnet.

Holy Trinity’s churchyard, with its five park benches, tree shelter and mown grass, provides an ideal socially distanced open-air setting. Bring a rug, cushion, camp chair, flask and biscuits, suggests Maurice, to performances at 5.45pm and 7pm, plus 4.15pm on Saturday.

Polly Bolton: Sharing a double bill with Henry Parker in the NCEM churchyard

Double bills in another churchyard: Songs Under Skies, National Centre for Early Music, St Margaret’s Church, Walmgate, York, tonight, September 16 and 17

SONGS Under Skies brings together the National Centre for Early Music, The Crescent, The Fulford Arms and the Music Venues Alliance for an open-air series of acoustic concerts.

The opening night with Amy May Ellis and Luke Saxton on September 2 was driven inside by the rain. Fingers crossed for more clement conditions for Wolf Solent and Rosalind tonight, Polly Bolton and Henry Parker on September 16 and Elkyn and Fawn the following night.

Gates will open at 6.30pm for each 7pm start; acts will perform either side of a 30-minute interval with a finishing time of 8.30pm. 

The Bev Jones Music Company in a socially distanced rehearsal for Sunday’s show at the Rowntree Park Amphitheatre

Musical theatre showcase part one: Bev Jones Music Company, Strictly Live In The Park, Rowntree Park Amphitheatre, York, Sunday, 3pm.

THE Bev Jones Music Company stage a full-sized musical theatre concert with more than 20 socially distanced singers and a five-piece band on Sunday afternoon.

Strictly Live In The Park promises a “spectacular show for all the family, with popular show music, pop music, dance and comedy”, under the musical direction of John Atkin with choreography by Claire Pulpher.

Expect numbers from Adele to Robbie Williams, Cabaret to Hairspray, Mack & Mabel to South Pacific, The Full Monty to Chess, Miss Saigon to the finale, Les Miserables, all arranged by the late company driving force Bev Jones. Also expect temperature tests on arrival.

Conor Mellor in York Stage Musicals’ first show at the Rowntree Park Amphitheatre, York. He will be back for the second one too. Picture: Jess Main

Musical theatre showcase part two: York Stage Musicals present Jukebox Divas, Rowntree Park Amphitheatre, York, September 18 to 20, 7pm

AFTER the sold-out three-night run of York Stage Musicals’ first ever outdoor show last month, producer/director Nik Briggs and musical director Jessica Douglas return to their Rowntree Park psychedelic igloo to stage Jukebox Divas.

Jessica’s band line-up has changed, so too has the singing sextet, with Conor Mellor from the debut show being joined by Dan Conway, Sophie Hammond, Grace Lancaster and Eleanor Leaper.

“With music from We Will Rock You, Mamma Mia! and more modern releases like + Juliet and Moulin Rouge, audiences will be entertained for 90 minutes with vocal tributes to artists such as Elvis Presley, Queen, Meat Loaf, Katy Perry, Carole King and many more,” says Nik.

Baby Driver: one of the films with high-speed thrills to be screened at AA Getaway Drive-in Cinema at Elvington Airfield

Car experience of next week: AA Getaway Drive-in Cinema, Elvington Airfield, near York, September 18 to 20

AFTER Daisy Duke’s Drive-in Cinema on Knavesmire, now comes a celebration of high-speed thrills and derring-do skills at Elvington Airfield…on screen, courtesy of AA Getaway Drive-in Cinema.

Tickets have sold out already for the September 19 screenings of James Gunn’s 2014 space chase, Guardians Of The Galaxy (12A), at 2.30pm and James Mangold’s 2019 Ford v Ferrari race-track clash, Le Mans 66 (12), at 7.30pm.

Bookings can still be made, however, for Guardians Of The Galaxy on September 18 at 2.30pm and September 20 at 7.30pm and Edgar Wright’s 2017 getaway-car heist thriller, Baby Driver (15), September 18, 7.30pm, and September 20, 2.30pm.

No more kitchen-sink dramas for Velma Celli as York’s drag diva deluxe swaps live-streaming for the great outdoors in Acomb tomorrow

Stepping out of her Bishopthorpe kitchen into the York open air: Velma Celli: An Evening Of Song, York RI Community Sports Club, New Lane, Acomb, tomorrow, 8pm.

AFTER a spring and summer of concerts live-streamed from home, York drag diva Velma Celli takes to the outdoor stage at a sports club.

“The show will be a mixed bag of whatever I fancy on the day – pop, rock, impressions and some musical theatre obviously – and of course requests online. Message me on Facebook,” advises Velma.

Very special guests are promised: definitely York soul powerhouse Jessica Steel will be among them.

Tim Lowe: York Chamber Music Festival artistic director and cellist

Festival of the month: York Chamber Music Festival, September 18 to 20

THE 2020 York Chamber Music Festival is going online to live-stream three concerts from the National Centre for Early Music, Walmgate, York, in a celebration of the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth.

Festival artistic director and cellist Lowe will be performing with Simon Blendis and Charlotte Scott, violins; Matthew Jones, violin and viola; Jon Thorne, viola, and Katya Apekisheva, piano. For full details on the programme and on how to watch the concerts, go to ycmf.co.uk.

Strictly between us: Anton du Beke and Giovanni Pernice’s tour poster for Him & Me next summer at the Grand Opera House, York

One for the 2021 diary: Anton & Giovanni, Him & Me, Grand Opera House, York, July 12

STRICTLY Come Dancing staples Anton du Beke and Giovanni Pernice will link up for their debut tour together, Him & Me, next year.

Details are sketchy, but the dapper Sevenoaks ballroom king and the Italian stallion say: “This show promises to be the best night out in the Summer of 2021 for all ages…A true dance extravaganza!”

Anton and Giovanni will be joined by a “world-class cast” of dancers and singers for a show produced by Strictly Theatre Co and directed by Alan Burkitt.

And what about…?

A visit to the reopened Bar Convent Living Heritage Centre exhibition in Blossom Street, York. Malton Harvest Food Festival on Saturday. New Light Prize Exhibition, with more than 100 artists, opening at Scarborough Art Gallery on September 19. York Walking Festival, running or, rather, walking until Sunday (details at iTravel York website).

Jon, by Laura Quin Harris, at the New Light Prize Exhibition at Scarborough Art Gallery

When is a sold-out show not sold out? When extra tickets are released for Hansel And Gretel at NCEM…but hurry, hurry

In a rush like Jennifer Clark’s Gretel in Opera North’s Whistle Stop Opera: Hansel And Gretel? You should be if you want tickets for tomorrow’s shows at the NCEM, York. Picture: Tom Arber

NEWSFLASH! More tickets are being released for Opera North’s three sold-out performances of Whistle Stop Opera: Hansel And Gretel in the National Centre for Early Music garden, in Walmgate, York.

Tickets are suddenly available for tomorrow’s three performances at 11.30am, 1pm and 3pm. The urgent advice is: “Get in quickly. Only a few pods remain. Buy online from ncem.co.uk.”

Songs Under Skies garden gigs open at NCEM tonight. All but one has sold out. UPDATED

Polly Bolton: Tickets are still available for her Songs Under Skies concert on September 16

SONGS Under Skies kicks off tonight under foreboding skies at the National Centre for Early Music, York, with a double bill of Amy May Ellis and Luke Saxton.

All but one of the open-air acoustic concerts in the churchyard gardens of the NCEM’s home at St Margaret’s Church, Walmgate, has sold out as live music with an audience returns to the NCEM for the first time since the March lockdown.

Tickets are still available for Polly Bolton and Henry Parker on September 16, but hurry as the capacity is only 50.

You can buy tickets for family groups or as individuals. Seating each night will be in pods and full details can be found at tickets.ncem.co.uk/.

Songs Under Skies bring together the National Centre for Early Music, The Crescent, The Fulford Arms and the Music Venues Alliance for the September series.

Bella Gaffney expresses her delight at the chance to play a concert again

Taking part are Amy May Ellis and Luke Saxton tonight (September 2); Dan Webster and Bella Gaffney, tomorrow; 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.

Concerts for last month’s online York Early Music Festival had to be recorded and filmed behind closed doors at the NCEM, with no audiences, for digital streaming from July 9 to 11.

For Songs Under Skies, gates will open at 6.30pm for each 7pm start; acts will perform either side of a 30-minute interval with a finishing time of 8.30pm. Social distancing will be strictly observed and masks must be worn inside the NCEM but will not be required in the garden.

NCEM director Delma Tomlin says: “We’re thrilled to be able to welcome artists and audiences back to our home at St Margaret’s Church, thanks to the invaluable help of our York partners, and I’d like to say a huge thank-you to them.

“We hope that this marks the beginning of a gradual and safe return to being able to bring you much more music over the months to come.

Sold out: Boss Caine’s double bill with Kitty PR on September 9

Like all arts organisations, the last few months have been difficult, but we’re lucky to have received overwhelming support from our loyal audiences and from our funders, to whom I would like to extend my heartfelt thanks. We hope you’ll be able to join us for these wonderful Songs Under [the] Skies of our beautiful city.”

Chris Sherrington, who runs The Fulford Arms and is the North East regional coordinator for the Music Venues Alliance, says: “Both The Crescent community venue and The Fulford Arms are excited to be working with our York Music Venue Network partners, the NCEM, to help fill some of the cultural vacuum that has sadly been affecting York since March.

“It’s an exciting opportunity to bring our expertise together and programme a beautiful series of shows in a safe and stunning space with a range of amazing talent. We hope this will be the first of many such endeavours.”

The NCEM has been one of the first arts organisations to stream online concerts, seeking to keep music alive since the beginning of lockdown and attracting a worldwide audience of more than 70,000 in the process.

Over the past few months, the NCEM has streamed a series of concerts from its archives, followed by the aforementioned York Early Music Festival Online with its combination of concerts and talks. The Director’s Cut, Delma’s selection of festival concert highlights, is available to download and keep. Go to ncem.co.uk for more details.

NCEM, Crescent and Fulford Arms line up 12 acts for Songs Under Skies garden gigs

Amy May Ellis: Opening open-air concert of the Songs Under Skies series in York

SONGS Under Skies will bring together the National Centre for Early Music, The Crescent, The Fulford Arms and the Music Venues Alliance for a September series of open-air acoustic concerts in York.

Taking part will be Amy May Ellis; Luke Saxton; Dan Webster; Bella Gaffney; Kitty VR; Boss Caine; Wolf Solent; Rosalind; Polly Bolton; Henry Parker; Elkyn and Fawn.

The setting will be the garden of St Margaret’s Church, home of the NCEM, for six double bills that will mark the return of audiences to the verdant Walmgate premises for the first time since the March lockdown.

Concerts for last month’s online York Early Music Festival had to be recorded and filmed behind closed doors at the NCEM, with no audiences, for digital streaming from July 9 to 11.

Boss Caine: Sharing the September 9 bill with Kitty VR

Songs Under Skies will take place on Wednesday and Thursday evenings between September 2 and 17. Gates will open at 6.30pm for each 7pm start; acts will perform either side of a 30-minute interval with a finishing time of 8.30pm. Social distancing will be strictly observed and masks must be worn inside the NCEM but will not be required in the garden.

Dates for the diary are: September 2, Amy May Ellis and Luke Saxton; September 3, Dan Webster and Bella Gaffney; September 9,  Kitty VR and Boss Caine; September 10, Wolf Solent and Rosalind; September 16, Polly Bolton and Henry Parker; September 17, Elkyn and Fawn.

NCEM director Delma Tomlin says: “We’re thrilled to be able to welcome artists and audiences back to our home at St Margaret’s Church, thanks to the invaluable help of our York partners, and I’d like to say a huge thank-you to them.

“We hope that this marks the beginning of a gradual and safe return to being able to bring you much more music over the months to come.

“We’re thrilled to be able to welcome artists and audiences back to our home at St Margaret’s Church,” says NCEM director Delma Tomlin

Like all arts organisations, the last few months have been difficult, but we’re lucky to have received overwhelming support from our loyal audiences and from our funders, to whom I would like to extend my heartfelt thanks. We hope you’ll be able to join us for these wonderful Songs Under [the] Skies of our beautiful city.”

Chris Sherrington, who runs The Fulford Arms and is the North East regional coordinator for the Music Venues Alliance, says: “Both The Crescent community venue and The Fulford Arms are excited to be working with our York Music Venue Network partners, the NCEM, to help fill some of the cultural vacuum that has sadly been affecting York since March.

“It’s an exciting opportunity to bring our expertise together and programme a beautiful series of shows in a safe and stunning space with a range of amazing talent. We hope this will be the first of many such endeavours.”

Bella Gaffney expressing her joy at the Songs Under Skies season being confirmed

The NCEM has been one of the first arts organisations to stream online concerts, seeking to keep music alive since the beginning of lockdown and attracting a worldwide audience of more than 70,000 in the process.

Over the past few months, the NCEM has streamed a series of concerts from its archives, followed by the aforementioned York Early Music Festival Online with its combination of concerts and talks. The Director’s Cut, Delma’s selection of festival concert highlights, is available to download and keep. Go to ncem.co.uk for more details.

Songs Under Skies tickets cost £6 per show and audiences are invited to buy tickets for family groups or as individuals. Seating will be in pods with a maximum audience capacity of 50. Full details can be found at tickets.ncem.co.uk/.

Opera North to Switch ON for autumn of outdoor events and digital projects

Song Of Our Heartland community rehearsals in Shildon in November 2019. Picture: Graeme Rowatt

OPERA North is ready to Switch ON for an autumn programme of outdoor events and digital projects after Covid-19 put paid to the indoor season.

Coming up will be Will Todd’s new community opera, Song Of Our Heartland, released as a film in a digital premiere in October; South African cellist and composer Abel Selaocoe’s new soundwalk for Leeds, As You Are, in November, and a new animation, La Petite Bohème, that re-interprets Act III of Puccini’s La Bohème in a digital project to be shown in northern cities in the run-up to Christmas.

First up, from Tuesday, August 18, will be a tour of socially distanced open-air performances of Whistle Stop Opera: Hansel And Gretel for family audiences, concluding at the National Centre for Early Music, York, on September 5.

The re-arranged season “embodies the Leeds company’s commitment to make music with and for audiences in communities across the North of England, respecting Government guidelines on social distancing and live performances”.

In the coming weeks, Opera North plans further announcements of concerts and staged opera, either live or available digitally, as the national opera company responds to the changing Coronavirus guidelines.

Those guidelines forced the postponement of the previously planned season of large-scale operas that Opera North would have toured to theatres across northern England from September.

Richard Mantle, Opera North’s general director, says: “We are extremely pleased to be able to announce such varied projects as the first newly planned activity for this autumn. Switch ON is our first step back to sharing music and performance with audiences in villages, towns and cities across the North of England.

“We have not been silent during lockdown, with thousands of people from around the world engaging with films of our work online, from Wagner’s Ring cycle to The Turn Of The Screw, and over 1,000 amateur singers taking part in weekly lessons alongside the Chorus of Opera North in From Couch To Chorus, but we are delighted now to be announcing this first selection of new work.”

On Friday, Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden confirmed that indoor performances with socially distanced audiences would be allowed from August 15, after the original re-opening date of August 1 was called off by Prime Minister Boris Johnson at the last minute.

Nevertheless, as Mantle says: “The overall picture regarding live indoor performances remains unclear over the next few months. We hope to be able to plan and present more live performance of great opera and music for audiences across our region, in as many different cities and communities as possible, once we are able to perform within social-distancing guidelines.

“We are currently undertaking detailed planning with our partner venues in Leeds [Leeds Grand Theatre] and beyond to ensure that we will be ready to restart performances safely and with financial viability, once there is a clear green light from the Government.”

In the meantime, tickets for Switch ON events will all be “accessibly priced”. “We hope as many people as possible will have the opportunity to experience music with us either live or digitally,” says Mantle.

“We are a partner in Leeds Says Thanks, an initiative by Leeds City Council to thank NHS and frontline workers for their enormous efforts during the Covid-19 pandemic; as part of this we will ensure that tickets to As You Are, our soundwalk for Leeds, will be made available to frontline staff.

“We remain committed to our purpose and whatever challenges we face, Opera North will continue to use music to create extraordinary experiences every day for and with the communities we serve. Live or digitally, in classrooms, theatres, homes and public spaces; we will continue to share music with people of all ages and backgrounds.”

All productions previously planned for Autumn 2020 – La Traviata, Jack The Ripper and Trouble In Tahiti/West Side Story Symphonic Dances, in association with Phoenix Dance Theatre – and  Winter (early) 2021 – Carmen, Alcina, and The Girl Of The Golden West – have been postponed and will be rescheduled over the next two years.

Opera North’s new concert staging of Richard Wagner’s Parsifal, scheduled for concert halls across the country in Spring 2021, remains on sale.

For ticket details for Switch ON, go to operanorth.co.uk/.

Whistle Stop Opera: Hansel And Gretel, when performed in 2017

SWITCH ON: Event information

Whistle Stop Opera: Hansel And Gretel, August 18 to September 5

DEVISED and directed by John Savournin for four singers and accordion, Whistle Stop Opera: Hansel And Gretel provides an introduction to opera for families, as well as being suitable for adults.

This 40-minute performance uses excerpts from Engelbert Humperdinck’s magical 1893 opera to retell the fairy tale of two hungry children, lost in the woods, and a gingerbread cottage that hides a scary secret.

Whistle Stop Opera: Hansel And Gretel will be performed in outdoor settings across the North in August and September, with social distancing in place for audience members and performers and limited numbers of tickets available, in accordance with Covid-19 guidelines.

Tickets will be on sale for “pods” of up to five people, with each space including two seats and a floor mat. Exact seating arrangements may vary from venue to venue; please check with venues for further details.

Performers include Laura Kelly-McInroy (Jennie Hildebrand in Street Scene, 2020) as Hansel; Jennifer Clark (Flora, The Turn Of The Screw, 2020) as Gretel; Claire Pascoe (Emma Jones, Street Scene, 2020; Witch, Into the Woods, 2016) as Mother/Witch, and director John Savournin (Carl Olsen, Street Scene, 2020; Priest Fotis, The Greek Passion, 2019) as Narrator/Sandman. Miloš Milivojević will play accordion.

Venues and dates: Slung Low, The Holbeck, Leeds, August 18, 4.30pm; Bowes Museum, Barnard Castle, August 20, 1pm and 3pm; Ushaw House, Durham, August 22, 1pm and 3pm; Allendale Village Hall, Hexham, August 25, 6.30pm; The Lowry, Salford Quays, August 26, 11.30am and 1.30pm; Harewood House, Leeds, August 30, times to be announced; Stage@TheDock, Hull, September 2, times to be announced; Pontefract Castle, Pontefract, September 4, 4.30pm; National Centre for Early Music, York, September 5, 11.30am, 1pm and 3pm.

Song Of Our Heartland, October

THIS new community opera should have premiered at Locomotion, in Shildon, County Durham, in May 2020, but you know the rest.

Commissioned by Northern Heartlands, the Great Place scheme for County Durham, it was written by Durham-born composer Will Todd, with a storyline by Caroline Clegg and libretto by Emma Jenkins, and was developed in partnership with members of north-eastern communities.

However, after the cancellation of rehearsals and performances earlier in the year, Song Of Our Heartland now will be created digitally, with different elements recorded separately under social-distancing guidelines and pieced together as a 60-minute film, expected to be released in October 2020.

Participants in the Community Chorus and members of the community taking solo roles in the opera have been rehearsing with Opera North’s music team via Zoom sessions during lockdown; their parts will each be recorded individually.

Set in a town marked by declining industry and loss of civic spaces, Song Of Our Heartland is both a love letter to the landscape, the heritage and the people of the area and an act of storytelling by three generations of indomitable women.  

After the death of Harold, a former miner and railwayman, the opera shines a light on his family, his wife Lilian, daughter Jacqueline and granddaughter Skylar, as they face a stark choice between moving away to find jobs and new opportunities or staying to face an uncertain future. 

Forced by Harold’s death to remain and driven by her grandad’s spirit, Skylar fights to save the things that are most important to her: the school choir and the abandoned Moonlight Ballroom Theatre. 

Directed by Caroline Clegg and conducted by Holly Mathieson, the film of Song Of Our Heartland will be filmed on location at Locomotion and the surrounding County Durham area and recorded by the Chorus and Orchestra of Opera North and the newly formed Community Chorus, with solo roles shared between members of the Chorus of Opera North and community participants.  

Clegg says: “Having had to cancel the planned live performances, everyone involved in the creation of Song Of Our Heartland was utterly determined to find a way to share this inspiring community opera with audiences this year.

“The people of south-west County Durham have been so generous in sharing their rich and diverse stories and experiences with us. Many of the participants have been with us all the way through this project, from the first poetry and drama workshops that inspired the story, the music and the libretto, to community chorus rehearsals and ultimately now to rehearsing online over Zoom and taking part in the film.

“This project exists because of them and I feel privileged to be a part of it. The opera is a celebration of their cultural legacy, their strength in community, and their hopes and dreams. We couldn’t let it disappear this year.”

Jill Cole, director of Northern Heartlands, says: “Song Of Our Heartland was intended to be the culmination of our work as a Great Place Scheme in south-west Durham. Although we were not able to perform it live, I am delighted that we have found a way to turn the project into a film, so that we can share it with others in the local community and beyond.

“It is a real tribute to this unique part of the county, its history and heritage, and to the communities who live and work here.” 

Abel Selaocoe: Composing an interactive soundwalk for Opera North’s home city of Leeds. Picture: Mlungisi Mlungwana

As You Are, November 14 2020 to January 6 2021

AS You Are, an interactive outdoor soundwalk for Opera North’s home city of Leeds, will be composedby South African cellist Abel Selaocoe. The journey will start and end at Victoria Gate, Leeds, following a route that will explore many of the city centre’s most recognisable landmarks, as well as its arcades and sidestreets and the River Aire waterfront.

Audience members taking part in the soundwalk in small groups each will be given a set of headphones connected to a wireless receiver, triggering new musical chapters at different points on the walk through Leeds, experiencing the cityscape through a new and transformative journey.

Taking inspiration from his South African heritage, Abel Selaocoe is creating music that embraces the healing power of walking. At times uplifting with full orchestra and chorus, at others reflective with only a single voice, As You Are expresses acceptance that there will be difficult times, but that we will come through to the other side.

To record the music, Selaocoe will be joined by guest African musicians such as Sidiki Dembele, as well as the full Orchestra and Chorus of Opera North.

“It is exciting to be writing during a time of incredible personal and collective change, focusing on the importance of celebrating resilience and being adaptable to change, by walking and exploring what is around us while we listen,” says Selaocoe.

As You Are will run in Leeds city centre from November 14 2020 to January 6 2021. Tickets will go on sale in September.

La Petite Bohème, in the run-up to Christmas

THE fourth Switch ON new project is an animation re-imagining Act III of Puccini’s La Bohème, snipped from black paper and animated by artist and filmmaker Matthew Robins with his customary eye for emotion and humour.

In the frozen streets of Paris, two pairs of lovers sing of their jealousy, passion and desire and wonder if they will still be together when spring comes again.

This heart-breaking scene from the core of Puccini’s classic opera will feature a newly recorded soundtrack by the Orchestra and Chorus of Opera North and four soloists.

The finished animation will be projected outdoors in found spaces in towns and cities across the North, with limited audiences at each screening listening via headphones.

Projected on to walls in the familiar streets of our cities, the film and music will transform your surroundings and have the power to transport you to another time and place.

Artist and filmmaker Matthew Robins says: “I like trying to find my own way into telling a story that already exists. How can I make these characters mine? Do I see myself or my friends’ lives reflected in them? 

“Working with cut-out silhouettes is a way to create my own stylised version of the big emotions and melodies that are intrinsic to the piece. The stylised cut-out paper shapes are detailed but leave room for the audience to add their own imagination as well to the piece. 

“I come from the West Country and as a teenager used to visit London about six times a year just to queue up and get cheap front-row tickets for Rent, another retelling of La Bohème, so I feel like this story is deeply embedded in me, and in a way makes me feel at home exploring my own characters and settings for this story.”

Dates and locations for La Petite Bohème will be announced as soon as possible.