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.
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
YORK singer-songwriter Rachel Croft will perform at Forty Five Vinyl Café, Micklegate, York, on July 31.
The 7.30pm gig will showcase the July 23 release of Reap What You Sow, a cinematic, moody taster for her four-track EP of the same name on September 9. Exploring a more potent, bluesy style throughout, further tracks will be second single Time Waits For No Man, Roots and Chasing Time.
Since Step 3 lockdown easing, Rachel has played the opening night of the second season of socially distanced Songs Under Skies acoustic concerts in York, sharing the June 1 double bill with Wounded Bear in the National Centre for Early Music churchyard garden at St Margaret’s Church, Walmgate.
On July 8, she opened for Leeds band The Dunwells at the second sold-out Primrose Wood Acoustics open-air concert organised by Pocklington Arts Centre.
Rachel will be supported at her Live At Forty Five YouTube Session concert byKell Chambers and Evie Barrand. Tickets cost £10 via fortyfiveuk.com/whatson.
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.”
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.”
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 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.
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.
ONLINE entertainment is still ruling the Stay Home world, but more promoters are announcing shows for the summer as the recovery roadmap begins to twitch our cultural satnav. Charles Hutchinson reaches for his diary.
Last chance to see: Michael Lyons’ Ancient And Modern sculptures, York Art Gallery Artists Garden and Edible Wood
THE free display of large-scale works by late Cawood sculptor Michael Lyons behind York Art Gallery will close on April 11.
On show in his biggest ever exhibition on York soil are nine sculptures created between 1982 and 2000, inspired by nature, myth and ancient cultures, with the central space dominated by Amphitrite, a large painted steel structure evoking the sea that he fashioned in 1993.
Opened in late-May 2019, Ancient And Modern originally was booked to run until May 2020, but has remained in place through these pandemic times.
Recommended resonant webcast of the week and beyond: The Machine Stops online
YORK Theatre Royal and Pilot Theatre’s 2016 co-production of The Machine Stops can be watched at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk/show/the-machine-stops-webcast/ until April 5.
Adapted for the stage by Neil Duffield, E M Forster’s 1909 short story is set in a futuristic, dystopian world where humans have retreated far underground and individuals live in isolation in “cells”, with all bodily and spiritual needs met by the omnipotent, global Machine.
Director Juliet Forster says: “It’s even more striking today than it was at the time we staged it: things like human contact and human touch becoming something that’s almost taboo, things that didn’t seem relevant back in 2016 but are really, really striking and even more relevant now.”
Springtime celebration of music online: Awaken, National Centre for Early Music, York, Saturday and Sunday
THE NCEM’s Awaken weekend will present York countertenor Iestyn Davies and Fretwork, the all-male vocal group The Gesualdo Six, I Fagiolini and the English Cornett & Sackbut Ensemble, Ensemble Augelletti and The Consone Quartet.
The six-pack of online festivities will celebrate the sublime sounds of spring, recorded in a range of historic venues to mark “the unique association between the City of York and the exquisite beauty of the music of the past”.
Among the architectural gems will be Holy Trinity Church, Goodramgate, St Olave’s Church, Marygate, the Merchant Adventurers’ Hall and the NCEM. Full details can be found at ncem.co.uk/awaken.
Online youth theatre opportunity: Thunk-It Theatre sessions with Pocklington Arts Centre
POCKLINGTON Arts Centre’s youth theatre partnership with York company Thunk-It Theatre is to continue for a second series of online drama classes.
Becky Lennon and Jules Risingham’s all-levels drama sessions for children aged six to 11 will be held on Zoom every Sunday during term-time from April 25 to May 30.
The 10am to 11am sessions for Years 2 to 6 children will include fun games, exercises and storytelling, aiming to encourage confidence building, life and social skills, creativity and positivity. Participants will work collaboratively to create a short performance that will explore storytelling. To book, go to pocklingtonartscentre.co.uk.
Live music returns to Knavesmire: Sounds In The Grounds at Clocktower Enclosure, York Racecourse, June 25 to 27
NORTH Yorkshire impresario James Cundall’s Sounds In The Grounds is adding a new location to its picnic-concert portfolio for summer 2021.
Complying with Covid-19 guidelines, the Clocktower Enclosure of York Racecourse will play host to the Beyond The Barricade celebration of musicals on June 25, Abba Mania on June 26 and A Country Night In Nashville on June 27.
The capacity will be capped at 1,400 for the fully staged productions with LED screens on either side of the stage. Tickets are on sale at: soundsinthegrounds.seetickets.com.
Here comes a dose of the blues: York Blues Festival, July 24, 12.30pm to 11pm
THE 2nd York Blues Festival will be held on Saturday, July 24 at The Crescent Community Venue, York, organised by Paul Winn and Ben Darwin.
No strangers to the British Blues scene, they present Blues From The Ouse on Jorvik Radio and are members of York band DC Blues.
Winn and Darwin have booked a bill of Robbie Reay; The Swamp Hoppers; Dori & The Outlaws; John Carroll; Dr Bob & The Bluesmakers; DC Blues and Nick Steed Five. Tickets are on sale at yorkbluesfestival.co.uk, thecrescentyork.com and earwormrecords.co.uk.
Sheds on the move…again: Shed Seven, Live After Racing, Doncaster Racecourse, May 14 2022
YORK heroes Shed Seven’s twice-postponed post-racing gig at Doncaster Racecourse will come under starter’s orders on May 14 202.
First diarised for August 15 2020, then May 15 this spring, each show was declared a non-runner under the Government’s pandemic lockdown restrictions.
Let Donny Races wax lyrical: “So don’t have your friends asking ‘where have you been tonight?’ We have ‘high hopes’ that ‘the heroes’ Shed Seven will deliver an outstanding night of music. ‘It’s not easy’ but you’d be stuck to find a ‘better days’ entertainment in Doncaster next summer.” To book raceday tickets, go to: doncaster-racecourse.co.uk/whats-on/
Gig announcement of the week: 10cc, York Barbican, March 26 2022
10cc will play York Barbican next spring in the only Yorkshire show of their 13-date Ultimate Greatest Hits Tour.
“It’s difficult to express just how much we have missed playing live and how much we want to be back playing concerts for you,” says Graham Gouldman, the one group founder still in the touring line-up. “We look forward to seeing you all again in 2022.”
Tickets are on sale at yorkbarbican.co.uk and ticketline.co.uk.
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.
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.
“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.
“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.
“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 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.”
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.
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.”
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.
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 (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.
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 email@example.com 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, 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.
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.
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.
“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!