Violinist Imogen Brewer to play graduation concert at St Saviourgate Unitarian Chapel

Violinist Imogen Brewer

YORK Unitarians’ Friday Concert on March 25 will feature a graduation recital by York violinist Imogen Brewer, accompanied by pianist Hilary Suckling, at 12.30pm.

Imogen’s lunchtime programme in the St Saviourgate Unitarian Chapel will be recorded and will form part of the requirements for her post-graduate performance degree at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, London.

She will play works by Copland and Messiaen and Barber’s Violin Concerto with a piano reduction.

Tickets will be available on the door at £6 (cash); two thirds of the proceeds will go to the artists; one third to the chapel.

More Things To Do in York and beyond despite Killer Queen banning rock music. List No. 69, courtesy of The Press, York

Bohemians in rhapsody: We Will Rock You weaves its way through 24 Queen songs at the Grand Opera House, York. Picture: Johan Persson

FROM Queen’s “rock theatrical” to Britney fandom, a café’s mug exhibition to folk’s witching hour, outlaw cabaret with gin to confronting digital intrusiveness, Charles Hutchinson finds diversity aplenty to enjoy.

Musical of the week: We Will Rock You, Grand Opera House, York, Monday to Saturday, 7.30pm; 2.30pm, Wednesday and Saturday

WRITER and comedian Ben Elton directs the 20th anniversary of We Will Rock You, the “guaranteed-to-blow-your-mind” Queen musical built around his dystopian futuristic storyline.

In a system that bans rock music, a handful of rebels, the Bohemians, vows to fight against an all-powerful global company and its boss, the Killer Queen.

Musical advisor Brian May says “the world’s first true Rock Theatrical” now has a state-of-the-art new look, with a story of breaking free from conformity more relevant than ever. Box office: 0844 871 7615 or at atgtickets.com/York.

Reiko Kaneko: Taking part in the Cups and Such exhibition at FortyFive Vinyl Cafe. Picture: Cat Garcia

Cracking (or hopefully not) exhibition of the week: Cups and Such…or, A Hug In A Mug, FortyFive Vinyl Café, Micklegate, York, until March 6

“A HUG for you, or for someone else, Cups and Such is an exhibition of beautiful, handmade drinking vessels that promises to offer comfort and solace for all,” says curator Lotte Inch.

Working in tandem with FortyFive Vinyl Café, that welcoming haven of music, coffee and comfort food, Lotte Inch Gallery has selected cups, mugs, beakers, tea bowls and more, made by hand by Rebecca Callis, Reiko Kaneko, Ali Tomlin and the Leach Studios to “offer someone a moment of warmth, a sense of connection and an opportunity to embrace”. 

“This can’t be it,” ponders Mark Watson in Pocklington tonight. Picture: Matt Crockett

Topical comedy gig of the outside York: Mark Watson, This Can’t Be It, Pocklington Arts Centre, tonight, 8pm

AMID so much pandemic pondering about the fragility of life recently, don’t worry, comedian Mark Watson has it covered.  At 41 – he turns 42 tomorrow – he is halfway through his days on Earth, according to the life expectancy calculator app that cost him all of £1.49.

That life is in the best shape in living memory but one problem remains. A huge one. Spiritual enquiry meets high-octane observational comedy as the No More Jockeys cult leader strives to cram two years of pathological overthinking into an evening of stand-up. “Maybe we’ll even solve the huge problem,” says Watson. “Doubt it, though.” Box office for returns only: 01759 301547 or at pocklingtonartscentre.co.uk.

Shereen Roushbaiani in Saving Britney at Theatre@ 41, Monkgate, York

Noughties’ nostalgia of the week: Saving Britney, John Cooper Studio, Theatre@41 Monkgate, York, tomorrow (13/2/2022) at 8pm

MILLENNIALS such as Jean grew up with Britney Spears. Saving Britney recounts how the Princess of Pop influenced Jean’s life and how the connections shared between them led to an unbelievable moment of self-discovery.

Inspired by the #FreeBritney movement, Shereen Roushbaiani takes a humorous yet heart-breaking look at celebrity obsession, sexuality and growing up in the early Noughties. Box office: tickets.41monkgate.co.uk.

Heal & Harrow’s Rachel Newton and Lauren MacColl

Folk concert of the week: Heal & Harrow, National Centre for Early Music, York, Monday, 7.30pm

HEAL & Harrow are folk musicians Rachel Newton, from The Shee, The Furrow Collective and Spell Songs, and Lauren MacColl, of Rant and Salt House.

Working as duo for the first time, they combine newly composed music and accompanying visuals in a tribute to those persecuted in the 16th and 17th century Scottish Witch Trials, 80 per cent of them women.

The project also explores historical beliefs in the supernatural and modern-day parallels, each piece being based on commissioned works by author Mairi Kidd. Box office: 01904 658338 or at ncem.co.uk.

Reality check: Corinne Kilvington’s Polly in The Girl In The Machine

Premiere of the week: Theatre Space North-East in Girl In The Machine, John Cooper Studio, Theatre@41 Monkgate, York, February 17, 7.30pm

STEF Smith’s ground-breaking play Girl In The Machine explores our unease over digital intrusiveness, then pushes it a step into the future in Jamie Brown’s touring production.

In brief: Owen (Lawrence Neale) and Polly (Corinne Kilvington) are in successful careers and wildly in love, feeling ready to take on the world, but when a mysterious new technology, promising a break from the daily grind, creeps into everyone’s phones, their world is turned upside down.

As the line between physical and digital dissipates, Owen and Polly are forced to question whether their definitions of reality and freedom are the same. Box office: tickets.41monkgate.co.uk.

Back on the Chain Gang: Miles Salter lines up new band members for Black Swan gig

Meet the new Gang: Miles And The Chain Gang, The Black Swan Inn, Peasholme Green, York, February 19, 8pm to 11.30pm

YORK writer, musician and storyteller Miles Salter is back with a new Chain Gang for a headline show at the Black Swan.

“This is the first gig with the new line-up and it’s sounding great,” says Salter, introducing Daniel Bowater on keyboards, Steve Purton on drums, Mat Watt on bass and Mark Hawkins on lead guitar.

Miles And The Chain Gang will be supported by Sarah Louise Boyle, Lee Moore and Monkey Paw. “It’ll be a diverse and fun evening, so do come along,” says Salter. Tickets: at prime4.bandcamp.com/merch/miles or on the door.

Sax Forte: First concert of York Unitarians’ 2022 lunchtime series

Sax to the max: Sax Forte, York Unitarians Friday Lunchtime Concerts, St Saviourgate Unitarian Chapel, March 11, 12.30pm

CELEBRATING their 350th anniversary in 2022, York Unitarians open their 11th season of  Friday lunchtime concerts with the return of York saxophone quartet Sax Forte.

Playing together since 2016, Chris Hayes, Keith Schooling, Jane Parkin and David Badcock all have extensive experience with other quartets, bands and orchestras. They are equally at home playing programmes of serious and light classical music or jazz and swing standards. Tickets cost £6 (cash) on the door.

Gin up: Drag diva Velma Celli hosts Outlaw Live cabaret night with a dash of York Gin

Not just the tonic: Velma Celli and York Gin’s Outlaw Live cabaret night, National Centre for Early Music, York, March 25, 8pm to 10.30pm

YORK drag diva Velma Celli invites you to “celebrate your inner outlaw” at York Gin’s cabaret soiree at the NCEM.

For one night only, glamorous Velma and friends will be celebrating all that’s naughty, villainous and defiantly outrageous about York and its outlaws, from Guy Fawkes to Dick Turpin, with a combination of song, laughter and York Gin.

Tickets are on sale at tickettailor.com/events/yorkgin/590817/ and admission includes a gin cocktail on arrival.

York Late Music opens 2022 with concerts by Jakob Fichert and Jessica Summers & Jelena Makarova at Unitarian Chapel

Jakob Fichert: Lunchtime concert

YORK’S Late Music concert season resumes with its first programmes of 2022 on Saturday at the Unitarian Chapel, St Saviourgate.

In the lunchtime concert at 1pm, pianist Jacob Fichert presents The Character Piece Throughout Music History, performing music from Bach to a new work by York composer Steve Crowther.

In the evening, at 7.30pm, soprano Jessica Summers and pianist Jelena Makarova’s Living Songs: Songs Of Love And Exile combines works by Dowland and Rihm with new pieces by Patrick John Jones and Silvina Milstein.

Jelena Makarova

Opening with Bach’s serene and pastoral Prelude and Fugue in A major, Fichert explores character pieces throughout different styles. Three of Debussy’s iconic preludes are indeed the prelude to lesser known, yet exquisite pieces by Lili Boulanger (Trois Morceaux pour Piano) and Adolf Busch. The finale will be the premiere of Political Prayer, a powerful and thought-provoking piece by Late Music programmer Steve Crowther.

Summers and Makarova’s Living Songs showcases songs by living composers alongside more well-known classical song repertoire. The world premiere of Patrick John Jones’s Elsewhere 137 will be followed by John Dowland’s Flow, My Tears (from 1600) and the world premiere of Silvina Milstein’s Raise No Funeral Song…, composed this year.

Next come Wolfgang Rihm’s Zwei Gedichte von Marina Zwetajewa (2016); David Lancaster’s The Dark Gate (2016); Richard Causton’s Poems Almost Of This World (2005); Edmund Hunt’s There Is A Blue-Green Eye (2022) and Kurt Weil’s Intermezzo (1917).

Don Walls: late York poet

The penultimate composer will be Steve Crowther once more, who composed a setting of Emma And I, a poem written for his daughter Emma by the York poet Don Walls the year he died in 2017. “I admire the man and poet greatly and miss him,” says Steve.

Two Ivor Novello compositions from 1945, Love Is My Reason and We’ll Gather Lilacs, conclude the evening concert, where a collection will be made in aid of Safe Passage, an organisation that helps refugees access legal routes to safety.

Tickets for Fichert cost £5; for Summers and Makarova, £12, concessions £10, students £5, on the door or at latemusic.org/.

Summers’ evening: Soprano Jessica Summers

Never too late for York Late Music’s cutting-edge contemporary concerts to start again

Ian Pace: Regular innovative performer on piano at York’s Late Music concert series, returning on December 4

YORK’S Late Music programme of contemporary music returns from pandemic lockdown with two concerts on Saturday at St Saviourgate Unitarian Chapel, York.

As ever, this celebration of new music in York will turn the spotlight on compositions of the 20th and 21st centuries, premiering new works and commissions aplenty on the first Saturday of each month from October to December 2021 and February to June 2022, with two concerts per day at 1pm and 7.30pm.

“We moved the programme to start in October because we’ve missed a year of concerts through the pandemic and could not re-start until now because of the small size of the chapel,” says concert administrator and York composer Steve Crowther.

In a late change to the musicians, but not to the programme, baritone Alistair Donaghue and pianist Polly Sharpe replace Robert Rice and William Vann for Saturday’s opening afternoon concert, an exploration of 21st century British songs, featuring settings from the album Songs Now: British Songs Of The 21st Century and the NMC Songbook.

“Unfortunately, Robert is ill, but we’re very grateful that Alistair and Polly have agreed to step in to do the same programme.”

In Saturday’s second concert, at 7.30pm, the Gemini ensemble give first performances of both their commission of Sadie Harrison’s Fire In Song and Morag Galloway’s It’s Getting Hot In Here, complemented by Peter Maxwell Davies’s Economies Of Scale and works by Steve Crowther and Philip Grange, including his Homage To Chagall.

Pianist Duncan Honeybourne: Lockdown compositions on November 6

On November 6, in the afternoon concert, pianist Duncan Honeybourne presents pieces from time spent productively in stay-at-home 2020: Contemporary Piano Soundbites: Composers In Lockdown 2020. The works have been featured on BBC Radio 3, greeted by presenter Tom Service as a “dazzling explosion of creativity”.

For the evening, Elysian Singers’ director Sam Laughton has devised a programme that pairs a contemporary work with an earlier piece with words from the same poet or source. For example, Cheryl Frances-Hoad and Rachmaninov’s settings of All Night Vigil or James Macmillan, Thea Musgrave and Benjamin Britten’s settings of words by Herrick.

These will be complemented by new works by regular Late Music composers David Power and David Lancaster and Tom Armstrong, formerly of the University of York, and a motet by Ivor Gurney, published in 2017, fully 92 years after it was composed.  “It was just sitting in a drawer,” reveals Steve.

Nick Williams and Tim Brooks combine to present York Music Centre and the new Yorkshire ensemble Spelk’s afternoon recital on December 4. “It’s great to be working with Nick and Tim,” says Steve, looking forward to Brooks’s commissioned piece for young people, And Another Thing. In the second half, Spelk perform music by John Cage, Andriessen and Stravinsky and a new Murphy McCaleb work.

In that evening’s closing concert of 2021, stalwart Ian Pace performs his 13th, or maybe his 14th, Late Music piano recital, this one entitled The Art Of Fugue. “In 1845, Schumann discovered his passion for composing fugues,” says Pace. “This recital explores the threads that connect and resonate through a form that straddles three centuries.”

Framed by two Prelude and Fugues by J S Bach, Pace will be performing works by Shostakovich and Schumann, plus new works by Anthony Adams and Jenny Jackson. “You don’t associate Ian with playing Bach, so it will be interesting to hear his interpretation,” says Steve.

Soprano Anna Snow: 100 Second Songs on March 5

The 2022 programme opens on February 5 with pianist Jakob Fichert’s The Character Piece Throughout Music History (1pm) and Living Songs, soprano Jessica Summers and pianist Jelena Makarova’s evening of Songs of Love and Exile.

Next up, on March 5, will be clarinet player Jonathan Sage (afternoon) and soprano Anna Snow and pianist Kate Ledger’s evening of 100 Second Songs, featuring a patchwork of musical miniatures by the likes of Nicola LeFanu, Sadie Harrison, Tarik O’Regan and James Else.

Bass Stuart O’Hara and pianist Ionna Koullepou perform new settings of York and regional poetry by York composers on the afternoon of April 2. That evening, Bingham String Quartet play Beethoven, Schnittke, LeFanu and Tippett pieces.

Spelk return on May 7 with a rare chance to hear John Cage’s complete Living Room Music at 1pm, followed by Delta Saxophone Quartet’s Dedicated To You…But You Weren’t Listening, including Soft Machine interpretations.

The season ends with soprano Amanda Crawley and pianist Josephine Peach’s Sounds Of The Unexpected (1pm) and Trilogy Ensemble’s evening of Debussy, Libby Larsen, Yu-Liang Chong, William Matthias and more.

Lunchtime concerts costs £5, evening concerts, £12/concessions £10, online at latemusic.org or on the door.

More Things To Do in and around York as well as that belated Bond film you’ve been dying for. List No. 51, courtesy of The Press

Unhappy hour at The Midnight Bell tavern? Oh, but the joys of a new Matthew Bourne show visiting York Theatre Royal

DANCE at the double, Jekyll & Hyde, a quartet of short plays, sax music and Late Music, a Manic Monday and a Taylor-made gig are Charles Hutchinson’s pick of the early autumn harvest of live shows.

Intoxicated tales from darkest Soho: Matthew Bourne’s The Midnight Bell, York Theatre Royal, tonight to Saturday, 7.30pm and 2.30pm Saturday matinee

CHOREOGRAPHER and storyteller in dance Matthew Bourne’s new show for New Adventures explores the underbelly of 1930s’ London life, where ordinary people emerge from cheap boarding houses nightly to pour out their passions hopes and dreams in the bars of fog-bound Soho and Fitzrovia.

Inside The Midnight Bell, one particularly lonely-hearts club gathers to play out lovelorn affairs of the heart; bitter comedies of longing, frustration, betrayal and redemption.

Inspired by novelist Patrick Hamilton, Bourne’s dance theatre show will challenge and reveal the darker reaches of the human heart. Box office: 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk

Hands down (by your sides) if you can’t wait for the return of Riverdance

The other dance event of the week: Riverdance: The New 25th Anniversary Show, York Barbican, tomorrow to Sunday, 7.30pm plus 2.30pm Saturday matinee

TWENTY-FIVE years on, composer Bill Whelan has re-recorded his mesmerising soundtrack while producer Moya Doherty and director John McColgan have completely reimagined the Irish  and international dance show with innovative and spectacular lighting, projection, stage and costume designs. 

The 25th Anniversary show catapults Riverdance into the 21st century and will “completely immerse you in the extraordinary and elemental power of its music and dance”. Box office: yorkbarbican.co.uk.

Blackeyed Theatre in Nick Lane’s take on Jekyll & Hyde, on tour at Stephen Joseph Theatre

Play of the week outside York: Blackeyed Theatre in The Strange Case Of Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde , Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, tonight until Saturday

NICK Lane’s adaptation of Jekyll & Hyde draws inspiration from his own journey. Injured by a car accident when he was 26 that permanently damaged his neck and back, he imagines Jekyll as a physically weakened man who discovers a cure for his ailments; a cure that also unearths the darkest corners of his psyche.

“I wondered, if someone offered me a potion that was guaranteed to make me feel the way I did before the accident, but with the side effect that I’d become ruthless and horrible – would I drink it?” ponders Lane.

Combining ensemble storytelling, physical theatre, movement and a new musical score by Tristan Parkes, Lane remains true to the spirit and themes of the original novella while adding a major female character, Eleanor. Box office: 01723 370541 or at sjt.uk.com.

Caught Short? No photos, so here is the poster artwork for RhymeNReason Put On Shorts, up and running at Theatre@41

Short run of the week: RhymeNReason Put On Shorts, Theatre@41, Monkgate, York, until Saturday, 7.30pm

WHAT was Margaret Thatcher’s relationship with Jimmy Savile? Why did a Yorkshire pensioner try to smuggle a fruit cake through Australian customs? What really happened on day three in the Garden of Eden? How should a perfect murder end in a real cliff hanger? 

Questions, questions, all these questions, will be answered in funny, thought-provoking short plays by Yorkshire writers David Allison, Steve Brennen, Lisa Holdsworth and Graham Rollason. Box office: tickets.41monkgate.co.uk.

Sax Forte: Lunchtime concert at St Saviourgate Unitarian Chapel

The good sax guide: Sax Forte, Friday Concerts, St Saviourgate Unitarian Chapel, York, tomorrow, 12.30m

YORK saxophone quartet Sax Forte – Chris Hayes, Keith Schooling, Jane Parkin and David Badcock – open York Unitarians’ new season of Friday Concerts with an afternoon programme of English and French music.

Introducing themselves, Sax Forte say: “Chris plays soprano sax because he likes showing off; Keith plays alto sax because he tries to keep up with Chris; Jane plays baritone because she’s got the strongest shoulders; David knows his place (with apologies to The Two Ronnies and John Cleese)!”

The saxophone was not invented until the mid-19th century, but Sax Forte will be playing earlier classical and baroque pieces, trad folk tunes and later 19th and 20th works for sax quartet.

Conductor Simon Wright: Bringing together York Guildhall Orchestra and Leeds Festival Chorus next month

Classic comeback: York Guildhall Orchestra, York Barbican, October 16, 7.30pm

YORK Guildhall Orchestra return to the concert stage on October 16 after the pandemic hiatus with a programme of operatic favourites, conducted by Simon Wright.

The York musicians will be joined by Leeds Festival Chorus and two soloists, soprano Jenny Stafford, and tenor Oliver Johnston, to perform overtures, arias and choruses by Tchaikovsky, Wagner, Rossini, Mozart, Puccini and Verdi. Box office: yorkbarbican.co.uk.

Late Music…now: Gemini, St Saviourgate Unitarian Chapel, Saturday, 7.30pm

YORK’S Late Music programme of contemporary music returns from pandemic lockdown with Gemini on Saturday night.

First performances will be given of Gemini’s commission of Sadie Harrison’s Fire In Song and Morag Galloway’s It’s Getting Hot In Here, complemented by Peter Maxwell Davies’s Economies Of Scale and works by York composer Steve Crowther and Philip Grange. Box office: latemusic.org or on the door.

Reflection and reaction: Manic Street Preachers showcase new album Ultra Vivid Lament at York Barbican

Not just another Manic Monday: Manic Street Preachers, York Barbican, Monday, 8pm

WELSH rock band Manic Street Preachers play York on Monday, with a second Yorkshire gig at Leeds O2 Academy on October 7.

Their autumn itinerary is showcasing this month’s release of their 14th studio album, The Ultra Vivid Lament: “both reflection and reaction; a record that gazes in isolation across a cluttered room, fogged by often painful memories, to focus on an open window framing a gleaming vista of land melting into sea and endless sky,” say the Manics.  Box office: yorkbarbican.co.uk.

From Queen to Outsider: Roget Taylor in concert at York Barbican

The inside track on the outsider:  Roger Taylor, Outsider Tour, York Barbican, Tuesday, 7pm

QUEEN drummer Roger Taylor plays York Barbican as the only Yorkshire show of this autumn’s Outsider tour in support of his new album of that name, out tomorrow.

“This is my modest tour,” he says. “I just want it to be lots of fun, very good musically, and I want everybody to enjoy it. I’m really looking forward to it. Will I be playing Queen songs too? Absolutely!” Box office: yorkbarbican.co.uk.

Go wild in the country: The Shires look forward to returning yet again to the East Yorkshire market town of Pocklington next January

Gig announcement of the week outside York: The Shires, Pocklington Arts Centre, January 26 2022

THE Shires, Britain’s best-selling country music act, will bring their 2022 intimate acoustic tour to their regular haunt of Pocklington  next January.

“Wembley Stadium, MEN Arena, Grand Ole Opry are all amazing, but Pocklington will always be a special place for us,” say Ben Earle and Crissie Rhodes, who are working on their fifth album. Box office: 01759 301547 or at pocklingtonartscentre.co.uk.

We’ve been expecting you, Mr Bond…for a long time

Oh, and just one other thing….

BOND, James Bond. Yes, after all those false dawns in the accursed Covid lockdowns, the perpetually postponed final curtain for Daniel Craig’s 007 opens today when it really is time for No Time To Die to live or die at last. Shaken or stirred, thrilled or deflated, you decide.

Sax Forte to play English and French works at St Saviourgate Unitarian Chapel return

Sax Forte: Sax to the max from Chris Hayes, Keith Schooling, Jane Parkin and David Badcock

YORK saxophone quartet Sax Forte will return to St Saviourgate Unitarian Chapel, York, on October 1 to open York Unitarians’ new season of Friday concerts with a 12.30pm programme of English and French music.

Sax Forte formed in York in 2016, with all four member, Chris Hayes, Keith Schooling, Jane Parkin and David Badcock, having extensive experience with other quartets, bands and orchestras.

Introducing themselves, Sax Forte say: “Chris plays soprano sax because he likes showing off; Keith plays alto sax because he tries to keep up with Chris; Jane plays baritone sax because she’s got the strongest shoulders; David knows his place (with apologies to The Two Ronnies and John Cleese)!”

Looking forward to Friday’s concert, they say: “We’re all thrilled to be invited to play at the Unitarian Chapel again, now that social-distancing restrictions have been relaxed.

“Since July, we’ve been lucky enough to play for a number of events, and it has  been immensely exciting after so many months of lockdowns and  prohibitions. Performing for a live audience again brings a renewed sense of purpose.” 

The saxophone is more commonly associated with jazz, blues and pop, but Sax Forte demonstrate just how well the instrument suits a far wider range of music.

“The saxophone was not invented until the mid-19th century, but Friday’s programme includes arrangements of earlier classical and baroque pieces, as well some traditional folk tunes that have been re-arranged for four saxes,” say Sax Forte. 

“We’ll also play a selection of 19th and 20th century works composed specifically for saxophone quartet. Our programme is drawn mainly from English and French composers, and we hope to show the range, versatility, sensitivity and beauty of the saxophone.”

Sax Forte will perform Jean-Joseph Mouret’s Rondeau from Sinfonie de Fanfares; Jean-Baptiste Singelée’s Allegro de Concert; Gabriel Grovlez’s Petite Litanies de Jésus; Pierre Vellones’ Prélude & Rondo Français; Eugène Bozza’s Andante, from Andante & Scherzo; Gabriel Fauré’s Pavane and Henry Purcell’s Rondeau (Abdelazer Suite).

Further works will be: Handel’s And The Glory Of The Lord (from Messiah); William Byrd’s Pavane for the Earl of Salisbury; Peter Warlock’s Capriol Suite: Mattachins; George Butterworth’s arrangement of Banks Of Green Willow; Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Linden Lea; Caryl Florio’s Quartette (Allegro de Concert) and Gordon Lewin’s arrangement of The Poacher.

The next Friday Concert will feature Chris Hill and Amy Butler, flute and piano, playing works by Mendelssohn, Poulenc, Chaminade, on October 8; then, Stephen Raine, piano, October 22, and Lucy Phillips and David Hammond, violin and piano, October 29.

Tickets for each concert cost £5 on the door; cash only.

What does a composer do in lockdown when the world stops? David Lancaster wrote a digital premiere for 120 musicians

David Lancaster: Darkness into light in his world premiere of Eclipse at HIF Weekender

DAVID Lancaster, cutting-edge composer, York Late Music projects manager and head of York St John University’s music department, is back on course for the new academic year in the shadow of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Going smoothly so far, but all fingers are crossed,” he says, when asked “How is the new term going?”.

“It’s the start of term like no other, and we’re aware that we could have an outbreak and/or be shut down at a moment’s notice, which does tend to push up the anxiety levels! Still, here goes for week 2.”

A university term “like no other” for Dr Lancaster continues the unpredictable path of a start-stop-restart year like no other, when all the usual channels of performance were removed overnight under the lockdown strictures imposed on March 23.

Out with the old order, in with the new, as David’s commission for Harrogate International Festivals, Eclipse, became the conversation piece of the hastily arranged inaugural virtual HIF Weekender, when 10,000 people from 60 countries viewed the online line-up of free arts events, exclusive clips and highlights from the July 23-26 programme showcased on BBC Radio 4.

David’s digital commission came to fruition against the stultifying background of lockdown. “The lockdown has proved to be a difficult time for all musicians, particularly for freelance performers, and the members of bands and choirs unable to work together,” he says.

“The impact on composers – who often work alone, in any case – has been significant for different reasons. All performances of my pieces since mid-March have been postponed or cancelled, and the uncertainties surrounding concerts have meant that performers, venues and festivals have been reluctant to make any firm plans for the future.”

Commissions dried up and deadlines, so important to David in providing motivation to complete pieces, disappeared. “Most of all, I miss the interaction and discussion with other musicians that takes place in planning meetings and rehearsals, and in the post-mortem after performances, when so many ideas are nurtured and developed,” he says.

Hence his delight – if trepidation too – at being approached by Harrogate International Festivals’ chief executive, Sharon Canavar, and board member Craig Ratcliffe, director of music at St John Fisher Catholic High School, with a “really great idea” for a new piece.

“Put simply, they wanted a short, fanfare-like composition for brass and percussion that could be recorded remotely by many players, locally, nationally and worldwide, that could be re-assembled in the studio to make a ‘live’ performance,” says David.

“Local brass bands would be contacted, and trumpet virtuoso Mike Lovatt – a  good friend of the Harrogate festival – had very kindly agreed to record a solo track.”

Lovatt was a stellar signing, being professor of trumpet at the Royal Academy of Music and principal trumpet for both the John Wilson Orchestra and BBC Big Band.

Explaining the choice of title for his world premiere, David says: “We chose Eclipse to represent the idea that the Harrogate festival couldn’t take place this year – the concert halls, theatres and community venues had ‘gone dark’ – but that next year, the light would return and the festival and all its bright lights could resume.”

David wrote quickly, finishing the piece in only five days.  “Oddly enough, I had previously composed a fanfare for a ceremonial occasion at the university – the installation of  Reeta Chakrabarti as the new Chancellor – which had been postponed right at the start of lockdown, so I was able to draw upon and develop some of the rhythmic ideas from that piece in Eclipse,” he says.

“There was lots of material on my ‘cutting-room floor’ that I could rifle through, re-cycle and add to for the Harrogate festival piece. I was working on other things at the time, so writing Eclipse was a very pleasant interruption.”

Lockdown and the strange new world of Covid-19 2020 had an impact on David’s composition. “Obviously we all think about then time we are going through, and one of the reasons for being a composer is to get a better understanding of the world we live in as we hope to get back to some kind of normal when we can return to contact,” he says.

Mike Lovatt: Playing trumpet as one of 120 musicians assembled remotely to perform David Lancaster’s Eclipse for Harrogate International Festivals’ HIF At Home festival

Eclipse “isn’t really a conventional fanfare,” suggests David. “I suppose there’s a hint of melancholy that reflects the current mood, but the ending is triumphant, and I hope that will serve us well when this piece is performed live, in front of an audience, when Harrogate International Festival returns in 2021,” he says.

“It would be lovely if Eclipse could complete its journey from darkness to light that way, when things have been so gloomy.”

More than 120 musicians joined forces remotely to record tracks, including players from Opera North, West End musicals and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, complemented by brass players from Qatar, Canada, the United States, South Korea and New Zealand, together with local brass bands and orchestras.

“I was so pleased that so many people got involved in putting Eclipse together,” says David. “When Harrogate International Festival first commissioned it, their intention was to use local brass bands from Ripon, Knaresborough and Harrogate, and then we started getting top players from West End musicals, Opera North and the RPO, with Craig using his contacts to draw in so many musicians.”

Eclipse subsequently was live-streamed for HIF At Home at 6pm on July 24 and made available on the festival website from the end of July.

Meanwhile, serendipitously for David, the new, alienating working conditions necessitated by the pandemic have chimed with a creative project he had in mind already. “Coronavirus has forced musicians to adapt to remote working, often making music independently of one another. Ironically, this is something I had been thinking about in 2019, long before lockdown,” he says.

“I wanted to explore asynchronous rhythmic elements in my music: passages in which players are not governed by a single, unifying pulse, but have opportunities to move apart from one another, to play independently, either individually or in small groups. Little did I suspect that I would be composing this music during a global pandemic in which we were all forced into working apart from one another.

“I have always been intrigued and fascinated by the non-verbal communication that takes place during ensemble performance: the way in which players send – and receive and interpret – visual and musical signals, and I wanted to incorporate some of these ideas into the fabric of a piece.”

The resulting work, Before I Fall Asleep, Again, The City…, takes its title from the first line of a novel by French author Alain Robbe-Grillet, whose use of multiple perspectives mirrors David’s own creative process. “It reflects my concept and it casts my piece into the domain of a recurring, if half-forgotten, memory,” he says.

“As always in my music, there is plentiful repetition; ideas move into the foreground then recede, only to return later in different contexts. I like the analogy of a person wandering aimlessly around a town, during which they regularly encounter sights previously seen from different directions, angles and perspectives: they experience familiar sights, unfamiliar sights, and the familiar ones in new guises.

“Memory plays an important role, so in the music I have tried to ensure that there are elements that will be recognised when they reappear, even if they are never quite the same each time.”

A research grant from York St John University enabled David to approach the new ensemble Trilogy with a view to performing it. “I was delighted when they agreed, but the ongoing pandemic has meant that all arrangements need to be provisional for the moment, though if all goes well, we are looking to perform it in York and London next year – and I can’t wait to hear it.”

As and when those performances can take place, the Trilogy performers will be placed as far apart as possible on stage.  “Not in different rooms, or buildings, as they have to be able to co-ordinate, but we want to use the space they are in to the maximum,” says David.

“We hope to do it as part of the York Late Music 2021 programme in the St Saviourgate Unitarian Chapel next May, and we’re still hoping to perform it in London next summer, in June.”

David is working on two more projects too. “One is a piece for a solo violinist, Steve Bingham, who works extensively with live electronics,” he says. “I’ve never done anything like this before, so I’m firing off lots of questions to Steve.

“The other is a longer-term project, where I’m setting the sonnets of John Donne. Last year, two of his Holy Sonnets were performed in Oxford Town Hall – Death, Be Not Proud and At The Round Earth’s Imagined Corner – by Oxford Harmonic Choir, who now want me to do more.”