REVIEW: York Early Music Christmas Festival, Spiritato! Online; Stile Antico, live, NCEM, York, December 13

Step into Christmas: Stile Antico, pictured by Marco Borggreve before socially distanced Covid times

THE 2020 York Early Music Christmas Festival went out with a splurge of concerts over its last weekend.

Your reviewer caught two of the four on the final day. Spiritato! was the largest ensemble to appear at the festival, 18 period-style players, who concentrated on Bach and his contemporary Johann Friedrich Fasch in The Leipzig Legacy.

Had he not been born directly in Bach’s shadow, Fasch would surely be better known. We heard at once, in the opening Concerto in D, how Fasch was already anticipating the classical shapes and sounds that were to feature in Haydn’s earlier symphonies.

There were exciting trumpets in the opening Allegro and delightful solos from violin and oboe in the finale: enough meat on these bones, indeed, to make further exploration of Fasch an exciting prospect.

His Quartetto in D minor, dating from about 1750, was marginally less exciting, but well above run-of-the-mill Baroque, gracefully delivered in its slow movements, with contrastingly crisp counterpoint in the Allegros.

Spiritato! was led from her violin by Kinga Ujszászi, who came into her own in Bach’s Sinfonia in D, where her effortless panache was breath-taking. But elsewhere too, she led by example, sustaining a real sense of dance through both Bach’s Second and Third Suites.

The Second, in B minor, believed to be the last of the four to be written, was given here in its earliest version for strings alone. Here the sound was a touch top-heavy, needing an extra cello or two for good balance.

The Third Suite, in D major, was probably much earlier, written at Cöthen (where Bach was succeeded as Kapellmeister by Fasch) in 1718. Apart from its famous Air, caressed here by strings alone, the Gavottes had a gentle lilt and the Gigue made a triumphant finale. Spiritato’s palpable enjoyment had proved infectious throughout.

The festival closed with the 12-voice ensemble Stile Antico, in an appearance at the unusual but most welcome hour of 5pm. Here we were back to purely Christmas repertory, mimicking Nine Lessons and Carols with nine Renaissance works, each preceded by a contemporary reading, in A Renaissance Christmas.

My heart usually sinks when I see that musicians are doing their own readings: few manage it with much prowess, let alone clarity. Stile Antico largely proved me wrong; these well exceeded expectation. There were two poems each from John Donne and George Herbert.

Robert Southwell’s The Burning Babe was another excellent choice, as was Emilia Lanier’s Eve’s Apologie. But the laurels went to a sermon by Lancelot Andrewes, its wit and wisdom about the Magi (including “a cold coming they had of it”) delivered here with supreme clarity. None of the readers was identified.

The conductor-less choir was arranged in two semi-circles, eight on the outside, four inside, socially distanced. This meant that, for the first time that I recall, it was possible to spot one singer keeping time with a gentle nod.

Needless to say, ensemble remained impeccable, matched by tuning that surely heaven will not better. The sopranos were particularly stunning. I recall just one occasion when a very high entry was slightly misjudged, though instantly rectified.

The tone of the evening was nicely set by an extract from the Piae Cantiones of 1582, that Finnish collection rediscovered by our man in Helsinki in the early 19th century.

Victoria was the only composer to feature twice, once with an eight-voice Agnus Dei, once with a gorgeous O Magnum Mysterium, partnering Donne’s Nativity. In between these two came the starker harmonies of a graceful Ave Maria by Des Prez, alongside Donne’s Annunciation, another clever pairing. Byrd’s Rorate Coeli had reminded us of his matchless counterpoint.

A very peppy Angelus Ad Pastores by a Ferrara nun, Raffaella Aleotti, in madrigal style, reminded us of how many such ladies are only now being brought to light, not before time. Guerrero’s villancico – nowadays synonymous with Christmas carol – A Un Niño Llorandowas cleverly shaped by five soloists.

It remained for a beautifully sustained account of John Sheppard’s Verbum Caro Factum Est, which was written for Christmas matins, to remind us of the reason for the festival. If you’ve never heard Stile Antico, make a beeline for them: you won’t be disappointed.

Review by Martin Dreyer

Both concerts are still available to buy online from the York Christmas At Home programme at ncem.co.uk until December 21 to watch on demand until January 6 2021.

York Early Music Christmas Festival at the double as online weekend is added to NCEM socially distanced live concerts

THE 2020 York Early Music Christmas Festival will be not one, but two festivals, one at the National Centre for Early Music, the other online.

Festive concerts will be performed with Covid-secure safety measures in place in the mediaeval St Margaret’s Church, Walmgate, York, from December 4 to 12, complemented by a new online weekend festival to be enjoyed from the comfort of home.

After the success of the streamed York Early Music Festival, held remotely from July 9 to 11,  the NCEM will present York Christmas At Home from December 11 to 13, with the Yuletide music concerts available on demand throughout the Christmas period until January 6 2021.

York Early Music Christmas Festival’s live concerts will be staged with socially distanced cabaret-style seating and the option to pre-order drinks, including a warming mulled wine. Tickets cost £20.

Matthew Wadsworth: York Christmas At Home streamed concert with Kate Bennett Wadsworth

The line-up comprises:

Palisander, Mischief & Merriment, December 4, 4.30pm and 7pm;

The Marian Consort, The Great Mystery, December 5, 4.30pm and 7pm;

Illyria Consort, How Brightly Shines The Morning Star, December 7, 4.30m and 7pm;

Joglaresa, Bring Us Good Ale, December 8, 4.30pm and 7pm;

The Marian Consort: Concerts at both the York Early Music Christmas Festival and York Christmas At Home

The York Waits, The Waits’ Wassail, Music for Advent & Christmas, December 9, 4.30pm and 7pm;

Bethany Seymour, soprano, Helen Charlston, mezzo-soprano, Frederick Long, baritone, and Peter Seymour, harpsichord, Bacchus Is A Pow’r Divine, December 12, 4.30pm and 7pm.

In addition, the 7pm concerts by Joglaresa on December 8 and The York Waits the next night will be live-streamed, with tickets available at £10.

The York Christmas At Home programme will feature many of the NCEM’s favourite artists, who have “worked tirelessly to deliver a joyful selection of music, guaranteed to lift the spirits”.

The concerts will include works by Bach, Mozart, Handel, Vivaldi, Purcell, Monteverdi, Dowland and many others, with harpsichords, recorders, lutes, trumpets, oboes, theorbos and glorious voices, plus verse by John Donne, George Herbert and others.

Bethany Seymour, left, Frederick Long and Helen Charlston: On song at the NCEM and online

A York Christmas At Home festival pass costs £50, covering all nine concerts, while individual concerts cost £10.

Artists taking part are:

The Marian Consort in a programme of vocal music from Renaissance Italy;

The Chiaroscuro Quartet, performing Mozart’s late Prussian Quartets;

Palisander with their Mischief And Merriment programme;

Illyria Consort, performing seasonal music for the Nativity from across Europe;

Singers Bethany Seymour, Helen Charlston and Frederick Long exploring the theatrical genius of Purcell and John Blow with harpsichordist Peter Seymour;

Theorboist Matthew Wadsworth and cellist Kate Bennett Wadsworth, sharing an extravaganza of Venetian music;

Illyria Consort: Seasonal music for the Nativity from across Europe

Spiritato!, presenting The Leipzig Legacy with music by Bach and Fasch;

Steven Devine, continuing his 2020 project to share Bach’s Preludes & Fugues: Book 3;

Stile Antico, completing the weekend with a return to the Renaissance for their very own Nine Lessons and Carols.

Festival director Dr Delma Tomlin says:  “The York Early Music Christmas Festival was created in 1997 to introduce audiences to the extraordinary wealth of music associated with Advent, Christmas and Epiphany, from the Medieval to the Baroque, intertwined with the sagas, stories and tales of the north.

“This year, I’m delighted to be able to carry on the tradition, welcoming audiences to our beautiful home, St Margaret’s Church. I’m also thrilled to spice things up, introducing our online festival York Christmas At Home, an array of amazing music, which can be enjoyed well beyond Christmas and into Twelfth Night.”

Full programme details for both Yuletide festivals can be found at ncem.co.uk. Tickets are on sale at ncem.co.uk/york-christmas-at-home/

Director Delma Tomlin picks digital York Early Music Festival highlights for Music Of Our Time download

Elizabeth Kenny and Iestyn Davies performing in the stillness of the empty National Centre for Early Music, York, at the 2020 York Early Music Festival Online on July 9

MUSIC For Our Time, the Director’s Cut download of highlights from this month’s inaugural York Early Music Festival Online, is available from today.

Festival administrative director Dr Delma Tomlin has chosen her festival favourites, ranging from York countertenor Iestyn Davies and theorbo player Elizabeth Kenny’s opening concert on July 9, A Delightful Thing, Music and Readings from a Melancholy Man, to vocal ensemble Stile Antico’s closing performance on July 11.

Taking part in the 2020 festival too were lute and theorbo player Matthew Wadsworth, harpsichordist Steven Devine, lyra viol player Richard Boothby and Consone Quartet.

All the concerts were recorded by digital producer Ben Pugh at the empty National Centre for Early Music (NCEM), at St Margaret’s Church, Walmgate, York.

Iestyn Davies provides an exclusive introduction to the £4.99 download celebration of “the extraordinary success of the very first York Early Music Festival Online, which attracted a huge audience from across the UK and as far afield as Australia, Japan and the United States”.

“The wonderful music can be enjoyed time after time,” says festival administrative director Dr Delma Tomlin after picking her highlights for the Music For Our Time download

Delma, director of the NCEM, says: “I’d like to say a huge thank-you to all those who joined us online. We have been overwhelmed by the warm wishes we received from our worldwide audience, which inspired me to choose a selection of my favourite highlights from the weekend to share with you, so that the wonderful music can be enjoyed time after time.

“The enthusiastic response shows the voracious appetite for early music and the power it has to engage and excite audiences far and wide.”

Festival favourites Stile Antico, who presented Breaking The Habit: Music by and for women in Renaissance Europe, say: “Such a delight to be able to perform from York: there is nothing quite like live music-making! Many thanks to the wonderful York Early Music Festival for the invitation and for all the technical wizardry. We hope that you all enjoyed watching as much as we enjoyed singing.”

Among comments shared on social media by online audiences, one enthused: “Great music and really liked the commentary which builds a bridge to the (remote) audience.”

Another said: “Thoroughly enjoyed everything this year. The internet presentation, while necessary under the circumstances, has made the festival much more accessible.”

Consone Quartet performing at the National Centre for Early Music, York, for the 2020 York Early Music Festival

A third exclaimed: “An absolute delight! So glad the festival was able to come into our homes this year.” A fourth concluded: “What a collection of talented performers! A wonderful couple of days.”

Looking to combine the early with the cutting edge, the NCEM was among the first British arts organisations to use digital technology to live-stream concerts during the Covid crisis.

The series began with recitals by Steven Devine and the Brabant Ensemble, filmed at St Margaret’s Church shortly before lockdown and broadcast live to an audience of over 60,000 people. Since then, the fortnightly series of streamed concerts has reached a worldwide audience of more than 70,000.

To download the Music Of Our Time – The Director’s Cut log, go to ncem.co.uk/earlymusiconline and follow the step-by-step guide. 

“Watch this space!” says Delma. “The NCEM will be announcing full details of its forthcoming programme on the website and via social media very soon.”

Greatest hits of digital York Early Music Festival picked for video by director Delma

The home service: York Early Music Festival’s opening online concert, featuring Elizabeth Kenny and Iestyn Davies, mid-stream last Thursday

YORK Early Music Festival administrative director Dr Delma Tomlin is compiling a video of “personal favourites” from last week’s online event.

“We had a blast,” she says, reflecting on the success of the three-day virtual festival of four pre-recorded and two live concerts, streamed from the National Centre for Early Music from July 9 to 11.

“It was fabulous to be able to host musicians at the NCEM from across England – and to welcome online audiences from as far afield as Australia, Japan and the United States.”

Concert recordings were in the hands of digital producer Ben Pugh, filming the socially distant musicians at an otherwise empty St Margaret’s Church, the NCEM’s home in Walmgate.

Artists and audiences alike have given positive feedback to a digital event arranged once the Covid-19 lockdown enforced the cancellation of the Method & Madness-themed live festival from July 3 to 11.

“It was such a success that we’re now pulling together a compilation video of my personal favourites from 2020 Online. Details very soon!” promises Delma.

“We had a blast,” said administrative director Dr Delma Tomlin after the inaugural digital York Early Music Festival, held last week

The revised remote festival of concerts and talks was headlined on July 9 by York countertenor Iestyn Davies – lockdown hair in need of a cut, by his own later admission – and theorbo player Elizabeth Kenny.

Streamed live last Thursday, they presented A Delightful Thing, Music and Readings from a Melancholy Man, combining song and music by Elizabethan lutenist John Dowland with Davies’s extra string to his bow: his rendition of readings and poems by Dowland, Leo Tolstoy and Rose Tremain, among others.

In a surprise encore, they mined the modern-day melancholia of a Mancunian man, Morrissey, digging deep into the pit of The Smiths’ There Is A Light That Never Goes Out.

Performances recorded over ten days ensued, by lutenist Matthew Wadsworth, harpsichordist Steven Devine and lyra viol player Richard Boothby last Friday and BBC New Generation artists Consone Quartet last Saturday afternoon.

Vocal ensemble Stile Antico closed the festival with a live streamed concert, Breaking The Habit: Music by and for women in Renaissance Europe, that evening.

“We’d purchased more video and sound equipment, so it was more like a TV studio environment for the recordings,” says Delma. “It’s fortunate that the NCEM is a big space, being a church building, which helped with social distancing.”

The NCEM was one of the first arts organisations to stream live concerts online during the Covid-19 crisis, beginning with performances by Steven Devine and The Brabant Ensemble. Since March, the fortnightly series of streamed concerts has reached a worldwide audience of more than 70,000.

Review: York Early Music Festival Online, Stile Antico; Consone Quartet, National Centre for Early Music, York, July 11

Stile Antico: First concert since lockdown. Picture: Marco Borggreve

CAN it be as long as 15 years ago that Stile Antico burst onto the scene by copping the audience prize at this festival’s international competition? Indeed it can.

This crack group of 12 singers, without a conductor, seems to have been part of the festival’s fabric ever since. Certainly it was the perfect choice to bring this year’s online festival to a stunning close.

Breaking The Habit was the punning title of a programme exploring Renaissance music by and for women, many of the former being nuns. Since most belonged to closed orders, there was some affinity between them and our own recent isolation.

The choir stood in a wide circle, facing inwards and exactly distanced, apparently performing for the first time together since lockdown, after a series of Zoom-style rehearsals. Remarkably, the singers went straight into full stride; it was as if they were simply in the middle of the season. Impeccable tuning and a blend that never faltered marked music that showed remarkable breadth of character, both sacred and secular.

Raffaella Aleotti, daughter of the court architect in Ferrara, revealed notable rhythmic flair in two motets she published in 1593, while in her mid-twenties. Two eight-voice motets showing equally nimble counterpoint were the work of Sulpitia Cesis, a nun in Modena, who published them in 1619.

Maddalena Casulana, though not a nun, was the first woman to have madrigals printed; working out of Vicenza, she produced three books – 66 madrigals in all – between 1568 and 1583. Her word-painting and daring harmony combine infectiously: Stile Antico had their measure, in fact a mere two madrigals left us wanting more.

Consone Quartet recording their concert at the empty National Centre for Early Music for the online York Early Music Festival

Finally, another nun from Ferrara, Leonora d’Este, tested the group’s high sopranos in three motets for five female voices. Needless to say, discipline was maintained, to thrilling effect.

The remainder of the programme explored music written for female rulers. Margaret of Austria, who governed the duchy of Burgundy in the early 16th century, commissioned an exceptionally dark, mysterious motet from Pierre de la Rue to commemorate her brother’s death, while herself writing a three-voice piece in both French and Latin.

Music for Queen Mary included John Sheppard’s mighty Gaude, Gaude, Gaude Maria, with several wordless plainsong interludes, delivered with exceptional smoothness. Byrd’s motet for Elizabeth I, O Lord, Make Thy Servant Elizabeth, boasted an exquisitely controlled Amen, kept prayerful. Two madrigals from The Triumphs of Oriana illuminated the spicier side of the Elizabethan court.

Finally, Dialogo and Quodlibet, written last year by Joanna Marsh, contrasted scholarly theorising by the six men with the flightier disruption intended by the six ladies, until finally they agreed to unite and entertain. The style harked back to the Renaissance and fitted wittily into this context.

A lunchtime concert by the Consone Quartet included two of Beethoven’s Op 18 quartets, Nos 1 and 3. I cannot comment on the first since it was disfigured by transmission problems, except to say that it was tackled cautiously and with introspection. The group appeared to abandon this approach in No 3, which was altogether more relaxed, reaching a peak in a finale full of energy and joie de vivre.

The online festival has not been without technical difficulties, but we may be extremely grateful for the huge effort put into it both by the performers and by the Early Music Centre staff. It has lightened everyone’s mood to be able to see music “live” again at long last.

Review by Martin Dreyer

York Early Music Festival goes digital from today for three days of online concerts

A socially distant Consone Quartet recording their Breaking The Habit concert at the otherwise empty NCEM for the online 2020 York Early Music Festival

THE 2020 York Early Music Festival will be streamed online from this evening until Saturday.

Replacing the Covid-cancelled Method & Madness-themed live event from July 3 to 11, the revised remote festival now combines performances and talks by a line-up of performers based in England.

The virtual festival will be headlined by York countertenor Iestyn Davies and theorbo player Elizabeth Kenny in a concert streamed live tonight at ncem.co.uk, complemented by performances recorded over the past ten days by Steven Devine, Richard Boothby, Consone Quartet and Matthew Wadsworth.

Stile Antico will close the three-day event with a live concert on Saturday, performed, like all the rest, with no live audience at the National Centre for Early Music, at St Margaret’s Church, Walmgate.

Since the decision was taken to cancel this year’s live festival, under the Coronavirus lockdown, organisers have been working hard behind the scenes to deliver the weekend-long programme of music.

Digital producer Ben Pugh’s technical equipment for recording the Consone Quartet concert for streaming on Saturday afternoon

To bring the online festival together, the NCEM has linked up with digital producer Ben Pugh, who has brought his ubiquitous expertise to the concert recordings and will be on hand, at a distance, to stream the live Davies & Kenny and Stile Antico concerts.

“We’ve purchased more video and sound equipment, so it’s more like a TV studio environment now,” says festival administrative director Dr Delma Tomlin. “It’s fortunate that the NCEM is a big space, being a church building, which will help with social distancing.”

Tonight, at 7.30pm, Davies and Kenny present A Delightful Thing, Music and Readings from a Melancholy Man, combining song and music by Elizabethan lutenist John Dowland with Davies’s extra string to his bow: his rendition of readings and poems by Dowland, Robert Burton, Samuel Daniel, Michael Drayton, Barnabe Googe, Ben Jonson, William Leighton, Henry Peacham, Leo Tolstoy and Rose Tremain.  

“To place John Dowland’s artistic output squarely in the frame of ‘Elizabeth melancholia’ is to strip away a richer layer of biography that lies within his crafted lines of music and words,” says Davies.

“Rather, by embracing the songs and solo lute airs as the expressions of a man seeking to find words to say how we fail, we engage in a dialogue that enriches both us and the artistic subject of John Dowland himself.”

Iestyn Davies: York countertenor opens the virtual 2020 York Early Music Festival tonight in tandem with theorbo player Elizabeth Kenny

Tomorrow, John Bryan begins the day with an illustrated introduction to the festivities at 10.30am, highlighting how each concert is linked by a theme of fantasy. This will be followed at 1pm by lute and theorbo player Matthew Wadsworth playing works by Kapsperger, Piccinini, Dowland and Francesco da Milano, plus Echoes In Air, a piece written specially for him by Laura Snowden.

“In a world where live music is in a very fragile place, I am grateful to have the opportunity to share this programme, while being sensitive to the fact that so many artists and arts organisation are in very difficult circumstances,” says Wadsworth.

“I have put together a programme of some of my favourite 17th century music, ending with a wonderful new piece written for me in 2019 by guitarist and composer Laura Snowden.

“When I was asked in 2019 to give a concert in the 2020 festival, I, along with everybody else, had no idea that we would be facing a pandemic together. As we adjust to a new normal, and start to find our way again, I am ever more convinced that music and the arts are an absolute necessity, not a luxury.”

Matthew Wadsworth and Kate Bennett Wadsworth recording tomorrow’s Echoes In Air concert

Wadsworth continues: “I am reminded how, when I moved abroad for the first time in 1997 to study in The Hague, I felt very lost and out of place.

“Music and the lute were a constant, and I realised I could take this source of security anywhere with me. I feel that same comfort and sense of reassurance today, knowing that live music – that most precious shared listening experience between artist and audience – has a past, present and a future.” 

At 3.30pm, harpsichord player Steven Devine performs JS Bach’s The Well-Tempered Clavier, Preludes & Fugues, from Book 1: Nos. 13 to 24. At 7.30pm, lyra viol player Richard Boothby plays music by Ferrabosco, Jenkins and Lawes,  alongside William Corkine’s virtuoso settings of popular tunes such as Come Live With Me and Be My Love. 

The BBC’s New Generation artists Consone Quartet open Saturday’s online programme at 1pm with Beethoven’s String Quartets Opus 18, Nos 2 & No 3.

“Performing Beethoven’s music is both an exciting and an exhausting experience,” says violinist Magdalena Loth-Hill, who plays alongside Agata Daraskaite, violin, Elitsa Bogdanova, viola, and George Ross, cello.

Devine inspiration: Steven Devine at the harpsichord in the stillness of the deserted National Centre for Early Music, recording Bach’s Preludes and Fugues

“The abrupt changes of dynamic, key and direction require the musicians to be alert and adaptable, both musically responsive and elastic in technique. This opus is particularly fascinating because it marks an important turning point in the history of the string quartet.

“It is clearly influenced by the classical form and structure of ‘Papa’ Haydn’s work, yet the listener can sense the winds of change blowing, and a new musical language on the horizon.”

At 3.30pm, York Early Music Festival luminary Peter Seymour, a titan of the York classical music world, will introduce the story behind his recording of Bach’s St Matthew Passion.

The festival closes with vocal ensemble Stile Antico’s 7.30pm programme, Breaking The Habit: Music by and for women in Renaissance Europe, featuring works by Raffaella Aleotti; Sulpitia Cesis; Maddalena Casulana; Pierre de la Rue; Margaret of Austria; Leonora d’Este; Thomas Tallis; John Sheppard; William Byrd; John Taverner; John Bennett and Richard Carlton.

The 16th century saw an unprecedented number of female rulers,” says Delma, setting up the concert’s premise. “From the powerful Medici women of Italy to the great Tudor queens of England, women across Europe held more power than ever before. 

“Many of these monarchs used their patronage to facilitate the production of music of exquisite beauty by the finest composers of the day, extravagant showcases of their power contrasting with intimate and personal compositions. 

The recording set-up for Consone Quartet’s York Early Music Festival concert

“The century also saw the first publication of music by female composers, often Italian nuns, whose convents supported musical groups of astonishing ability.” 

Drawing attention to BBC Radio 3’s festival broadcasts, Delma says: “As an added treat, Radio 3 is presenting its Early Music Show from the festival on Sunday at 2pm, as we celebrate 35 years of supporting emerging ensembles through the York Early Music International Young Artists Competition.

“Radio 3 then completes our celebrations with two magnificent performances from our archive: The Sixteen, directed by Harry Christophers, on July 14, recorded in York Minster in 2015, and Jordi Savall’s Hesperion XX1, recorded in 2014 and now broadcast again on July 15.”

The NCEM was one of the first arts organisations to stream live concerts online during the Covid-19 crisis, beginning with performances by Steven Devine and The Brabant Ensemble. Since March, the fortnightly series of streamed concerts has  reached a worldwide audience of more than 70,000.

It is not too late to book tickets for the latest batch at tickets.ncem.co.uk and boxoffice@ncem.co.uk, with a festival package costing £30, individual concert tickets at £10 each and illustrated talks at £3.50 each.

“At this complicated time, it’s a great joy to be able to share music with our audiences once again,” says Delma. “The digital festival is a first for the NCEM and we look forward to people’s reactions.  Whatever else, everyone gets a front row seat!”  

“I would also like to thank Arts Council England, City of York Council, JWP Creers, Shepherd Group and Creative Europe for their invaluable support.”


Stile Antico, back in the days when you could share a stairway. Social distancing will prevail at their July 11 concert at the NCEM. Picture: Marco Borggreve

Did you know?

AFTER Saturday’s concert, Stile Antico will stay on at the NCEM for three days of recordings for their Mayflower project, now put back to 2021.

NEWSFLASH!

MARTIN Dreyer’s reviews of tonight’s opening concert by Iestyn Davies and Elizabeth Kenny and Saturday’s closing concert by Stile Antico will run on the CharlesHutchPress website.

York Early Music Festival embraces new technology to go online for three-day event

Iestyn Davies: York countertenor switches from Bach arias on July 8 to John Dowland and The Art Of Melancholy on June 9

THE cancelled 2020 York Early Music Festival is back on…online, headlined by York international countertenor Iestyn Davies.

The virtual version of the summer festival will be streamed from the National Centre for Early Music from July 9 to 11, replacing the original live event from July 3 to 11.

Concerts will be recorded at the NCEM’s home, St Margaret’s Church, in Walmgate, with social-distancing measures in place and no live audience.

Booking will open on Friday, June 19 at tickets.ncem.co.uk and boxoffice@ncem.co.uk, with a festival package at £30, individual concert tickets at £10 each and illustrated talks at £3.50 each.

The artwork for the 2020 York Early Music Festival , now replaced by a streamlined, streamed version of the festival next month

Iestyn Davies would have been performing Bach: Countertenor Arias with Scottish instrumentalists the Dunedin Consort on July 8 at the Sir Jack Lyons Concert Hall, University of York. “We figured we couldn’t get the whole of the Dunedin Consort down from Scotland under the lockdown rules,” says festival administrative director Dr Delma Tomlin.

Instead, Davies will present The Art Of Melancholy, joined by lutenist Elizabeth Kenny, a former artistic adviser to the York Early Music Festival and frequent performer at the NCEM, for a concert streamed on July 9 at 7.30pm.

The music of Elizabethan lutenist John Dowland will be complemented by Davies’s renditions and readings of poetry by Robert Burton, Michael Drayton, Rose Tremain, Leo Tolstoy and Dowland himself.

“Iestyn lives in York but he’s a countertenor of truly international prowess and we’re delighted he can join us for the revised festival,” says Delma.

Dr Delma Tomlin: Administrative director of the York Early Music Festival

“Dowland is known for his music of extraordinary misery but utter beauty. He knew that in love, the only thing sweeter than happiness was sorrow. Few living interpreters understand his music more profoundly than Iestyn, who has devised this evening of poetry, music and drama for voice and lute to explore a composer for whom a single teardrop can hold a universe of emotion.”

On July 10, festival artistic advisor John Bryan will provide an illustrated introduction to the day’s online festivities at 10.30am, with each concert linked by a theme of fantasy. Lute and theorbo player Matthew Wadsworth will perform Echoes In Air, a 1pm programme of works by Kapsperger and Piccinini, Dowland and Francesco da Milano, alongside a new piece written specially for him by Laura Snowden, Echoes In Air. 

At 3.30pm, harpsichordist Steve Devine will continue his NCEM series of Preludes and Fugues from Book 1 of J S Bach’s The Well-tempered Clavier, here performing Nos 13 to 24. The day will end with Richard Boothby’s 7.30pm concert on lyra viol, with his programme yet to be announced.

Pianist and professor David Owen Norris will give an illustrated introduction to the July 11 online concerts at 10.30am.

Stile Antico back in the days when you could stand together on a staircase. Social distancing will prevail at their July 11 concert. Picture: Marco Borggreve

BBC New Generation artists Consone Quartet, comprising Agata Daraskaite and Magdalena Loth-Hill, on violins, Elitsa Bogdanova, on viola, and George Ross, on cello, will play Beethoven’s String Quartet in G Major Op 18, No 2 and String Quartet in D Major Op 18, No 3 at 1pm.

York Early Music Festival luminary Peter Seymour, a leviathan of the York classical music world, will introduce the story behind his recording of Bach’s St Matthew Passion at 3.30pm.

Stile Antico will present Breaking The Habit: Bringing to life the music of the Renaissance through song at 7.30pm.

The 16th century saw an unprecedented number of female rulers,” says Delma, setting up the concert’s premise. “From the powerful Medici women of Italy to the great Tudor queens of England, women across Europe held more power than ever before. 

Steven Devine: Bach to the future as he works his way through Preludes and Fugues

“Many of these monarchs used their patronage to facilitate the production of music of exquisite beauty by the finest composers of the day, extravagant showcases of their power contrasting with intimate and personal compositions. 

“The century also saw the first publication of music by female composers, often Italian nuns, whose convents supported musical groups of astonishing ability.” 

To bring the online festival together, the NCEM is working with digital producer Ben Pugh.” We’ve purchased more video and sound equipment, so it’s more like a TV studio environment now,” says Delma.

“It’s fortunate that the NCEM is a big space, being a church building, which will help with social distancing. The opening and closing concert will be streamed as live, and the other concerts will be pre-recorded over a ten-day period.

Elizabeth Kenny: Joining Iestyn Davies for July 9 concert

“After their concert, Stile Antico will stay on at the NCEM for three days of recordings for their Mayflower project, now put back to 2021.

“We’ll also be putting the remainder of Steven Devine’s Bach’s Preludes and Fugues series online in the autumn as his Bach concerts streamed from the NCEM during lockdown have been received really well.”

The 2020 festival was to have run from July 3 to 11 with a theme of “the Method & Madness of musical styles, from the wild excesses of the Italian Renaissance, through the soothing virtuosity of Bach, to the towering genius of Beethoven”.

Among the artists would have been Davies; Devine and Consone Quartet; The Sixteen, singing The Call Of Rome at York Minster, and Barokksolistene, from Norway, with their vivacious festival opener, Alehouse.

Violinist Rachel Podger: Scheduled to play 2021 York Early Music Festival

Lined up to take part too were Rose Consort of Viols; Voces Suaves; Prisma; Profeti della Quinta; L’Apothéose; Hubert Hazebroucq & Julien Martin; The Society of Strange & Ancient Instruments; the University Baroque Ensemble and Peter Seymour directing Handel’s opera Orlando.

Already Delma has confirmed the 2021 festival will run from Friday, July 9 to Saturday, July 17. “Guest artists scheduled to join us next summer include The Tallis Scholars, The Sixteen, Brecon Baroque, led by violinist Rachel Podger, and gamba specialist Paolo Pandolfo,” she says.

The 2020 York Early Music Christmas Festival will go ahead, “but it may all be online,” reveals Delma. “That should be a little bit easier to arrange than for this summer’s festival.

“I should be able to work it all out in good time, whereas re-organising the summer event on a big scale became utterly impossible because the majority of performers were from overseas.

Consone Quartet: Performng Beethoven String Quartets on July 10

“So, instead, we’re doing a digital festival of musicians based in England willing to come to the NCEM next month for this very exciting venture that’s turned out to be brilliant, but for different reasons than the festival we first envisaged.”

The NCEM’s spring series of streamed concerts in lockdown has gone well. “They’ve been free with the option to donate to the NCEM afterwards, and we’ve even had people tuning in from Ecuador, Australia and Southern India, which has been fascinating for us,” says Delma.

“It gives us a chance to connect with a much broader audience and we may well re-share these concerts in the future, but we’re now going to have to find a way of earning money from streamed concerts, setting up a paywall to pay for watching them, in order to help us still be here in a year’s time. The free model can’t continue; we will have to get people into the habit of paying for streaming.”

Never too late for Beverley & East Riding Early Music Festival 2020, now in 2021

Stile Antico: Taking steps to play Beverley & East Riding Early Music Festival in 2021. Picture: Marco Borggreve

THE 2020 Beverley & East Riding Early Music Festival is off…until next year.

The postponed event will now take place over the Bank Holiday weekend of May 28 to 30 2021, with many of this year’s artists already re-booked for next spring.

“The good news is that Stile Antico, La Serenissima, Alva, Matthew Wadsworth – sadly not Julia Doyle, but I’ll work on a ‘new’ soloist – David Neave and Vivien Ellis have all been able to work with us to re-create the festival next year,” says festival director Dr Delma Tomlin.

They will be joined by others yet to be announced. “All will be working to re-create the festival and to open up new opportunities to be involved,” says Delma.

“Our festival team has already begun the huge task of re-booking tickets for next year and issuing refunds. They are asking for patrons to bear with them at this difficult time as they work through hundreds of requests, processing re-bookings and refunds as quickly as possible.”

“Given the current circumstances, postponement will not be a surprise,” says Beverley & East Riding Early Music Festival director Dr Delma Tomlin

Explaining the decision, in light of the Coronavirus pandemic, Delma says: “Regretfully, we have had to take the heart-breaking decision to postpone the festival until next year. We would like to thank our audiences for their continued support.

“Given the current circumstances, postponement will not be a surprise, but we know how disappointing it is for our audiences and supporters; for the many school children who would have been involved with our Vivaldi extravaganza, and of course, for the artists themselves.”

Delma continues: “Hopefully, the postponement is better news than ‘just’ a cancellation. So, we look forward to seeing you again as soon as possible: in Beverley in May 2021, if not before. 

“I would also like to say a huge thank-you to the East Riding of Yorkshire Council and Arts Council for their continuing support, which has made all the difference to the artists involved and has helped secure next year’s festival.”

La Serenissima: Now Beverley bound in 2021 rather than 2020. Picture: Eric Richmond

Beverley Early Music Festival began in 1988 and takes place every year in the churches and historical buildings of the East Yorkshire’s market town, where the festival weekend comprises performances, walks, talks and workshops.

Meanwhile, the National Centre for Early Music, in York, is helping to keep music alive “at this critical time” by broadcasting concerts from its archive online. “To enjoy the concerts, visit ncem.co.uk and click on to the link in the news section marked NCEM Facebook page,” says Dema, the NCEM’s director. “Concerts are free and a Facebook account is not needed.”

Confirmed concerts at Beverley and East Riding Early Music Festival 2021:


Stile Antico: Friday, May 28 2021, 7.30pm, Beverley Minster.
Choral Workshop with members of Stile Antico: Saturday, May 29, 10am, Toll Gavel United Church.
Alva: Saturday, May 29, 12.30pm, St Mary’s Church.
Ballad Walk: In and around Beverley Minster: Saturday, May 29, 4pm.
La Serenissima: Saturday, May 29, 7.30pm, St Mary’s Church.
Ballad Walk: It All happened In Beverley: Sunday, May 30, 10am.
Ballad Walk: In and around Beverley Minster: Sunday, May 30, 1pm,
Matthew Wadsworth: Sunday, May 30, 7pm, St James’s Church, Warter.