2024 Yorkshire Schools Dance Festival cancelled after 242 per cent rise in hire charges at University of York since 2021

THE 2024 Yorkshire Schools Dance Festival will not go ahead.

“A significant increase in venue hire fees puts delivering the event beyond our financial capacity,” says producer Colin Jackson, who describes the annual November event as “the jewel in York’s children and young people’s creative crown”.

In an official statement released today, he states: “The festival has been held at the University of York since 1999. Our long-established and positive relationship with the university combined with the event’s strong community focus saw us attract a subsidised rate for the hire of Central Hall for many years.

“The charges made to cover building hire and staff costs made it an affordable and viable event to run. It meant that we were able to charge schools a reasonable rate to participate, offer wraparound enrichment activities for school staff and students and make the event accessible for all by keeping ticket prices low. It was very much a partnership between us and the university.”

The event was last held at Central Hall, University of York, in 2022. “Despite a 130 per cent increase in the hire rate from the previous year, we were able to balance the books through generous financial support from Yorkshire Dance and other sponsors/donors,” explains Colin.

The festival organisers entered into discussions with York Conferences, who manage bookings for the university, in 2023 and were informed that the hire charges would again rise by another 51 per cent.

“This represented a 242 per cent increase from the 2021 rate,” says Colin. “To provide an illustration, were the hire rates £1,000 in 2021, in 2023 they would have been £3,420. The actual figures and financial increase are, of course, far more.”

The 2023 festival was relocated to the Carriageworks Theatre in Leeds with the hope that the hire rates could be renegotiated for a return to the University of York this year.

“At the end of last year we were told that the figure quoted still stood,” says Colin. “Despite our best efforts since then to achieve additional sponsorship, we have not been able to plug the gap.

“Passing the increased costs on to schools would mean significant increases in the fee to participate and ticket prices. While some schools and families could have afforded this, many would have struggled to either take part or come along to watch and removed our core objective to make the festival wholly inclusive.”

The festival organisers wrote to the University of York’s vice chancellor last year, stressing the festival’s importance for the 1,200 children and young people that took part every year and emphasising the value of the event in supporting the university’s Strategic Vision to exist for public good and the founders’ vision for strong social purpose, combating inequality and opening up access to the campus. “Our approach made no impact,” says Colin.

“Central Hall is the perfect location for the event,” the statement continues. “A large auditorium, backstage areas and additional rooms meant that we could comfortably accommodate the children, young people and staff from schools, as well as the families that came along to watch.”

While the model at The Carriageworks was successful, limited space made for a far smaller event with a reduced number of schools taking part and reduced capacity for audiences.

“At this stage, we feel we have no choice but to cancel the event,” says Colin. “We continue to hope that the university can reconsider their position and see the event for what it is.

“Not only does it have huge benefits for schools, teachers, students and pupils, its impact upon the local economy is marked. The event provided significant employment opportunities for freelance dance artists, freelance event staff and wider providers.

“We know that the festival has put dance on the map in many schools and resulted in enhanced curriculum provision for the subject. It has long been the jewel in York’s children and young people’s creative crown.”

“We have done all we can,” Colin concludes. “If you feel it appropriate to do so, you can make contact with the University of York or York Conferences.

“We must stress that we do not expect the event to make a loss for the university and we recognise that there are financial challenges for them as well as us.

“We suspect, however, that the two weekends in November that are normally earmarked for the festival will see Central Hall either dark or holding events that are not for social purpose, designed to combat inequality or open up access to the campus.”

CharlesHutchPress has contacted the University of York press office this morning for an official response and is awaiting a reply.

REVIEW: Martin Dreyer’s verdict on University of York Choir & Baroque Ensemble, Central Hall, December 16

Sarah Latto: Guest-conductiing 250 singers

IT was a good idea to schedule two Baroque Magnificats side by side in a single Christmas programme. What was arguably less sensible was to sing them in reverse chronological order.

The large choir was joined by the chamber choir The 24, bringing its numbers up to 250, all guest-conducted by Sarah Latto.

The history of Bach’s Magnificat is not altogether simple. This Christmas marks the 300th anniversary of the premiere of his first Magnificat, which was in E flat major. Over the following three years, he revised it, cutting out its four Christmas texts so that it could be used throughout the year and transposing it into the key of D major.

That is the version normally heard. What was given here was indeed “inspired by the early version” but in the later key. So we heard it with the Christmas bonuses.

It spearheaded the evening. In the opening chorus, the Baroque Ensemble, numbering some two dozen, was immediately right on its toes. The choir took longer to find focus. In the first interpolation, ‘Vom Himmel Hoch’ (From Heaven Above), the chorale melody in the sopranos needed greater prominence.

But there was a crisp attack into ‘Omnes generationes’ and thereafter the choir was fully focused: the ending of ‘Fecit Potentiam’ was superbly triumphal and the final Gloria equally imposing.

It was entirely understandable that soloists from within the choir (all members of The 24) were used, exactly as Bach would have done. But in this dry acoustic, which is so unreceptive to solo voices, it worked only intermittently.

Only one, the soprano Molly O’Toole, had the consistent resonance to surmount this difficulty; the baritone Will Parsons ran her a close second. Both, incidentally, sang their arias by heart. All of the others, equally youthful, were never less than competent, but lacked the projection required.

The orchestra contributed strong rhythmic backing, with first-class solo work from flutes and oboes. The portative organ, however, was underpowered against these forces and the harpsichord virtually inaudible.

The ‘other’ Magnificat was by the little-known Milanese nun Chiara Margarita Cozzolani. Written in the year of Bach’s birth, 1650, it inevitably suffered by being heard in the wake of his work rather than beforehand. But it proved an engaging work, for double choir, full of imaginative metrical changes closely linked to the text, even if its harmonic palette was limited. The 24 relished its antiphonal effects.

A Sinfonia pastorale – defined as for the Christmas season by its closing movement – was led from the violin with considerable panache by Asuka Sumi, one of the Baroque Ensemble’s co-directors (the other is cellist Rachel Gray, also present here).

Thereafter we enjoyed three Michael Praetorius settings of Christmas carols, with orchestral accompaniment. Finally, Gruber’s Silent Night, to an American translation, invited audience participation.

It made for a second half that was rather less exciting than Bach’s Magnificat had been. Nevertheless, Latto had conducted decisively, mouthing all the words as choral conductors are wont to do, but achieving excellent results and infusing the choir with enthusiasm.

Review by Martin Dreyer

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

Conductor Simon Wright

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Review by Martin Dreyer