REVIEW: Steve Crowther’s verdict on University of York Choir and Symphony Orchestra, The 24, York Minster, June 8

The University of York Choir and Symphony Orchestra in concert at York Minster. Picture: Steve Crowther

AS the Match Of The Day football pundits might say, this was a game of two halves.

Despite the obvious musical intelligence and quality on offer, I struggled with the performance of Mozart’s Mass in C minor. It is a large-scale work scored for two soprano soloists, a tenor and a bass, double chorus and large orchestra.

Coupled with the nature of Mozart’s musical dialogue, this meant that I simply could not hear all of the detail, thanks to this very generous Minster acoustic.

There was, however, much to admire: Elspeth Piggott’s soprano solo in the Christie was impressive, although I lost some of the lower register. The fine, crisp string playing in the Gloria. Soprano Rebecca Lea, a last-minute substitute for Helen Neeves, sang the Laudamus Te with real assurance, although again I lost some of the lower register.

More rewarding was when the two singers combined forces in the Domine Deus – tender exchanges and reassuring support. The following Qui Tollis was also satisfying, with Mozart using a double chorus underpinned by a pulsating dotted rhythm ostinato.

The highlight was always going to be Et Incarnatus Est, simply because of the intimacy of the scoring: soprano solo, solo flute, oboe and bassoon. That and the quality of Ms Piggott’s performance of this operatic aria.

Elspeth Piggott and Rebecca Lea were joined by tenor James Beddoe and bass Patrick Osborne for a very fine Benedictus before the recap of the fugal Hosanna, signing off the performance with aplomb.

And so, to the second half. As vocal musical experiences in the Minster go, it doesn’t come much better than the excellent The 24, directed by Robert Hollingworth, singing Bruckner’s Locus Iste and Christus Factus Est motets.

These are not the most technically demanding of works but, nevertheless, we were royally treated with performances of clarity, balance, detail and very real musical insight. The Minster acoustic loved it and, as a consequence, so did we.

This was followed by an inspired piece of programming with Elgar’s rarely heard Elegy op. 58. Well, I’ve never heard it anyway. The performance revealed a delightful jewel of a work intimately scored for string orchestra.

To be sure, there were echoes of Nimrod. Evidently his friend August Jaeger had died one month earlier, but it worked just fine in and of its own terms. Quite poignant, actually.

The concert closed with a full-bodied performance of Bruckner’s Te Deum in C, superbly marshalled by conductor John Stringer. Due to the cleaner, predominantly homophonic nature of Bruckner’s setting, the experience was much more rewarding than the Mozart.

The textures were less busy. Having said that, the sound world had a monumental quality: full-on tonal building blocks of sound augmented by the organ blasts of affirmation; a “cathedral of sound”. This is, after all, a deeply religious work.

There were moments of tranquillity, glimpses from within: the wonderful quartet of soloists – Elspeth Piggott, James Beddoe and Patrick Osborne, who were now joined by mezzo-soprano Helena Cooke. It was such a welcome relief to actually hear all the detail; a tender tenor solo with telling solo violin commentary (Michael Capecci).

However, the work ended as it had begun, in triumphant affirmation and splendour. I thought the sheer volume of sound might blow the Minster roof off; it certainly brought the house down.

Review by Steve Crowther

More Things To Do in York and beyond, whether Unfortunate or fortunate to be here. Hutch’s List No. 24, from The Press

Swing when you’re singing: Ryedale Primary Choir schoochildren doing their vocal exercises for Across The Whinny Moor

MUSICAL moorland mermaids and a villainous sea witch, motion in art and a Mozart mass, vintage Pink Floyd and a Louise Brooks silent movie set up Charles Hutchinson’s week ahead.

Ryedale Festival community event of the week: Across The Whinny Moor, St Peter’s Church, Norton, today, 4pm

THE world premiere of the Community Song Cycle: Across The Whinny Moor follows the trail of North Yorkshire’s Lyke Wake Walk, meeting cheeky hobs, angry mermaids, resourceful giants and wise witches along the way. 

The all-age cast for a walk through stories and songs by John Barber and Hazel Gould includes the schoolchildren of the Ryedale Primary Choir, the Ryedale Voices, Harmonia and The RyeLarks choirs, Kirkbymoorside Town Junior Brass Band, storyteller Rosie Barrett and mezzo-soprano soloist Victoria Simmonds, conducted by Caius Lee. Box office: 

Tim Pearce’s poster artwork for Life Forms In Motion at Blossom Street Gallery

Six of the best: Life Forms In Motion, Blossom Street Gallery, Blossom Street, York, until June 30

SIX Yorkshire artists give individual responses to the challenge of interpreting the motion of life forms in a range of static media. In a nutshell, time and space condensed into single, dynamic images.

Taking part are Tim Pearce, painting and sculpture; Cathy Denford, painting; Jo Ruth, printmaking; Adrienne French, painting; Mandy Long, ceramic sculpture, and Lesley Peatfield, photography. Opening hours: Thursday to Saturday, 10am to 4pm; Sundays, 10am to 3pm.

Robert Hollingworth: On baton duty at the University of York Choir and Symphony Orchestra’s concert at York Minster tonight

Classical concert of the week: University of York Choir and Symphony Orchestra, York Minster, tonight, 7.30pm

UNDER the direction of Robert Hollingworth and John Stringer, the University of York Choir and Symphony Orchestra perform Mozart’s ‘Great’ Mass in C minor, widely considered to be among his supreme choral works.

This will be complemented by a selection of works by Anton Bruckner, celebrating the 200th anniversary of the Austrian composer’s birth, including the Te Deum, “the pride of his life”. Box office: 01904 322439 or

Across The Fields To The Sea, by John Thornton, from his Kentmere House Gallery exhibition

“Favourite artist” of the week: John Thornton, Across The Fields To The Sea, Kentmere House, Gallery, Scarcroft Hill, York

BORN in York and now living in Selby, seascape and landscape artist John Thornton has opened his latest show, Across The Fields To The Sea, at his regular York gallery.

“John is everyone’s favourite painter,” says gallery owner and curator Ann Petherick. “I’m delighted he has produced a new and exciting collection of paintings of Askham Bog and Skipwith Common woodlands and meadows and the occasional seascape, inspired by his travels in Yorkshire since the end of Covid.” Opening hours: First weekend of each month, 11am to 5pm; every Thursday, 6pm to 9pm; any other time by appointment on 01904 656507 or 07801 810825.

Louise Brooks in Diary Of A Lost Girl, showing at the NCEM on Tuesday

Film event of the week: Diary Of A Lost Girl (PG), with pianist Utsav Lal, National Centre for Early Music, Walmgate, York, June 11, 7.30pm

TRAILBLAZING New York raga pianist Utsav Lal improvises his live score to accompany Diary Of A Lost Girl, a rarely shown gem of German silent cinema starring American icon Louise Brooks.

Presented by Northern Silents, G W Pabst’s 1929 film traces the journey of a young woman from the pit of despair to the moment of personal awakening. Box office: 01904 658338 and at

Sex, sorcery and suckers: Shawna Hamic’s filthy-humoured Ursula in Unfortunate: The Untold Story Of Ursula The Sea Witch. Picture: Pamela Raith

Musical discovery of the week: Unfortunate: The Untold Story Of Ursula The Sea Witch, Grand Opera House, York, June 11 to 15, 7.30pm plus 2.30pm Saturday matinee

AFTER a hit London season, Yorkshire writer-director Robyn Grant heads north with her raucously rude, wickedly camp parody musical Unfortunate, wherein Disney diva Ursula, the villainous sea witch, rules the waves and waves the rules.

New York actress Shawna Hamic’s Ursula gives her filthy-humoured take on what really happened all those years ago under the sea in a bawdy tale of sex, sorcery and suckers. Age recommendation: 16+, on account of strong language, partial nudity and scenes of a sexual nature. Box office:

Courtney Broan as Ado Annie in Pickering Musical Society’s Oklahoma!

American classic of the week: Pickering Musical Society in Oklahoma!, Kirk Theatre, Pickering, June 11 to 15, 7.30pm and 2.30pm Saturday matinee

LUKE Arnold directs Pickering Musical Society in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s 1943 love story of Curly (Marcus Burnside) and Laurie (Rachel Anderson), set in the sweeping landscapes of the American heartland. 

Further roles go to Courtney Broan as Ado Annie, Stephen Temple as Will Parker, Michael O’Brien as Mr Carnes and Rick Switzer-Green as AliHakim, joined by dancers from the Sarah Louise Ashworth School of Dance. Box office: 01751 474833 or

Nick Mason’s Saucerful Of Secrets: Re-visiting Pink Floyd at York Barbican

Rock gig of the week: Nick Mason’s Saucerful Of Secrets, York Barbican, June 12, 7.45pm

NICK Mason’s Saucerful Of Secrets follow up their April 2022 appearance at York Barbican with Wednesday’s date on their Set The Controls Tour.

Once more, Pink Floyd drummer Nick Mason will be joined by Spandau Ballet guitarist Gary Kemp, bassist Guy Pratt, guitarist Lee Harris and keyboardist Dom Beken to perform vintage Pink Floyd material. Box office:   

The poster artwork for Calamity Jane, starring Carrie Hope Fletcher, on tour at Grand Opera House next spring

Show announcement of the week: Carrie Hope Fletcher in Calamity Jane, Grand Opera House, York, April 29 to May 3 2025

IN the week when Nikolai Foster’s production of An Officer And A Gentleman The Musical is on tour at the Grand Opera House, the York theatre announces the booking of another show with the North Yorkshire director at the helm, this one bound for the West End.

Three-time WhatsOnStage Best Actress in a Musical winner Carrie Hope Fletcher will star in the whip-crackin’ musical as fearless Dakota gun-slinger Calamity Jane. “She is one of those roles that doesn’t come around all too often,” she says. “She’s action, romance and comedy all packed into one character, and I can’t wait to take on the challenge of filling her shoes.” Box office:

University of York Choir and Symphony Orchestra to perform Mozart and Bruckner works at York Minster on June 8

The poster for University of York Choir and Symphony Orchestra’s concert on June 8

THE University of York Choir, The 24, and the University of York Symphony Orchestra will perform at York Minster on Saturday, June 8.

Under the direction of Robert Hollingworth and John Stringer, the 7.30pm programme will feature Mozart’s Mass in C minor and a selection of Bruckner’s works, celebrating the 200th anniversary of his birth, including the Te Deum, a composition he described as “the pride of his life”. Box office: 01904 322439 or

REVIEW: Steve Crowther’s verdict on University of York Symphony Orchestra, Sir Jack Lyons Concert Hall, November 25

John Stringer conducting the University of York Symphony Orchestra on November 25

THE first thing to say about this ambitious concert was that it was played to a packed auditorium. In these difficult times this is no small achievement and great credit to the University Symphony Orchestra and conductor John Stringer, who have deservedly generated such a trusted following.

I have never heard Kaija Saariaho’s Lumière et Pesanteur in a live performance. To be honest I found listening to the work slightly unsettling. It was like swimming submerged in a spooky, murky musical lagoon.

The very effective soundscape was made from light, translucent chords. A delicate motif moved from trumpet to flute. There emerged loud tutti, trumpet and brass but these outbursts were always sucked back into the murky depths. As I said, unsettling.

Not all the exposed playing was always on the money, a little pitch unsure, perhaps lacking a little match practice. But there was no doubting the originality of the score and the performance caught the atmospheric sound world to good effect.

And so, from one Finnish great to an even greater one, Jean Sibelius. En Saga is also a powerful, descriptive tone poem. The work opens with a mysterious, distinctive mood or sheen created by glistening string playing. Again, the solo and exposed instrumental groupings seemed to lack authority and confidence.

This changed with the dramatic increase in tempo and the playing was more self-assured and enjoyable. The work is now brimming with instrumental folk-inspired dances, heroic calls on the horn. The climax of the four horns playing their notes chiuso (muted by hand), produced a particularly metallic, brassy effect.

Following some strong viola solo playing (Anna Thompson), conductor John Stringer drove the players on to a sustained orchestral climax dominated by brass fanfares. Very effective. This couldn’t last and a splendid Pip Tall on clarinet guided us toward a poignant, tranquil close.

If some of the playing in the first half seemed, I suspect, a little under rehearsed, this was certainly not the case in the second half with a terrific performance of Shostakovich’s symphonic last will and musical testament, the exceptional Symphony No. 15.

Whereas his symphonies are usually driven by external events and politics, here the drama is very much internalised. To be sure, there is fun to be had, not least in the William Tell quotations. Or is there?

The symphony, the mightiest of abstract musical forms, opens with a solo glockenspiel. It is certainly a surprise and, in this context, a dramatic one. This is followed by a seemingly carefree chirpy flute solo and then a slightly odd bassoon melody, some strange, slightly displaced string passages, familiar rhythmic echoes in the brass and then an even stranger hello from the trumpets quoting from Rossini’s William Tell overture.

The playing convincingly recreated a kind of black musical playground, or possibly fairground, where the appearance of Petrushka’s ghost wouldn’t have been that far-fetched. But if this quirky, surreal quality suggesting frivolity is a musical joke, the punchline is manifest in the darkest recesses of the following slow movement.

The University Symphony Orchestra delivered a persuasive, bleak account. It opens with a noble brass chorale ushering in a truly heartfelt cello solo; a pair of solo flutes (nicely played by Persephone Alloway and Immy McPhun) introduce the historical dotted funeral motif, with a solo trombone taking us to loud fortissimo climax.

Fine bassoon playing leads to the start of the Allegretto third movement. I think that this is meant to be played without a break, but anyhow, mercifully there was one, and I needed it. Having said that, this scherzando offers little respite as the chilling woodblock motif introduces a solo double bass theme accompanied by confident celesta playing by Joel Edmondson.

A macabre clarinet solo takes to a unsettling violin solo arriving at the movement’s closing Desolation Row. The final Adagio is brimming with quotations: the fate motif from Wagner’s Der Ring des Nieberlung and Tristan und Isolde. There are echoes of Glinka’s Do Not Tempt Me Needlessly. It is left to the celesta to take us to the final curtain restating the symphony’s opening motif.

To quote music journalist Tom Service: “The final sounds of Shostakovich’s symphonic canon are impassive, intimate, and empty. They’re among the most spine-tingling and chilling sounds in orchestral music.”

John Stringer and the University Symphony Orchestra delivered an emotional rollercoaster of the bleakest of musical journeys. They, and especially their fine soloists – Persephone Alloway (flute), Isaac McAreavey (bassoon), Mari McGregor (cello), Sam Banks (trombone), George Roberts (double bass) and Vlad Turapov (violin) – should be very proud.

Review by Steve Crowther

REVIEW: Steve Crowther’s verdict on The Dream Of Gerontius, York Minster

Alex Ashworth: “Wonderful, resonant bass”. Picture: Debbie Scanlan

The Dream Of Gerontius, University of York Choir and Symphony Orchestra, York Minster, June 14

THE Dream Of Gerontius opened with a well-judged expansive orchestral Prelude; the ghost of Wagner ever present in the slowly unfolding haunting melodic lines.

The performance reminded me how surreal this instrumental journey is, quite radical really, as it closes in to greet Gerontius on his deathbed.

Joshua Ellicott’s dramatic opening Jesu, Maria, I Am Near To Death was imbued with both frailty and trepidation. Naturally, most of the vocal responsibility lies with the tenor role of Gerontius, and Mr Ellicott was simply imperious. He strove to deliver an unforgettable emotional and spiritual journey, one rich in dramatic effect and emotional depth.

The somewhat chilling opening aria was both passionate and persuasive, and the delivery of the later Sanctus Fortis, a musical statement of faith, was both powerful and compelling. Particularly musically pleasing was the way the opening aria bled into, seeped into the Kyrie Eleison.

It is not until the end of Part 1 that Gerontius is joined by the Priest, a wonderful, resonant bass, Alex Ashworth, who leads the processional Go Forth Upon Thy journey, Christian Soul. The closing…Through The Same, Through Christ Our Lord also had a wonderful, satisfying musical landing.

Part 2 opens with the Soul of Gerontius singing I Went To Sleep; And Now I Am Refreshed. Mr Ellicott delivered this beautifully, aided by the clarity of texture – muted strings, woodwind gentle, overlapping commentary.

Mezzo soprano Kitty Whately proved to be a worthy (female) Angel, the singer displaying a lovely, velvety tone. Her aria Softly And Gently was just heavenly. The dramatic highlight was, of course, when Gerontius sees God; a silence of shock and awe, orchestral explosion. Very effective indeed, particularly in this acoustic.

The orchestra and choir (often singing very demanding vocal lines such as Praise To The Holiest In The Height) were excellent throughout. The Minster acoustic is and was problematic; it tends to take more than it gives. Conductor John Stringer managed these huge forces plus soloists in this acoustic with exceptional musical skill, and a full-capacity audience seemed to agree.

Review by Steve Crowther

REVIEW: Martin Dreyer’s verdict on University of York Symphony Orchestra, 26/11/2022

Conductor John Stringer

University of York Symphony Orchestra (USO) Sir Jack Lyons Concert Hall, University of York, November 26

TICKETS were like gold dust for the USO’s latest foray under its permanent conductor John Stringer.

This is a popular group and its standards are high. The programme encompassed London as painted by Elgar and Paris as seen by Delius and Gershwin, with a couple of brief side-trips from Grainger in between.

Elgar’s concert overture Cockaigne (In London Town) is a series of vignettes of London life. He wanted to lift his spirits in 1901 after the disastrous initial response to The Dream Of Gerontius the previous year. As an establishment outsider, he also needed a way back into the musical mainstream. Cockaigne did the trick.

The violins were immediately bold in the vivacious opening melody but the change of mood to the more serious side of the Londoner was fluently done, even if things only quietened down fully when we glimpsed the lovers in the park. The military march rang out with majestic bravado underpinned by an especially zealous timpanist.

Although premiered the same year as Cockaigne, Delius’s Paris: The Song Of A Great City is quite a different animal, much more personal, indeed almost autobiographical. It started a little uncertainly here, before finding its way into a more shapely impressionism; the sinuous phrasing of the bass clarinet led the way.

The night air was warmed by the saltarello rhythm suggesting distant revels. But after the frenzy of bacchanalia leading to the march we reached an immense climax, which suited the orchestra’s mood perfectly. Thereafter the encompassing lull before the last great chord was serenely controlled.

Percy Grainger struck up a lasting friendship with Delius, so there was a personal link in his Dreamery, which – contrary to the Grainger image of relentless jollity – is a quiet daydream for strings alone. It dates from immediately after the First World War  and is clearly nostalgic for calmer times. The orchestra’s fine body of violins were right at home here and all the strings enjoyed the composer’s delicate tapestry.

Equally brief but no less effective was Grainger’s arrangement of Ravel’s La Vallée des Cloches, from his piano suite ‘Miroirs’. Ravel had originally intended to orchestrate it himself. The opening section for tuned percussion was hypnotic. When the strings finally joined them, the violas made succulent use of their time in the spotlight.

We stayed in France for An American In Paris, Gershwin’s jocular parody of the archetypal Yank abroad, bold, brazen, and more than a little loud. He got off to a jaunty start, courtesy of the woodwinds, and the syncopation that followed was nicely edgy.

The sleaze quotient lifted with blues trumpet and tuba. Tempo changes were smoothly negotiated, as this American began to look and listen rather than impose himself. The ending was triumphant. It had all been a tasty travelogue.

Review by Martin Dreyer

REVIEW: Martin Dreyer’s verdict on University of York Symphony Orchestra

Sir Jack Lyons Concert Hall, University of York

University of York Symphony Orchestra/Stringer, Sir Jack Lyons Concert Hall, University of York, November 27

THE statistics were impressive. In their first public appearance for 20 months, the 85 members of the University of York Symphony Orchestra came from 20 different departments and nine nations – a truly cross-cultural ensemble.

The programme was equally eclectic. An Elgar second half was preceded by three 20th century pieces, including a tuba concerto.

George Walker’s Lyric for Strings – which, like Barber’s better-known Adagio, was originally
part of a string quartet – is a gentle elegy that does not reach quite as powerful a climax as Barber achieved. But the orchestra, under its regular conductor John Stringer, treated it tenderly enough, if with a certain caution.

In similar mood was Elgar’s heartfelt Elegy, also for strings alone, but given here with
reverence and a greater measure of conviction.

Thomas Adès quoted Julian of Norwich for the title of his ‘… But All Shall Be Well’ (taken up
much later by T S Eliot among others). Interjections by percussion threaten to disrupt the swirling strings until quite near the end, when the title motto begins to hold good. For all its complications, the piece relies on a simple five-note motif that gives it coherence. The orchestra sounded as if it understood exactly what was going on.

The agile soloist in Edward Gregson’s Tuba Concerto was Christopher Pearce, whose contrasts in colour were greatly helped by the sensitivity of the orchestral accompaniment. He cleanly pointed the difference between the two opening themes before bringing a smooth legato to the slow movement’s songlike melody. Despite the exciting, jazzy textures in the finale, he kept his eye on the ball and his phrasing crisp.

Elgar’s Polonia is one of those works that would fit neatly into the last night of the Proms, bursting with nationalistic fervour and produced as a fundraiser for Polish refugees during the First World War.

Its opening was on the ragged side here, but the cellos settled nicely into its big tune and the rest of the orchestra followed suit. Vigorous percussion accented its martial flavour and there was hardly any holding the brass when the theme returned in an Elgarian nobilmente.

The orchestra clearly relished its chance to be back in live action. A full house enjoyed it too.

Review by Martin Dreyer