Flutes & Frets’ Beth Stones and Dan Murphy launch educational early music mini-tour of Explore York libraries

Beth Stones and Dan Murphy of Flutes & Frets: Heading out on Explore York library mini-tour

MUSICAL duo Flutes & Frets embark on a mini-tour of three York community libraries tomorrow (14/3/2024) in a National Centre for Early Music cultural wellbeing initiative.

Working in partnership with Explore York Libraries and Archives, flautist Beth Stones and frets player Dan Murphy are taking Baroque Around The Books to Tang Hall Explore Library at 11am tomorrow morning; Clifton Library at 3pm tomorrow afternoon, and Explore: Acomb Library Learning Centre at 11am on Friday. Pre-booking is advised for the Acomb performance at http://ncem.co.uk/baroque-around-the-books/

The tour will continue with an invitation-only concert for NCEM members tomorrow at 2.30pm at Fairfax House, to be recorded for online viewing on March 21 as part of the NCEM’s Early Music Day celebrations. 

Tickets are free for these informal concerts under a new NCEM initiative in tandem with Explore York, supported by the Mayfield Valley Arts Trust, in a project that illustrates the NCEM’s ongoing commitment to support, encourage and nurture the skills of emerging artists in the UK and beyond.

 To conclude the tour, Flutes & Frets will head to the NCEM, at St Margaret’s Church, Walmgate, later on Friday to work on Italian baroque repertoire with The Minster Minstrels, an ensemble that provides musical opportunities for children from across York, supported by the Mayfield Valley Arts Trust and York Music Hub in partnership with York Arts Education.

Delighted to invite Flutes & Frets to York for a residency, library tour and children’s NCEM workshops, NCEM director Delma Tomlin says: “We’re thrilled to be able to be working with the wonderful Flutes & Frets, who appeared in York last December at the York Early Music Christmas Festival.

“Baroque Around The Books will give the people of York the chance to enjoy these fabulous concerts completely free of charge, as we work to share the joy of music making with our partners at Explore York.”

Dave Fleming, Explore York’s innovation, creativity and learning service developer, says: “The initiative emerged from Explore York’s longstanding working relationship with the NCEM, which has been developed over many years. We’ve worked collaboratively with NCEM on successful projects and initiatives over the years, such as Cuppa And A Chorus and now this.”

Assessing the role of music in libraries, Dave says: “Music contributes to Explore York’s commitment of bringing high-quality cultural experiences into our libraries for York residents to enjoy within their communities and right on their doorstep.

“York’s network of community libraries are trusted spaces: safe, creative environments, welcoming to everyone. We have developed out network of libraries as cultural spaces in the heart of communities.”

Crucially too, Explore York is now a National Portfolio Organisation (NPOs), designated by Arts Council England. “NPO recognises Explore’s cultural contribution in creating and promoting artistic experiences, supporting artists, and engaging communities. Opportunities to bring musical experiences into our libraries contributes to what we are as an NPO,” he says.

“Bringing such experiences into libraries aligns with Explore York’s status as an NPO and enhances its cultural offerings. Therefore, the role of music in libraries is seen as integral to fulfilling Explore York’s mission and enriching the cultural experiences available to residents.”

Stone and Murphy’s repertoire spans the medieval to the contemporary, backed by a passion to use instruments from throughout history to create a story that both enthrals and educate. “The educational element of these concerts lies in the opportunity for the audience to experience high-quality classical music performed by internationally renowned musicians,” says Dave.

“In addition to the performances, the musicians will engage the audience by discussing the history and background of the music being played. This approach allows the audience to deepen their understanding and appreciation of classical music, turning the concert into an enriching educational experience.”

Beth and Dan say: “We’re always keen to educate and inform through our performances and so in this programme, we focus on taking the audience on a chronological journey of some of our favourite pieces: a chocolate-box selection of almost 500 years of music.”

Here Flutes & Frets’ Beth Stones and Dan Murphy discuss libraries, music and books with CharlesHutchPress.

“We’re always keen to educate and inform through our performances,” say Flutes & Frets’ Beth Stones and Dan Murphy

When did you form your partnership, where and why?

“Interestingly, Covid helped form the duo. We met while studying at the Royal College of Music, in London, and after collaborating on modern flute and guitar, we realised the potential that our specialisation in historical performance might bring our combination of instruments.

“Beth had been very keen to try playing with lute compared to harpsichord, and Covid brought out a renewed sense of need for chamber music.”

What was the highlight of your York Early Music Christmas Festival concert last December?

“The previous night to our 11am concert, we had a chaotic journey up to York due to train cancellations, meaning we arrived at the hotel at 4am, so to wake up to a cold, frosty morning but have a sold-out audience that had many warm comments to make afterwards made it all worthwhile!”

How did the Baroque Around The Books mini-tour come about?

“Delma has been incredibly supportive of us as an ensemble and believed that we would be appropriate for the intimate setting of libraries. We’re enthusiastic to make the most of our portability and enjoy performing in the types of venues that are harder to accommodate live music.”

Libraries are associated with silence, peace and calm! Does that add to the joy of making music there?

“Every venue has its charm. Libraries in particular tend to bring people that weren’t expecting to find music, especially children and families. As the Italian 15th century philosopher Marsilio Ficino wrote, music is ‘nothing but the decoration of silence’.”

How did you put together the programme for Baroque Around The Books?

“We’re always keen to educate and inform through our performances and so, in this programme, we focus on taking the audience on a chronological journey of some of our favourite pieces: a chocolate-box selection of almost 500 years of music.”

How have books had an impact on your musical selections?

“They haven’t had a direct impact on the programme we’re performing but musical treaties inform the way we play and so affect our approach to all our concerts.”

In what way is the concert educational?

“We encourage our audience to see a bigger picture and think about the changes that instruments and compositional styles have undergone throughout the history of music. Similarly to how a documentary might try to capture hundreds of years in a short space of time.”

The poster for Flutes & Frets’ Baroque Around The Books mini-tour of York libraries

Do you have a target audience?

“Not particularly! We appreciate the attention of anyone and everyone.”

What will Friday’s workshop session with The Minster Minstrels involve?

“We’ll be spending some time working with them on Italian baroque repertoire that they’re currently exploring and hopefully sharing some insight in how to approach and interpret early music.”

In a nutshell, what is the relationship between music and books?

“Both are expressions of thoughts, emotions, creativity and storytelling.”

If you could recommend one book each, what would it be?

Beth: “No book means more to me than the Bible, so that’s an easy choice.”

Dan: “It was The Name Of The Wind by Patrick Rothfuss that first inspired me to develop an interest in lute playing, so that’s always my first recommendation.”

When you arrive home, what do you reach for first: music or a book?!

“Music usually!”

John Atkin’s No. 9 dream off to flying start as York Beethoven Project rehearses and performs Symphony No. 1 in a day

John Atkin, right, leading the York Beethoven Project workshop for Beethoven’s Symphony No. 1 at Acomb Methodist Church

ONE down, eight to go! The York Beethoven Project is under way with its vow to perform all of Ludwig Van B’s symphonies.

“The first event at Acomb Methodist Church was a huge success,” says organiser John Atkin, the York musical director and White Rose Theatre stalwart. “Fifty-six musicians put themselves forward to take part in the come-and-play workshop, so we closed registration in advance.

“Those players came from a variety of musical organisations in York, as well as further afield, which was the aim, and 54 attended on the day – September 23 – hosted by York Light Orchestra.

“They rehearsed Symphony No 1 in C major Op. 2, and it was then performed to an audience at the end, where there was standing room only.”

Atkin led the inaugural day, aided by fellow musicians Marcus Bousfield and Jonathan Sage. “It was very well organised and ran like clockwork through five sessions of rehearsals,” says John.

John Atkin’s score for Beethoven’s Symphony No. 1 at the inaugural York Beethoven Project workshop

“The second one was a sectional rehearsal where the wind instruments were directed by Jonathan. Following these sessions, we performed our debut concert. There were ample breaks between each session with a couple of hundred cups of tea and coffee being consumed.”

Acomb Methodist Church is the regular rehearsal venue for York Light Orchestra, the day’s hosts. “They gave us access to their equipment and music library,” says a grateful John.

Although musicians came predominantly from York, “a few friends and colleagues travelled in from Sheffield, Hull, Harrogate, Thirsk and Northallerton”. “The longest distance travelled was by a couple from East Sussex, who picked us up online. They can’t do Symphony No 2 but have the date for No. 3 in their diaries,” says John.

“There was a pretty even split between men and women, ranging in age from 20s to 70s, with a mixture of full-time players, keen amateurs and a few people ‘getting back into playing’ after a number of years.”

The string players at York Beethoven Project’s first workshop

Explaining his reasons for setting up the project, John says: “I get typecast at times as ‘the man that does shows’. Well, yes I am, but I also love classical music and have looked to spend more time doing this and some other projects as I get older.

“I started playing Beethoven as a young piano student. Then he was on my set works list at A-level, and we did a large piece of work on him at university, where I first had the opportunity to conduct his orchestral works. 

“Over the years, life has got in the way but completing the full cycle of symphonies has always been an ambition. After discussing it with colleagues at gigs and in a number of theatre pits around Yorkshire, it become evident that people would be supportive of the idea, so we launched York Beethoven Project in June and the response was great. Not only did we have 54 players at the first event, but we also have eight others on the waiting list.”

Outlining what he is seeking to achieve with the York Beethoven Project and assessing what the first day delivered, John says: “The plan was for it to be inclusive and fun while performing the work to a good standard. The concert was informal and introduced a number of people to Beethoven for the first time.

“All of our aims were achieved, as well as players rekindling friendships with people they hadn’t seen for some time.  Playing Beethoven for fun all day with 50 people – what’s not to like?!”

The wind players rehearsing Beethoven’s Symphony No. 1

Instruments were spread evenly with 32 string players, 21 wind players and a percussionist. “That made the sound well balanced,” says John. “All instruments that Beethoven wrote for are welcome to sign up for the next event at Millthorpe School, hosted by York Arts Education, where I lead some Saturday ensembles.

“Here we hope to join up with a number of senior students and expand the orchestra even more for Symphony No. 2, which is one of my personal favourites. We’ll be doing it in the same format of a one-day workshop on Saturday, February 10.

“The sessions for Symphony No. 3, Eroica, will take place in September 2024 with two performances, hosted by the Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, and the Welsey Centre, Malton. These concerts will feature revolutionary music from musicals too, including Les Miserables, Carousel and Sondheim works.”

The concert series will end with Symphony No. 9 in D minor No. 125 in 2027, just in time for the 200th anniversary of Beethoven’s death (on March 26 1827, at the age of 56). Each concert will take place in a different York venue and will be performed by York-based musicians and those from “not too far away”. Even Sussex!

More information and registration details for these events can be found at www.whiterosetheatre.co.uk. Enquiries about the project may be made via yorkbeethovenproject@gmail.com. 

The poster for the first York Beethoven Project workshop and performance