MEZZO soprano Helen Charlston is to become an artistic adviser to the York Early Music Festival from this month.
Helen’s appointment covers the 2022-2024 festivals, joining fellow advisers John Bryan, Lindsay Kemp and Peter Seymour.
She is taking over from harpsichordist Steven Devine, who will stand down after this summer’s festival.
Since York Early Music Festival began in 1977, guest advisers have included Robert Hollingworth, Catherine Bott, Elizabeth Kenny and Thomas Guthrie.
Helen is establishing herself as a key performer in the next generation on British singers. Winner of the London Handel Competition in 2018, she was a founder participant in the Rising Star of the Enlightenment’s programme, working frequently as a soloist alongside the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment.
She is a member of the Jardin des Voix academy’s Young Artist Programme with Les Arts Florissants, a BBC Radio 3 New Generation Artist and a 2018 City Music Foundation Artist.
This year, Helen makes her debut in San Francisco with the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra, singing Irene in Handel’s Theodora. She also will perform with the Dunedin Consort, Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin, RIAS Kammerchor, Scottish Chamber Orchestra and La Nuova Musica, as well as making her debut at the Cheltenham and Norfolk & Norwich Festivals.
Helen won the Ferrier Loveday Song Prize in the 2021 Kathleen Ferrier Awards and is heard regularly on the concert platform with prominent British collaborative pianists. She has performed at Oxford Lieder Festival, Leeds Lieder, the Ryedale Festival, the Wigmore Hall and the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam.
Her debut album, Isolation Songbook, was commissioned in response to the Covid-19 pandemic lockdown for release on Delphian Records in March 2021, after she premiered 15 songs and duets with Michael Craddock and Alexander Soares, written during lockdown in 2020 as a musical response to the changing world in which we found ourselves.
Her second solo album, Battle Cry She Speaks, will arrive on May 27, again on Delphian Records. Inspired by the music of Strozzi, Purcell and Monteverdi, the recording is centred on a new song cycle for Helen and lutenist Toby Carr.
She began singing as chorister and head chorister of the St Albans Abbey Girls Choir. She studied music at Trinity College, Cambridge, where she held a choral scholarship from 2011 to 2015, and was a scholar on the Pembroke College Lieder Scheme, led by pianist Joseph Middleton.
Helen has a long-standing association with the National Centre for Early Music, in Walmgate, where she has appeared in many concerts in both the York Early Music Christmas Festival and York Early Music Festival, larger performances with the Yorkshire Bach Choir and at the University Song Days held there.
She was a member of Fieri Consort when they won the Cambridge prize in the 2017 York Early Music International Young Artists Competition.
Delma Tomlin, York Early Music Festival administrative director and NCEM director, says: “We are delighted to welcome Helen as a new artistic adviser, joining our already established team of experts.
“Artistic advisers play an important part in the development of our work, and we are sure Helen’s expertise and experience will be huge assets to the festival. Helen has a long association with York and we are looking forward to working with her.
“We are sure she will bring some brilliant and fresh ideas as we move towards York Early Music Festival 2023.”
Helen says: “I’m very excited to be joining the York Early Music team as artistic adviser. It’s such an honour to be working with one of Europe’s most important and progressive Early Music festivals, with a reputation for promoting and championing the work of young emerging artists.
“I always love performing in York and now I can look forward to spending more time working in this beautiful city and soaking up the atmosphere of the fabulous medieval splendour of the festival’s hub in St Margaret’s Church.”
York Early Music Festival 2022 will run from July 8 to 16. Find the full programme at: ncem.co.uk/whats-on/yemf/
KENTMERE House Gallery, in York, is holding an exhibition in celebration of the work of Suffolk artist and teacher Roy Freer (1938-2021).
“Roy, who died on March 3 last year, was regarded as one of the finest painters of his generation,” says Ann Petherick, owner and curator of the Scarcroft Hill gallery. “He had been showing with Kentmere House ever since we opened in 1991 and before that at Grape Lane Gallery in the city centre.
“We have a small number of his works for sale, with prices held at their original levels of £550 to £1,800, to be followed by a larger exhibition in association with his family in the autumn.”
Roy had studied at Bourneville College of Art and Birmingham College of Arts and Crafts from 1956 to 1958. After becoming a full-time artist more than 30 years ago, he showed a single-minded focus in using overlays of rich colour to depict still-life, figure and landscape as a way of presenting a visual understanding of his subject.
“Working from a familiar selection of either studio-based still-life objects or outdoor features, Roy was concerned with the interpretation of the subject as a visual experience rather than a factual response,” says Ann.
“In his paintings, the over-layering brush marks underpin the main structure and the whole is suffused with light, depicted in strong shafts of colour across the canvas. Although still-life or landscape was his usual subject matter, he was also a very fine portrait painter.”
Roy Freer said of his work: “Scattered objects, shaded objects, bright objects; snatches of coloured material and papers; windows of summer brightness and the darkness of winter; familiar objects not quite seen, veiled behind light, shadow and colour. These are the concerns of my painting.”
Roy, who lived in a riverside house in Sudbury, was drawn to colour, seeing the world as a very colourful place even on rainy days. “For me, the fascination of painting is to be found in the experience of the subject as moments of stillness and change,” he said.
“A landscape, for example, is a continual source of change, and one is ever aware of the passage of time, as with the movement of light from morning to afternoon. Both in landscape and still life, I want to show through colour and brush mark, a visual interpretation of the subject that reflects the magical substance of sensation and experience.”
He was a member of the Royal Institute of Oil Painters (ROI), New English Art Club (NEAC), and the Royal Institute of Painters in Watercolours; painted leading players Steve Davis and Jimmy White for Snooker International and was commissioned by Shell UK to provide work for their calendar.
Although most of his work has been shown in the south, he was artist-in-residence for the York Early Music Festival and took part in two exhibitions of paintings of Yorkshire gardens in association with the National Gardens Scheme and the Royal Horticultural Society, both curated by Kentmere House Gallery.
Roy showed regularly with Mall Galleries, London; Catto Gallery, Hampstead, London; David Messum Gallery, Cork Street, London, and the Royal Birmingham Society of Artists.
Paying tribute to Roy, Salliann Putnam, of the New English Art Club, says: “I had been so inspired by Roy that I invited him to run a weekend workshop for the society. He ended up running three and they were all brilliant.
“He arrived in a small van, which was packed to the roof. We had a large village hall that Roy transformed into a world of pure colour.”
Roy assembled three large white platforms, placing deckchairs, sunflowers, pots, fabrics, cubes, painted chairs and many other objects on and around them.
“It was a colourist’s paradise,” recalls Salliann. “Roy then demonstrated his approach to painting, and it was a revelation. From the very first mark, there was life and energy. He would mass in the big areas in wonderful colour.
“Then he would gradually move into smaller marks, mixing the colour and transferring it to his brush. He would then study his subject with a searching eye before making a mark. His work looks so free, but it is carefully considered.”
Roy taught Salliann how to look. “I recall him showing a slide of an interior with the light flooding in through the window,” she says. “Roy then adjusted the lens on the projector so that everything was out of focus.
“This was a moment of magic as the image was transformed into pools of light. Edges disappeared; tones became all important; masses appeared. Colour and tone were more important to Roy than the subject.”
Summing up, Salliann says: “Roy was an inspirational painter; he was very much a painter’s painter. I was privileged to attend a number of his courses and came away totally inspired. The art world has been enriched by Roy’s painting and his teaching. He will be so missed.”
Paul Curtis, also from the New English Art Club, says: “Roy Freer’s paintings softly tap you on the shoulder as you walk by, pulling you back to look again at the quiet, close-toned colour with one accent of light. They reflected his personality and determination to take a chance with his work in order to get it right.”
Club president Peter Brown always found Roy’s paintings “remarkably fresh”. “His ability to design the picture surface while describing form and space created welcoming atmospheres for us to enter and enjoy,” he says. “He appeared to show respect for his subject, sometimes monumentalising – say – the end of a terrace, and yet was never a slave to his subject.
“I was so pleased to hear from [his wife] Sally that his sons plan to publish an archive of Roy’s work online. Something for us all to look forward to after his sad passing.”
FOR the first time since 2019, the York Early Music Festival will be at full strength this summer for nine days of concerts, talks and workshops under the theme of Connections.
Highlights during the festival run from July 8 to 16 include The Sixteen, The Tallis Scholars and Gabrieli Consort & Players, all at York Minster, and the return of the York International Young Artists Competition.
The programme also features gamba specialists Paolo Pandolfo & Amélie Chemin; The Gonzaga Band; The Rose Consort of Viols; the University of York Baroque Ensemble; Orí Harmelin; Profeti della Quinta; the Yorkshire Baroque Soloists and Ensemble Voces Suaves.
Tickets are on sale on 01904 658338, at ncem.co.uk or via email to firstname.lastname@example.org, with discounts available for Friends and under 35s.
“The festival presents a series of concerts linked together through a maze of interconnecting composers, shining a light on the many connections that hold us together in the past and into the future,” says director Delma Tomlin, explaining the festival theme.
Concerts will be supported by a series of illustrated talks, workshops, opportunities to ‘Come and Sing’ and informal recitals at a festival presented in historical venues such as York Minster, the Merchant Adventurers’ Hall, St Lawrence’s Church and the festival headquarters, the National Centre for Early Music (NCEM), in the medieval St Margaret’s Church building in Walmgate.
The festival’s grand finale will be the York International Young Artists Competition 2022, wherein ten groups from across Europe will give informal recitals at the NCEM at 10am and 2pm on July 14 and 15 before competing for the prize on July 16.
The winners will receive a professional CD recording contract from Linn Records, a cheque for £1,000 and opportunities to work with BBC Radio 3 and the NCEM. Additional prizes will be supported by Cambridge Early Music, the European Union Baroque Orchestra Development Trust and the Friends of York Early Music Festival.
“We are delighted to be presenting a nine-day festival of music in our beautiful city, staged in some of the country’s most architecturally stunning buildings,” says Delma.
“This year’s theme is Connections, connecting and indeed reconnecting music, artists and, of course, our audiences. As always, we’ll be celebrating the glorious music of the past but also looking forward, as we’re able at last, to stage the York International Young Artists Competition, showcasing and nurturing the performers of the future.
“We’re so pleased to be back at full strength, and we can’t wait to welcome you to York for what promises to be one of the most exciting festivals to date.”
Those unable to attend are advised that the festival will be offering many of the concerts online across the summer. Full details will be available from ncem.co.uk.
Audience safety and comfort is a continuing priority in an ever-changing environment for the NCEM and York Early Music Festival. Check out the full guidance at ncem.co.uk/covid-guidelines.
The 2022 York Early Music Festival programme:
July 8, 7.30pm: Paolo Pandolfo & Amélie Chemin, viola da gamba duo, Heavans Joy, The World of the Virtuoso Viol, at NCEM, York.
July 9, 9.30am: Master And Pupil, workshop led by The Gonzaga Band director Jamie Savan, at Clements Hall, Nunthorpe Road, York. Singers and players of Renaissance wind and string instruments look at the polychoral repertory of Giovanni Gabrieli and Heinrich Schütz.
July 9, 12 noon: The Sixteen Insight Day, at NCEM, York. Insight Day explores stories behind The Sixteen’s Choral Pilgrimage repertory. Discover more with singer and practical scholar Sally Dunkley, organist Robert Quinney and a consort of Sixteen singers.
July 9, 7.30pm: The Sixteen, Author Of Light, at York Minster. Harry Christophers directs a choral programme focused on Hubert Parry’s Songs Of Farewell.
July 10, 2pm: The Early Music Show, BBC Radio 3 live broadcast presented by Hannah French with selected festival guests, at NCEM; free to those attending a festival event. Immediately afterwards, violinist Kati Debretzeni presents delayed 2020 York Biennial Lifetime Achievement Award to violinist Catherine Mackintosh.
July 10, 4.45pm: Minster Minstrels, Fairest Isle, directed by Ailsa Batters, at Unitarian Chapel, St Saviourgate, York. NCEM’s youth instrumental ensemble performs music from the late 17th-century theatre, court and household to demonstrate the influence of the new Italian and French styles in post-Restoration England.
July 10, 7.30pm: The Gonzaga Band, Venice 1629, directed by cornett player Jamie Savan, at NCEM, York. Vocal works by Claudio Monteverdi and Alessandro Grandi and virtuosic Baroque instrumental music by wind player Dario Castello and violinist Biagio Marini feature in a series of snapshots from an extraordinary year in the life of this most musical of cities.
July 11, 10.30am: Schutz In Venice, illustrated talk by Jamie Savan, at Bedern Hall, York. On his second visit to Venice in 1628-29, German composer Heinrich Schütz would surely have met Monteverdi, by now maestro di cappella at St Mark’s, but this talk also introduce lesser-known 1620s’ Venetian innovators in modern vocal and instrumental music.
July 11, 1pm: Rose Consort of Viols, with virginals player Steven Devine, Music For Severall Friends, at NCEM, York. Anniversary-marking concert of viol consort works by two British composers, the conservative Thomas Tomkins (born in 1572) and the more radical Matthew Locke (b.1622).
July 11, 7.30pm: The Tallis Scholars, Choral Connections, at York Minster. Director Peter Phillips explores connections between Josquin des Prez and his successor at the Sistine Chapel, Palestrina; Byrd and his English forebear Taverner.
July 12, 10.30am: An Italian In London, illustrated talk on The Case of Angelo Notari, musician and spy, by Jonathan Wainwright, at Bedern Hall, York. Italian-born Notari moved to England in 1611, making his career as a court musician. Little was known about his time in Italy, until recently, prompting this examination of his life and (newly attributed) compositions.
July 12, 1pm: La Vaghezza, Sculpting The Fabric, at St Lawrence’s Church, Hull Road, York. Stars of the EEEmerging+ programme, this young Italian ensemble presents early-17th century Italian works by Cavalli, Merula, Vitali, Fontana and Rossi from debut album Sculpting The Fabric.
July 12, 7.30pm: Profeti Della Quinta, Lamento d’Arianna, Italian Renaissance music from Rore to Monteverdi, at NCEM, York. Winners of the 2011 York Early Music International Young Artists Competition take a journey that connects early 16th-century ‘classical’ madrigal to Monteverdi’s ‘operatic’ solo madrigals in 17th-century Mantua.
July 13, 1pm: University of York Baroque Ensemble, Mannheim Travels To Fife, Early Symphonists and Two Brothers, at St Lawrence’s Church, Hull Road, York. Highlighting works by Mannheim symphony kick-starter Johann Stamitz, Italian brothers Giovanni Battista and Giuseppe Sammartini, Johann Christian Bach and Scottish composer Thomas Erskine.
July 13, 7.30pm: Gabrieli Consort & Players, A Venetian Coronation, 1595, directed by Paul McCreesh, at York Minster. Spectacular re-creation of the festive Coronation Mass of the Venetian Doge Marino Grimani at St Mark’s, Venice, in 1595, to mark the Gabrieli Consort’s 40th anniversary.
July 13, 9.45pm: Ori Harmelin, Neshima: The Hebrew For Breath, at Undercroft, Merchant Adventurers’ Hall, Fossgate, York. Theorbo specialist explores arrangements of madrigals, motets and chansons by Cipriano de Rore, Josquin des Prez and Thomas Tallis, complemented by Harmelin’s compositions and Irishman Simon McHale’s The Orbo.
July 14 and July 15, 10am and 2pm: International Young Artists Competition Recitals 1 and 2, at NCEM, York. Informal recitals featuring all the ensembles taking part in the 2022 competition, performing music from the Middle Ages to the early Classical period, introduced by master of ceremonies Professor John Bryan.
July 14, 7.30pm: Yorkshire Baroque Soloists, Bach’s Other Leipzig, directed by Peter Lawrence, at St Lawrence’s Church, Hull Road, York. Not only composing for two churches when in Leipzig, Bach also wrote four ‘Lutheran masses’ in 1738/39 and the Coffee Cantata for Zimmermann’s Caffeehaus, a miniature comic opera on the pressing subject of coffee addiction, featured here.
July 15, 4.30pm: Come and Sing Handel’s Messiah, at St Olave’s Church, Marygate, York. Peter Seymour, conductor, and Ben Horden, organ, invite allcomers to Come and Sing a selection of choruses from Handel’s Messiah in a short rehearsal and performance.
July 15, 7.30pm: Ensemble Voces Suaves, Enrico Sagittario: Heinrich Schütz in Italy, at St Lawrence’s Church, Hull Road, York. Exploration of the Italian side of German composer Heinrich Schutz, putting music from his debut collection alongside madrigals by Gabrieli and Monteverdi that inspired him, plus toccatas for theorbo by Girolamo Kapsberger, an Italian composer with roots in Germany.
July 16, 10am: York International Young Artists Competition, at NCEM, York. 2022 competition, featuring ten groups, will be presented by John Bryan and judged by Edward Blakeman, from BBC Radio 3; Albert Edelman, president of Réseau Européen de Musique Ancienne; Linn Records producer and recording engineer Philip Hobbs; violinist Catherine Mackintosh and harpsichordist and professor Barbara Willi.
IT ain’t worth a thing if it got that confounded ping, but let’s hope this NHS Covid app hazard does not apply to any of Charles Hutchinson’s suggestions as Step 4 starts to kick in.
Outdoor concerts of the week in York:York Racecourse Music Showcase Weekend, Rick Astley, Friday evening; McFly, Saturday late-afternoon
YORK Racecourse was never gonna give up on Rick Astley performing on a race day, even if the original show had to fall by the wayside last summer. Sure enough, the Newton-le-Willows soul crooner, 55, has been re-booked for tomorrow for a post-racing live set.
After Saturday afternoon’s race card, the re-formed McFly will combine such favourites as All About You, Obviously and 5 Colours In Her Hair with songs from their 2020 return, Young Dumb Thrills, such as Happiness, Tonight Is The Night and You’re Not Special. The County Stand has reached capacity for Saturday already.
Friday’s racing starts at 6pm; Saturday, at 2.05pm. For tickets, go to: yorkracecourse.co.uk.
Online concert home entertainment of the week: Rachel Podger, The Violinist Speaks, York Early Music Festival
WHEN Baroque violinist Rachel Podger fell victim to the dreaded “pingdemic”, she had to forego her July 13 concert performance, condemned to self-isolate instead.
In stepped Florilegium violinist Bojan Cicic to play the very same Bach, Tartini and Biber repertoire at St Lawrence Church, Hull Road, at only three hours’ notice.
Rachel, however, subsequently recorded The Violinist Speaks without an audience at the NCEM for a digital livestream premiere at 7.30pm last Saturday. This online concert is now available on demand until August 13; on sale until August 9 at: ncem.co.uk/events/rachel-podger-online/ncem.co.uk
York’s queen of vocal drag meets York’s country queen: The Velma Celli Show with special guestTwinnie, Impossible York, St Helen’s Square, York, tomorrow, 7pm, doors; show, 8pm
YORK’S international drag diva deluxe, Velma Celli, will be joined by country singer Twinnie at The Velma Celli Show at Impossible York on her return home from recording sessions for her second album in Nashville.
“My mate and fellow Yorky the awesome Twinny is my v. special guest tomorrow night at Impossible – York,” says Velma, the cabaret creation of Ian Stroughair, on Instagram. Like Ian, Twinnie has starred in West End musicals, most notably in Chicago, under her stage name Twinnie-Lee Moore.
Tickets cost £15, £20 for VIP stage seating, at ticketweb.uk.
Storytellers of the week: Michael Lambourne and Shona Cowie, Theatre At The Mill, Stillington, near York, Saturday and Sunday
NOT that long ago a familiar bearded face and booming voice on the York stage before heading south, Michael Lambourne will return north on Saturday to present the 7.30pm premiere of Black Shuck, a “responsive storytelling experience” based on the legend of the Demon Dog of East Anglia.
Penned and performed by Lambourne, Black Shuck is the tale of a hound of unnatural size, an omen of misfortune to those who see its eyes, wherein he explores the enduring effect it has on Fenland folklore in a personal account of how a rural myth can become a chilling part of the present day.
Scottish storyteller and physical performer Shona Cowie will open the evening with her Celtic tale of the dreamer and visionary Bruadarach and then present Beware The Beasts, a show for families (age five upwards), at 2pm on Sunday.
Shona will provide case studies from leading monster evaders and offer instruction on the most effective ways to avoid being squashed, eaten or turned into a nugget. Box office: tickettailor.com/events/atthemill/.
First full-capacity shows at York Theatre Royal since mid-March 2020: Ralph Fiennes in T S Eliot’s Four Quartets, July 26 to 31
YORK Theatre Royal will return to full-capacity audiences with effect from Monday’s performance of T S Eliot’s Four Quarters, performed and directed by Ralph Fiennes.
Good news for those who had missed out on tickets for the most in-demand production of the reopening Love Season when it was first put on sale with social distancing in place. This week’s unlocking of Step 4 frees up the sudden availability of seats aplenty.
Please note, however, the wearing of face coverings will be strongly encouraged; some safety measures will continue too, but not temperature checks on the door.
Back on the Chain Gang: Miles And The Chain Gang, supported by King Courgette, The Fulford Arms, York, July 29, 8pm
AFTER an 18-month hiatus. York band Miles And The Chain Gang will return to the concert platform next week, tooled up with new material.
In the line-up are singer, songwriter, storyteller, published poet and radio presenter Miles Salter, on guitar and vocals, Billy Hickling, drums and percussion, Tim Bruce, bass, and Alan Dawson, lead guitar, augmented for this gig by Fay Donaldson’s flute and saxophone.
The Gang have been working on a debut album, recording with producer Jonny Hooker at Young Thugs Studios in York. Tickets cost £7 at thefulfordarms.co.uk or £8 on the door.
Fundraiser of the week ahead: Joseph Rowntree Theatre Company Does Gilbert And Sullivan, Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, HMS Pinafore, July 29, 7.30pm, and July 31, 2.30pm; The Mikado, July 30 and 31, 7.30pm
THE Joseph Rowntree Theatre Company, the JoRo’s in-house performing troupe, are producing concert versions of Gilbert and Sullivan’s biggest light opera hits, HMS Pinafore and The Mikado, next week.
The shows will be brimful of popular tunes and brilliant characters, with all profits from this topsy-turvy musical madness going straight back to the Haxby Road community theatre.
Music Café society gig of the week ahead: Rachel Croft, Forty Five Vinyl Café, Micklegate, York, July 31, 7.30m
NEXT Saturday at Forty Five, York singer-songwriter Rachel Croft will showcase tomorrow’s release of Reap What You Sow, a cinematic, moody taster for her four-track EP of the same name on September 9.
Exploring a more potent, bluesy style throughout, further tracks will be second single Time Waits For No Man, Roots and Chasing Time.
Rachel will be supported by Kell Chambers and Evie Barrand. Tickets cost £10 via fortyfiveuk.com/whatson.
Going down in the woods next month: The Trials Of Cato, Primrose Wood Acoustics, Pocklington, August 5, 7pm
BBC Radio 2 Folk Award winners The Trials Of Cato will headline the third Primrose Wood Acoustics session in Pocklington on August 5.
Organised by Pocklington Arts Centre, the outdoor concert series will complete its summer hattrick by popular demand after sold-out sylvan shows on July 1 and 8.
Leamington Spa singer-songwriter Polly Bolton joins co-founders Tomos Williams and Rob Jones for the showcase of imminent second album Gog Magog. Tickets cost £14 on 01759 301547 or at pocklingtonartscentre.co.uk.
QUICK thinking by York Early Music Festival director Delma Tomlin saved the day when violinist Rachel Podger fell victim to the dreaded “pingdemic”.
Rachel had to self-isolate at the last minute, foregoing her 9.15pm live performance of The Violinist Speaks at St Lawrence’s Church, Hull Road, on July 13.
In a flash, Delma asked Croatian-born Baroque violinist Bojan Cicic to step into the breach, as he had arrived in York already to perform with Florilegium at the National Centre for Early Music the following night.
Not only did he say ‘Yes’ at only three hours’ notice, but also he played the very same repertoire that Rachel had selected: JS Bach’s Cello Suite No. 1 in G major; Giuseppe Tartini’s Sonata in B minor; Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber’s Passacaglia in G minor, for solo violin, and Bach’s Partita No. 2 in D minor, for solo violin.
Nothing was announced on social media beforehand by the festival organisers; only the audience was alerted of the late change by email, whereupon Bojan duly “wowed” his socially distanced crowd.
Rachel subsequently recorded The Violinist Speaks without an audience at the NCEM for a digital livestream premiere at 7.30pm last Saturday. Her online concert is now available on demand until August 13; on sale until August 9 at: ncem.co.uk/events/rachel-podger-online/ncem.co.uk
York Early Music Festival: Florilegium, National Centre for Early Music, York, July 14
FLORILEGIUM is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. So it was a privilege, not to say entirely appropriate, to have the group in this year’s festival, here cut down to four players for an evening of Bach trio sonatas.
The standard format for the trio sonata is two soloists with continuo (harpsichord and a bass instrument) providing the third “voice”, hence a group of four. So it is hardly surprising that Bach’s Trio Sonatas for organ have been constantly rearranged since Mozart’s time onwards: the ear more easily disentangles the lines when they are played on separate instruments (although I cast no aspersions on the ability of organists to play clearly).
Florilegium’s own arrangement in E minor of the trio sonata, BWV 526, with flute and violin in the leading roles, makes a tasty concoction (even if the original is in C minor). Ashley Solomon’s Baroque flute, made of wood naturally, has a smoother tone than the more incisive modern instrument, which means it provides a satisfying blend with the violin of Bojan Čičić, although both voices remain distinct. They wove around each other engagingly here, above more run-of-the-mill continuo.
But this was a mere aperitif. A lilting Largo led succulently into the Trio Sonata in G, BWV 1038 (written for these specific instruments), before a galloping Vivace. The Gute Nacht theme from Bach’s motet Jesu, Meine Freude emerged with total clarity in the Adagio, pizzicato on Reiko Ichise’s viola da gamba, which then enjoyed an active role in the final Presto.
The gamba enjoyed a more complete spotlight in the last of three sonatas Bach wrote for it, BWV 1029, in G minor. Ichise brought immense enthusiasm to her task and Steven Devine’s harpsichord followed suit. But there was no lack of shading amongst the energy. The central Adagio was taken exceptionally slowly, which allowed its ornamentation to breathe, and the finale was firmly signposted despite its pace.
The extraordinary trio sonata from The Musical Offering, with all four movements derived from a single theme, made an exciting conclusion. The players switched neatly in and out of the texture during the first Allegro and went hell for leather in the final fugue.
The Andante was never more reminiscent of the nocturnal bass arioso in the St John Passion, beautifully scented. As if that were not enough, we then had a rumbustious Leclair encore for contrast.
York Early Music Festival: Stile Antico, York Minster, July 13; Bojan Čičić, St Lawrence’s Church, York, July 13
OVER the past few years, and especially during lockdown, Stile Antico have been something of a “go-to” group in the early music world. No-one is complaining, least of all this critic. As their name implies, style is the watchword of these dozen voices.
Next month we commemorate the 500th anniversary of the death of Josquin des Prez, who is right up there in anyone’s shortlist of great Renaissance composers. He developed a new style that melded northern European technical precision with simpler Italian drama and clarity: it was widely influential for 200 years.
The programme was built around his Missa Sine Nomine (‘no-name’ mass, if you will), which is almost a textbook of imitation between voices, giving listeners multiple pegs to hang their hearing on.
Between the sections of the mass, we heard reminders of Josquin’s associations with his putative teacher Johannes Ockeghem, another of the greats, and two pieces by slightly younger colleagues.
After Josquin’s Kyrie, in which perfectly formed chords emerged from swirling mists of counterpoint, it was good to be reminded of Ockeghem’s sparer harmonies in his four-voice motet Alma Redemptoris Mater.
Following the Gloria, a work called Nymphes des Bois might have sounded almost lascivious in such a religious context. In fact it was Josquin’s setting of a lament by Jean Molinet on the death of Ockeghem in 1497, imploring all nature to weep for an engaging man variously described as gracious, kind and virtuous. It was indeed a gem, and faded symbolically.
Excitement at the start of the Credo became serenely dissonant at Christ’s Passion, before building again to a triumphant Amen. This was singing of the highest calibre, making perfect use of the building’s welcoming acoustic.
After Josquin’s own Salve Regina and an unusually restrained Benedictus, another lament followed, this time from Hieronymus Vinders on Josquin’s death, the dark colours of its seven voices underlined by the absence of sopranos. Finally, Jacquet de Mantua’s medley of Josquin’s greatest hits, doubtless instantly recognisable by contemporary ears, provided an upbeat conclusion.
These two straddled the soothing balm of Josquin’s Agnus Dei, completing the mass. All were a fitting tribute to a much-respected composer – and a timely reminder of his supremacy.
Late evening at St Lawrence’s Church brought the unaccompanied violin of Bojan Čičić in Bach and Biber. He had gamely taken up the cudgels at the eleventh hour to replace Rachel Podger, who had been “pinged’ into self-isolation”. They have been successful duet partners on disc so are equally talented.
He began somewhat cautiously with the first of Bach’s solo sonatas from 1720, BWV 1001 in G minor. Bach was known as a keyboard layer, but also played the violin all his life so was no slouch where strings were concerned. These fearsomely difficult works from his period at Cöthen laid the groundwork for the virtuoso techniques displayed by such as Paganini in the 19th century.
But they held no terrors for Čičić, even if he warmed up slowly. The slow intro led into more rapid counterpoint, both sections in the minor, until the warm, major-key Largo that was virtually a duet. All were preparation for the moto perpetuo of the final Gigue, which was thrown off with incredible panache.
He continued to dazzle in The Guardian Angel, one of Biber’s famous Mystery Sonatas. Sixty-five repetitions of a four-note descending phrase may not sound promising, but Biber’s Passacaglia overlays them with an extraordinary exploration of technical wizardry. Čičić revelled in it. So did we.
The dance origins of Bach’s Second Partita, in D minor, were keenly emphasised. After an accented Allemanda and the running passagework of the Corrente, we enjoyed a stately Sarabanda with much internal ornamentation.
The extremely sprightly Gigue was prelude to a highly dramatic Chaconne in which Čičić positively rolled his bow all over the strings, at breakneck speed. Its ‘chorale’ in the major came as light relief before the final return to the more serious minor key. Riveting stuff. You did not dare take your eyes off him.
York Early Music Festival, The Gesualdo Six, National Centre for Early Music, York, July 15
THIS year’s abbreviated festival, which seems to have ended almost before it began, went out in style with The Gesualdo Six, another group whose visits to York are thankfully plentiful.
With a countertenor on the top line, supported by two tenors, a baritone and two basses, it is well geared for a programme of English motets, especially since its director, Owain Park, underpins them all with a firm, deep bass that would be the envy of any choir.
This was almost a roll call of the great names in Tudor music (without Orlando Gibbons), which also reached back to the early 15th century composer John Forest. He was at one time a prebendary of York before becoming Dean of Wells. His three-part motet Qualis Est Dilectus Est revealed his fondness for voices moving in thirds (once thought a quirky Anglicism).
Two tear-jerkers stood out at either end of the programme. Byrd’s Ave Verum Corpus, immediately following Tallis’s Te Lucis, was touchingly intimate, which added to the reverence it naturally engenders.
Even more telling was Tomkins’s When David Heard, with five voices conducted by Park, which wrung every last ounce of pain from David’s lament for his son Absalom, killed in battle. “Would God I had died for thee” was almost unbearably poignant.
Not all was so solemn. Weelkes’s setting of Psalm 47, All People, Clap Your Hands, was cheerful enough, but not quite as imaginative as the Gibbons version of this psalm. But the group really let rip in a full-throated account of Byrd’s Vigilate, merging neatly at its conclusion. The same composer’s Laudate, Pueri was equally joyful, a full-blooded account from all six singers.
In between came two hymns, by White and Tallis, with the latter’s setting of In Manus Tuas balancing an earlier one by John Sheppard that was extremely quiet, yet creamily controlled. Several times the precentor’s role was sung off-stage, which offered an extra dimension. And then there was the Tomkins. What a piece.
The Gesualdos are coming up on the inside of a longer-lived group from a well-known Cambridge college – and may soon overtake.
York Early Music Festival, Monteverdi String Quartet, National Centre for Early Music, York, July 12
AFTER many tribulations, including the exit of several foreign groups and the ‘pinging’ of star performer Rachel Podger into self-isolation, the festival has finally re-opened its doors to live audiences, albeit slimmed down to four days. We must be grateful for small mercies.
The Monteverdi String Band’s hip-sounding monicker cloaks a Mozart-style string quintet, although with gut strings and Mark Caudle’s cello-lookalike bass violin as the lowest voice. On this occasion they were joined by soprano Hannah Ely and by Toby Carr, alternating on lute and theorbo. Their topic was The Madrigal Re-imagined.
The madrigal’s roots lie in 14th century Italian poetry and it has always been associated with voices, at least in this country. But in Italy about 1600 instrumentalists, no doubt envious, began to copy and elaborate on what voices had previously monopolised. Hence this programme. As in so much else, Monteverdi was at the forefront here.
We were offered his version for strings of Cruda Amaryllis. The strings danced with greater urgency in extracts from his Il Ballo dell’Ingrate, where Hannah Ely gave us a tasty reminder (from its finale) of what voices were still allowed. The programme ended with a meaty chunk of Monteverdi’s masterpiece Orfeo. Here it was possible to hear how keenly voice and strings were interlinked in their explorations of Striggio’s poetry.
In between, there were glimpses of other composers, notably Palestrina, in two ‘diminutions’ (elaborations) devised by MSB’s leader, Oliver Webber. In the second, his violin became ever more frenetic in its ornaments beyond, indeed, what any voice could have hoped to achieve. The strings were superbly balanced in ensemble, firmly underpinned by Caudle’s bass line.
Toby Law was graceful in his continuo role, and even contributed a Prelude of his own in 16th century style. A handful of contemporary texts were less successful, conversational rather than properly projected. But they hardly detracted from a stimulating evening.
ENCOUNTERS, the 2021 York Early Music Festival, will be briefer than first trailered.
Already cut from its usual ten days under Covid constraints, the live festival will now run from July 12 to 15, rather than until July 16 after the Government’s Step 4 lockdown easement was delayed from June 21 to July 19.
This has ruled out the participation of Spanish Baroque ensemble L’Apothéose, winners of the 2019 York Early Music International Young Artists Competition, along with Ensemble Clément Janequin, from France, and the Italian-Spanish trio sonata ensemble La Vaghezza. In their stead come two late additions: British vocal ensemble The Gesualdo Six and Florilegium.
“The festival may have shrunk from ten days to four, but it’s still jam-packed with concerts, which will be one hour in length, with no interval and no reserved seating, audience members being seated on arrival within social bubbles” says festival director Delma Tomlin.
“Because any musicians who lived outside of the UK had to consider the need to quarantine or the consequences of a positive Covid test once here, it just wasn’t worth the complications for them or us.
“The good news is that L’Apothéose will now play their Young Artists’ Showcase and record here next March; we hope to carry EEEmerging artists La Vaghezza over into the 2022 festival, though that will not be possible for Ensemble Clément Janequin, and the York Early Music International Young Artists Competition will definitely return at next summer’s festival, after the competition couldn’t happen this year.”
Delma expects that plenty of international musicians who had to forego performing in the 2020 festival, after being booked for the aborted original programme, will now play at the 2022 event. “The festival is filling up already, but not yet with a theme in place!” she says.
In another sign of Covid-times, the 2021 festival is a non-brochure event. “We had boxes and boxes of brochures that we then had to recycle, once everything changed, and since then we’ve doing everything online,” says Delma.
“So we’ve been reliant on people looking online constantly for updates and programme details for our 2020 Christmas festival, the Awaken concert series, the Beverley and East Riding Early Music Festival, and now this summer’s festival, but I can confirm we’ll produce print in the autumn for the 2021 York Early Music Christmas Festival.”
Roll on Monday’s opening concert “At last, we’re able to welcome audiences back to York in person,” says Delma. “The theme of Encounters, most vitally between audience and artists, seems particularly pertinent at this time when we can celebrate the joy of music making and being back together again to appreciate these glorious sounds together.
“For over a year, our home of St Margaret’s Church has been missing the energy and excitement that live audiences bring to us and we can’t wait to throw our doors wide open again.”
Both the opening and closing concerts will be performed twice at the National Centre for Early Music, Walmgate: Monteverdi String Band, led by Oliver Webb, on July 12 at 6.30pm and 8.45pm and The Gesualdo Six on July 15 at the same times.
“We’ll clean everything down and put the same concert on 90 minutes later,” explains Delma. “The 6.30pm concerts are sold out but we still have tickets available for the later performances.
“Oddly enough, The Gesualdo Six were meant to be playing at a festival in France at this time but couldn’t go, so we’ve been able to accommodate them, and Ensemble Clément Janequin, who can’t come here, will now be playing in France!”
Florilegium step into the festival breach to perform a Celebrating Bach programme at the NCEM on Wednesday at 7.30pm, joining a line-up of guest artists such as harpsichordist Steven Devine with Robin Bigwood (St Lawrence’s Church, Hull Road, Tuesday, 1pm) and violinist Rachel Podger (St Lawrence’s Church, Tuesday, 9.15pm).
The Society of Strange & Ancient Instruments present their weird and wonderful Trumpet Marine Project (The Citadel, Gillygate, Wednesday, 1pm, sold out); lutenist Jacob Heringman celebrates Josquin des Prez in Master of the notes II: Inviolata (Merchant Adventurers’ Hall, Fossgate, Wednesday, 9.30pm, sold out) and bass Matthew Brook, in tandem with York classical leading light Peter Seymour, performs Amore Traditore – Cantatas for bass and harpsichord (St Lawrence’s Church, Thursday, 1pm).
Delma is particularly delighted to announce that the festival will be working in partnership with the Alamire Foundation, in Flanders, to present a long-awaited concert at York Minster by renaissance vocal ensemble Stile Antico in Tuesday’s 7.30pm programme of Josquin des Prez – Master of the notes I: Missa Sine Nominee on the 500th anniversary of the Franco-Flemish genius’s death.
The live festival may be shorter, but the event will still run to Sunday in an online festival, YEMF ’21 Online, available from Thursday to the weekend, after the success of last summer’s first online package.
“This will include concerts recorded during the festival alongside specially commissioned highlights by the Rose Consort of Viols and the University Baroque Ensemble,” says Delma.
“The Gesualdo Six will open this four-day online festival with a live streamed concert from the NCEM on Thursday at 6.30pm.
“The online festival provides us with the opportunity to share some of the festival highlights with the widest possible audience, presenting concerts filmed by digital producer Ben Pugh and sound engineer Tim Archer in some of the city’s stunning venues: Merchant Adventurers’ Hall, St Lawrence’s Church and St Margaret’s Church,” says Delma.
“Going online extends the festival’s reach internationally, giving us the chance to boost our ticket income possibilities, so while we use small venues, such as lutenist Jacob Heringman playing to 60 people in candlelight at the Merchant Adventurers’ Hall, the decision to embrace online opportunities means others can enjoy it too. This provides a new stream of income at this time, turning around our business strategy on a pin.”
All next week’s concerts will be streamed, except for Stile Antico, whose Josquin des Prez programme instead will be available online at Laus Polyphoniae 2021, part of the Flanders Festival that runs in Antwerp from August 20 to 29.
The NCEM and York Early Music Festival have embraced the need to explore digital opportunities since the pandemic took hold. “The acquisition of Tim Archer, who I’ve known through our relationship with BBC Radio 3, has been key to this. When Tim left Radio 3, I asked him to work with us as our sound engineer, and he’s since worked alongside Ben Pugh on our festivals and the Awaken spring event,” says Delma.
“On top of that, we’ve been very grateful to have been granted Culture Recovery Fund funds to support our sustainable strategy,” says Delma.
“We’ve received two funding boosts, the first for the acquisition of digital equipment, the second to help to cover the loss of income after we lost £100,000 from our usual revenue streams because of the pandemic lockdowns.”
Reflecting on the changes brought on by the need to react to Covid times, Delma says: “It has pushed us very specifically into a whole new world of digital sharing and income generation, running parallel with that, and all our staff have been willing to adapt and embrace the changes. We’ve also been determined to make the online service as simple to use as possible, requiring only your email address.
“The other very positive thing has been our blossoming relationship with The Crescent [community venue] and The Fulford Arms, especially with Harkirit Boparai and Chris Sherrington, and the Independent Music network, putting on the Songs Under Skies concerts in the NCEM garden last summer and this summer.”
Post-festival, the YEMF ’21 Online concerts will be available to view on demand until August 13 2021 and tickets will be on sale until August 6 at ncem.co.uk. Live festival tickets are selling fast, with social distancing measures still in place to limit numbers, so hurry, hurry to book at ncem.co.uk before you are too late to be Early next week.
Did you know?
THE 2021 York Early Music Festival concerts by Rachel Podger, The Society Of Strange & Ancient Instruments and The Gesualdo Six will be recorded for broadcast on BBC Radio 3’s Early Music Show in late-July.