‘We all need cheering up,’ says director Delma as York Early Music Christmas Festival returns for live and online concerts

Orchestra Of The Age Of Enlightenment: Opening the 2021 York Early Music Christmas Festival with two sold-out concerts on December 3

YORK Early Music Christmas Festival will be back in full swing this season, combining live concerts with a later online programme of festive music.

Running from December 3 to 11, then on demand from December 17 to January 14, the festival promises Christmas carols, candlelight, Vivaldi, Corelli, Bach, Handel, Purcell, Schubert, mulled wine, mince pies and Mexican melodies.

In the medieval St Margaret’s Church, in Walmgate, this celebration of Advent and the festive season will go ahead with Covid safety measures in place: seating will be socially distanced and proof of two Covid vaccinations or a negative Lateral Flow Test will be required. “No proof, no admission,” will be the strict policy, and the wearing of masks will be actively encouraged too.

To adapt to the prevailing circumstances and smaller capacities, five of the festive programmes will be performed twice, at 5.30pm and the more conventional 7.45pm.

“The philosophy is short concerts, no interval, and still selling to a limited capacity, so that people feel more comfortable because there’s more room and they don’t have to spend too much time together indoors in winter,” says festival director Delma Tomlin.

“In dark December, earlier evening concerts will appeal to a certain demographic, who can get home in good time for supper. It’s all about understanding people’s wishes as we return to going to concerts, and it’s much more practical to do two concerts in an evening, as we don’t have the same level of visitors for afternoon concerts.”

La Palatine: French songs of love, betrayal, disenchantment and loss on December 4

Looking forward to a festival with plenty of concerts sold out already, Delma says: “Christmas in most circles is a time for celebrations, a time of fanfare, ceremony and feasting. At the heart of the celebrations is a very human story which is often so beautifully illustrated through music, and we invite you to find peace, serenity, alongside mince pies and mulled wine at this busy time – and to enjoy some really fabulous music too!

“There is 500 years’ worth of glorious Advent, Christmas and winter music to go at, and frankly we all need a bit of cheering up right now.”

Opening festival proceedings will be an ever innovative, entertaining and engaging British ensemble, the Orchestra Of The Age Of Enlightenment, whose 5.30pm and 7.45pm performances of A Baroque Christmas on December 3 have both sold out. Concertos by Corelli, Manfredini, Torelli and Vivaldi will be complemented by Handel’s Pastorelle from Messiah and works by D Scarlatti and JS Bach.

Replacing Ensemble Caladrius’s O Magum Mysterium in the festival’s first NCEM Platform Artists’ concert on December 4 at 12.15pm will be French ensemble La Palatine, presenting Il n’y a pas d’amour heureux.

The raw emotions of love, betrayal, disenchantment and loss infuse the songs and opera arias of the early baroque in Italy, as explored by Marie Theoleyre, soprano, Noemie Lenhof, viola da gamba, Jeremy Nastasi, theorbo and baroque guitar, and Guillaume Haldenwang, harpsichord, in the works of Tarquinio Merula of Cremona, Domenico Mazzocchi in Rome and Claudio Moneteverdi’s Lamento d’Arianna.

Travelling further afield, the festival takes a Mexican theme with Siglo de Oro’s Christmas In Puebla, a sold-out 6.30pm concert on December 4 that evokes the spirit of the warm breezes of South America, on Christmas Eve in Puebla Cathedral, blending dance-infused villancicos with traditional 17th century carols under the direction of Patrick Allies.

Siglo de Oro: Mexican melodies

“This will be Siglo de Oro’s York debut,” says Delma. “Somewhat delayed, though, because they were supposed to be here two years ago.”

York favourites The Gesualdo Six return to the NCEM once more, this time with In Winter’s House, on December 5 at 5.30pm (sold out) and 7.45pm (tickets still available). Director Owain Park’s programme of music evokes a sense of mystery and joy, from works of the Tudor church to the 21st century by Judith Bingham, Joanna Marsh and Sally Beamish. “They will be wallowing in the deliciousness of both old and new music,” says Delma

The second NCEM Platform Artists’ concert, supported by the NCEM’s Creative Europe-funded programme EEEmerging, will be given by Prisma, a German ensemble comprising Franciska Anna Hadju, violin, Elisabeth Champolion, recorder, Alon Sariel, lute, and David Budai, viola da gamba, on December 7 at 5.30pm and 7.45pm. “They’re so much fun, so cheerful, and a very delightful group to welcome at Christmas,” says Delma.

Their programme, A Baroque Christmas, will be wrapped around baroque trio sonatas and dances, inviting the audience to rediscover Christmas songs by Castello and Fantana in fresh arrangements laced with joie de vivre.

Pocket Sinfonia’s Mozart And A Miracle concert, on December 9 at 5.30pm and 7.45pm, aims to re-create the atmosphere of 19th century living-room parties, where the intimacy of a chamber music performance was applied to orchestral-scale pieces.

Rosie Bowker, flute, Eleanor Corr, violin, Thomas Isaac, cello, and Emil Duncumb, piano and fortepiano, will be taking a journey through the dark wintery nights of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 24 in C minor, onwards to the Christmas cheer of Mozart’s Sleigh Ride, in a new Pocket Sinfonia transcription, and Haydn’s Miracle Symphony No. 102 in B flat.

Pocket Sinfonia: Dark journey through wintery nights

“Two members of the ensemble are from Norway, with dual nationality, and they’ll be making their debut here after I saw them on Zoom in a showcase they did in Brussels last year, and booked them on the strength of that,” says Delma.

Tenor James Gilchrist and lutenist Matthew Wadsworth reflect on love, passion and loss in Divine Love And Earthly Passions on December 10 at 5.30pm and 7.45pm, as they open with Purcell’s Evening Hymn and close with Dowland’s In Darkness Let Me Dwell on their thoughtful, sometimes melancholic, always engaging journey, with a sprinkling of Schubert and Praetorius as a taster of the festivities to come.

In A Contest Of Equals, on December 11 at 1pm, Bojan Cicic, violin, Gawain Glenton, cornetto, and Silas Wellston, organ, celebrate the late-16th and 17th century rivalry between the violin, the irreverent newcomer, and the cornetto, the older, aristocratic instrument, with music from Italy, Germany and Spain. Who will emerge victorious? Let Battaglia! commence.

The 2021 live festival concludes on December 11 with Yorkshire Bach Choir’s 7pm to 10pm performance of J S Bach’s Mass in B minor with the Yorkshire Baroque Soloists under conductor Peter Seymour. On solo duty will be Bethany Seymour, soprano, Helen Charlston, alto, Matthew Long, tenor, and Johnny Herford, bass.

“It’s a wonderful opportunity to hear the Yorkshire Bach Choir again at the festival after two years, and especially to hear them doing the Bach mass,” says Delma. “It’s such  a cracking piece.”

Joglaresa: Carols, lullabies, dance tunes and wassails

In addition, but separate from the festival, Joglaresa will be performing Lullay Myn Lykynge, a stand-alone concert on Monday, December 6 at 5.30pm, offering encouragement to celebrate Yule effervescently and chase out the chill from the Celtic fringes of Europe with traditional carols, lullabies, dance tunes and wassails from Ireland, Scotland, England and Wales. Armed with fidel, harp, bells, bagpipes and voices, Joglaresa will be ringing in Christmas and the New Year.

Tickets remain available for concerts unless stated otherwise at ncem.co.uk/york-early-music-christmas-festival/ and on 01904 658338.

IN the York Christmas Box Set, seven concerts from the 2021 York Early Music Christmas Festival will be available to watch online throughout the festive season.

Billed as “the perfect festive gift for music lovers” by the National Centre for Early Music, the £40 filmed concert package can be viewed on demand from 10am on December 17 to Friday, January 14.

First prompted by pandemic restrictions, the NCEM continues to share many of its festival highlights online, reaching ever-growing audiences from as far away as Japan and Australia.

The seven festival highlights in the box set are:  

Orchestra Of The Age Of Enlightenment, performing A Baroque Christmas;

Siglo de Oro, celebrating Christmas with dance-infused 17th century Mexican music;

The Gesualdo Six, returning to York after sold-out summer concerts to present In Winter’s House, Christmas music spanning many decades;

Prisma: Baroque joy in the York Christmas Box Set

EEEmerging artists Prisma, bringing Baroque joy with fresh arrangements of Christmas music;

Pocket Sinfonia, conjuring up the atmosphere of 19th century living-room parties with Mozart and more;

Festival favourites James Gilchrist & Matthew Wadsworth, performing Divine Love And Earthly Passions, featuring music by Purcell, Schubert and Dowland;

Battaglia, the combative trio of Bojan Čičić, Gawain Glenton and Silas Wollston, staging an exuberant musical battle between the violin and cornetto, once considered rival instruments.

Festival director Delma Tomlin says: “We’re delighted to be able to bring you this fabulous array of concerts online with this wonderful Christmas Box Set, filmed at our home of St Margaret’s Church during this year York Early Music Christmas Festival. 

“We’re continuing to share our music online, so those of you who aren’t able to join us in York will be able to enjoy this fabulous feast of music in the comfort of your own homes – and it’s the perfect gift to share with family and friends.

“We hope that our online friends will enjoy seeing the beautiful surroundings of our medieval home and we hope to welcome them in person in the future.”

For tickets and more information, go to: ncem.co.uk/events/york-christmas-at-home-festival-pass/

“Financial help from the ARG Fund ensures that we can stage the annual York Early Music Christmas Festival,” says director Delma Tomlin

THE National Centre for Early Music, York, has received a “generous grant” from the City of York Council’s Additional Restrictions Grant fund to help with the cost of staging this year’s York Early Music Christmas Festival.

This discretionary scheme supports York businesses affected by the lockdowns but not eligible for Lockdown Restrictions Grant and the Local Restrictions Support Grant (Closed Businesses) payments, thereby helping businesses that, while not legally required to close, were still severely impacted by Covid-19 restrictions.

In keeping with other arts organisations, the NCEM was forced to close its doors for several months but it continued to stage concerts and festivals digitally, sharing specially commissioned concerts all over the world, reaching audiences from as far away as Australia, Japan and the United States.

The return of a week-long York Early Music Christmas Festival from December 3 is one of the NCEM’S most important and high-profile events, attracting not only York residents but also audiences from all over Britain and beyond.

The NCEM, at St Margaret’s Church, Walmgate, is fully open once more, staging its year-round programme of concerts, not only Early Music, but jazz, folk and world music too.

NCEM director Delma Tomlin says: “We’re delighted to receive this generous grant from the City of York Council.  Financial help from the ARG Fund ensures that we can stage the annual York Early Music Christmas Festival, a week of music celebration featuring a line-up of world-class performers.

“The festival is hugely popular with residents and attracts visitors from all over the UK, who make it part of their Christmas calendar. It’s wonderful to see the city coming back to life and we’re very proud to be able to be part of its fabulous programme of events celebrating the festive season. We can’t wait to welcome audiences back to our beautiful home of St Margaret’s Church.”

Councillor Derek Smalley, executive member for culture, leisure and communities, says: “York’s live music scene is a crucial and vibrant part of the city’s cultural offer. We recognise the ongoing challenges venues are facing as we ease out of the national restrictions and people get used to a new ‘normal’.

“We are committed to working with the sector to provide all possible support, including promoting the great experiences on our doorstep thanks to the many brilliant live music venues across our city.”

L’Apothéose in the grounds of the National Centre for Early Music, St Margaret’s Church, York, in 2019. Picture: Jim Poyner

CALLING young ensembles of the world: the deadline for applications for next year’s York International Young Artists Competition is January 14 2022.

This prestigious longstanding competition for young ensembles will take place on Saturday, July 16 at the National Centre for Early Music as part of next summer’s York Early Music Festival. 

The first prize includes a recording contract from Linn Records: a £1,000 prize; opportunities to work with BBC Radio 3 and a concert at the 2023 York Early Music Festival.

Other prizes include: the Friends of York Early Music Festival Prize; the Cambridge Early Music Prize and a prize for The Most Promising Young Artist/s endowed by the EUBO Development Trust.  

The competition is open to Early Music ensembles with a minimum of three members; ensembles must have an average age of 33 years or under, with a maximum age of 37 years for individuals.

The ensembles must demonstrate historically informed performance practice and play repertory from any period, spanning the Middle Ages to the 19th century, on period instruments.

The competition is recognised as a major international platform for emerging talent in the world of early music. Attracting musicians from all over the globe, it offers a boost to young professional careers with opportunities for performance, recording and broadcasting and international exposure. 

NCEM director Delma Tomlin says: “We are so pleased to be staging the 2022 competition, which brings together young musicians of the highest calibre from the UK and all over the world. 

“This is one of highlights of the York Early Music Festival and we are always overwhelmed by the superb quality of the performances from these fantastically talented young artists. The competition provides a joyous, optimistic finale to our festival and we are delighted to be able give these rising stars many exciting future opportunities.”

2019 winners L’Apothéose say: “Winning the York competition was an extremely important and prestigious recognition of our career, and taking part was an immensely joyful experience.” 

Fellow former winners Sollazzo Ensemble enthuse: “Winning the competition was a turning point in our career, bringing us to the attention of both a wider audience and professionals throughout Europe.”

Details of how to apply can be found at yorkcomp.ncem.co.uk; alternatively, send an email to yorkcomp@ncem.co.uk.

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